Fine Tuning Health Care Practices, One Note at a Time

I was honored to interview Tracy Dufur, MBA who leads Elite Medical Advisors, an organization that is transforming healthcare practice management one note at a time.  Well, not through song per say, but through their creative strategies, leadership and approach to inspire new possibilities, one conversation at a time.  Yes, I had the honor to meet with the lead singer of Looting in Suburbia, who happens to be one of those talented MBAs and pioneer in healthcare industry who is inviting new practices that allow everyone to go home singing.

During my interview with Tracy, she shared with me one of the top issues she has seen with her clients is that healthcare practices aren’t being run by people with business skills.  They can be the top plastic surgeon in their field, but that doesn’t mean they can do the following that kills practice margins:

Healthcare Transformation - Music to our Ears!
  • Vendor management
  • Cost structure control
  • Focus on high quality billing
  • Identifying, hiring and training talent

She recommends that you consider outsourcing billing and vendor management and focus on building a practice, one patient conversation at a time.  “The time is now, she tells us, to engage with new practices, or these businesses will soon be out of business.”

Given the prominence of this subject in the news, I asked Tracy to share some strategies and methods so that we can all evolve together.

Q:   What do you think is working and making a difference today in healthcare practice management?

A:   Although it is basic, strategic planning is the number one thing that differentiates a good practice from a great practice and provides struggling practices with a map to success.  The vast majority of practices with which I come in contact have never been exposed to proper strategic planning.  Without a strategic plan, there is no road map.  You wouldn’t set out on a cross-country trip without mapping out your route, but practice owners and managers routinely run their business (and make no mistake, it is a business) without a written plan or goals.  A practice is only as good as its people.  This includes all ancillary and support staff.  The first and last person a patient sees in most practices is the front office staff.  If your staff doesn’t understand how their job fits into the overall success of the organization, what the organization goals are for the year, or even why the practice exits then your staff is simply showing up.  The overall practice should have an in-depth plan and then each department should complete a scaled down version with their department goals.  This ensures that everyone in the practice is moving in the same direction.  A simple model that I like to use when introducing practices to strategic planning is the following:

  • Vision:  Where We Will Be…
    • A description of a future state that embodies the values of the practice, its highest ideas, and hopes for achievement at a future time.
  • Mission: Why We Exist…
    • A statement that covers why the practice exists; what it does; whom it serves; what products and services it provides.
  • Goals:  What Will Get Us There…?
    • Achievements and/or initiatives for major areas of the practice that enable the future Vision to be achieved, while fulfilling the Mission.
  • Objectives:  Major Steps We Will Take…
    • Intended results for each goal that is specific and measureable.  Any one goal may have multiple objectives required to be fully reached.  This is a way of measuring progress toward the goals.
  • Strategies:  How We Will Go About Doing This…
    • A series of activities selected to enable the organization to meet its objectives.  Strategies are very specific.  They deal with the “How”.
  • Tactics (Tasks): Who Will Do What by When…?
    • Specific items to be completed in the near term.
  • Roles:  Ownership of Tasks…
    • The ownership of results.  A collection of “to dos” assigned to each person in the organization, which support the goals and objectives.
  • Relationships:  People Working Toward a Common Goal
  • This is the working level, where the organization’s strategic direction is practiced daily.  This involves the alliances between organization doctors, members, peers, directors, consultants, patients, vendors, regulators, etc.  It is the foundation for all efforts of the organization, which in the end; points back to the patient as the primary focus.

Q:  What do you think we should drop altogether as a practice?

A:  Excuses!  There are always going to be compliance and regulatory changes.  Every industry must work with these issues.  There are always threats and opportunities.  The key is to build on your strengths, identify your challenges and stay one step ahead by anticipating what is coming down the road.  If your receivables are out of line, if your reimbursements are falling, if fewer patients are coming through the door change your course of action.  You would not continue the same treatment on a patient if it wasn’t working, so don’t do it with your business.

Q:  What could make a difference but isn’t today in healthcare practice management?

A:  It is impossible to do everything well in an industry that is in flux and highly regulated.  Practice Managers must consider outsourcing.  Spend your time driving the business strategically not focusing on the tiny details.  There aren’t enough hours in the day and you will definitely miss something.  Surround yourself with vendors that have a proven track record in their core competency.  Learn to look at the big picture and manage to the numbers.  Keep your team focused on how they impact the Vision, Mission and Purpose of the organization.  Outline metrics and hold employees and vendors accountable.  This will allow you to loosen your grip a little, which in the end will give you more control, not less control.

Similar to other community art, it’s a great piece of music, it requires the entire band to come together to create the final cut.  No different in healthcare practices.  You need a composer, skilled musicians and management.

Focusing on the Patient

Increasing patient care – this is what it’s all about.  Through my work with physicians over the last few years, I’ve come to really experience how this is  in fact their main focus.  Contrary to what you may read, they do really care about their patients.  Good to hear right?  So, what brings me to share my experience, well I’ve just returned from a weeklong conference which inspired me to write this post.

With the on-set of patients utilizing social media to connect and collaborate, many physicians are looking at these tools as a way to connect bridge and assist in efforts to increase patient care.   It’s exciting to see them embrace a new approach to engage with patients.  We patients, we are hungry for information about healthcare, about the best care, who to use, who has experience, how we  can share our stories and experiences as well as receive information on other experiences.

I was so impressed with Herbert Wolfsen, M.D. at the Mayo Clinic, I  co-authored a medical abstract on his experience in developing a Facebook group to support Esophageal cancer patients.  Why you ask?  Well, it was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn and provide insight into the work Dr. Wolfsen has done in supporting this important group.  Because patients in this group face distinctive issues, it is important for them to connect with each other to share experiences.  The Facebook group is fostering the member’s needs to not only connect with the doctor himself, but with other patients with interest in this area.  This could allow them to have social learning beyond any F2F discussion’s they may have had in the past and continue the dialogue, but through an online venue even richer since it was a larger group.  Overall, I find it encouraging to see such physicians branching out of the hospital and utilizing online tools to enable connections in modern means that engage, support and educate patients.

By Michelle Groff Burling