If you manage a small or midsize healthcare practice, you have a dizzying list of responsibilities. On any given day, you’re likely to deal with patients, billing, expenses, supplies, staffing issues, insurance and legal compliance, technology glitches.
“And you’re also the plumber, the babysitter and the therapist,” says Laura Hatch, founder and owner of Front Office Rocks, an online training program for dental offices and other practices. Hatch managed dental practices for several years before developing her curriculum.
Jenni Rose, a certified medical manager, carries out those responsibilities while managing the Arthritis & Osteoporosis Center in Traverse City, Michigan. Rose brings 20 years of experience as a clinical medical assistant to her role as a practice manager.
Hatch and Rose shared their hard-earned knowledge for how to stay efficient and productive.
1. Don’t just put out fires.
Know what you have to do and schedule for it, Hatch says. This means you’re not jumping from task to task and dealing with whatever is in front of you; you’re purposefully doing the work you intended to do. That might require blocking out time for tasks that have to be done and letting staff know not to interrupt unless it’s an emergency.
When you’re approached with a request for your time, Hatch recommends trying to schedule that, too. If an employee says, “Do you have a minute?” quickly ascertain whether the topic needs to be discussed immediately; if not, schedule time later.
“Control the communication that comes at you,” Hatch says. “If all communication comes at you verbally, you don’t have a lot of control in how to work it into your day.”
2. Work around the busy periods.
Every practice has a rhythm of hectic times and relative calm. In dental practices, Mondays and mornings tend to be the busiest, Hatch says. Those are good times for managers to keep their schedules open. Save tasks that require focus for quieter moments.
Rose has used this method in her practice to get critical work done each week. One of her biggest responsibilities is ensuring compliance with regulations set forth by agencies such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and by laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. So every Thursday at 2 p.m. — when she can typically get time to focus — Rose sits down with her compliance binder to review training and policies. She also schedules time to read newsletters from CMS and private insurance companies to make sure she’s aware of news that could affect her practice.
3. Train your people.
Hatch encourages managers to keep track of everything they do for a week and make a list. Then she tells them to ask: “Are these things only I can do, or are there things where I can train and delegate to others?”
The answer will often be the latter, Hatch says, and while it takes more time upfront to train someone on a task, it saves time later.
Rose adds that a practice manager still has to be ready to jump in at any time, especially when employees are out sick or overwhelmed. She regularly helps at the front desk or assists the biller in finding the correct codes for a procedure. Because she’s trained as a certified medical assistant, she can also help with some clinical tasks, such as inserting an IV or performing a bone-density scan.
4. Empower employees.
The way Rose sees it, managers can be dictators who bark orders or leaders who help employees complete their tasks. The latter approach is far more efficient in the long run.
That’s why she spends one-on-one time with her employees to organize and prioritize their tasks and figure out the best way to get things done. This increases comfort and confidence and leads to a better operation overall, she says.
“When people have a manager who is a team player, who is willing to help them, they’re eager to do their best work,” Rose says.
It’s also helpful to coach your team members to handle tricky situations, such as patient complaints, on their own, Hatch says. A manager can provide behind-the-scenes guidance to help the employee resolve the issue and gain know-how for next time.
5. Outsource if possible.
Hatch recommends identifying functions that can be outsourced to free up time within the practice. In a past practice, she outsourced filing insurance claims to a third-party company. There are many such businesses that will handle tasks like answering phones, sending statements or contacting lapsed patients who are due for a checkup.
Of course, the choice to outsource will land with whoever makes financial decisions for the practice, often a doctor or dentist. But the manager can do research and suggest options, Hatch says.
“If we can outsource something that takes a lot of time in the office to someone who focuses on that, it gives your team time to focus on the most important thing, which is customer service and the patient.”