The cost-conscious physician trying to cut expenses can start by looking around the office.
Very often, resources such as patient portals are not being used efficiently; changing that can save a lot of staff time and money, says Heather Bettridge, Texas Medical Association associate vice president for practice management services.
That’s just one of several pieces of practical advice offered in the latest installment of TMA’s Ask the Expert series on operational cost management. The events give members access to professional experts who can answer questions about legal, practice management, advocacy, and regulatory topics.
“I can't tell you the number of times we go into practices [to advise them on costs], and the patient portal is not activated,” Ms. Bettridge said. “It'll help reduce the phone time staffers spend on routine tasks … You may not need to hire that person you think you do to schedule appointments because that can be done primarily by the patient through the portal.”
Here are some additional takeaways:
Don’t overlook extra electronic health record (EHR) functions.
Billing and coding modules on EHRs are another commonly overlooked resource. Errors can easily creep into the billing and coding process, and EHRs offer automated functions to help with insurance verification and eligibility.
Upgrading can save money.
While it may seem counterintuitive, spending money to upgrade existing technology can save a lot of money. For example, if your EHR does not provide the insurance functions mentioned above, “there are stand-alone products that might be able to integrate with what you do have,” Ms. Bettridge said.
And EHRs tailored to your needs can make operations much more efficient, and – again – make hiring more staff unnecessary. “Do your research and seek out one that offers the features you're looking for, or that would most help you,” she said.
Many physicians neglect upgrading their EHR because of the expense, adds Shannon Vogel, TMA’s associate vice president for health information technology. However, that approach can create huge expenses in the long run because upgrades protect against the latest malware threats. “If you think upgrading your EHR is expensive, having a malware incident or data breach is really expensive,” she said.
Practices should always have at least one eye on ways to use their EHRs and other office technology to automate, adds Teri Deabler, a TMA practice management consultant. “Obviously, we don't want to put people out of work, but automation can take the place of one or two full-time employees.”
When you do hire employees, don’t make the mistake of skimping on salary if you can hire the right person. “The right people are expensive, but the right people are probably better than two mediocre staff members,” Ms. Deabler said. “So, you're cutting your overhead costs automatically.”
Vendors and insurance companies know how to create small charges and fees that add up, says Carra Benson, TMA manager for practice management and reimbursement services. For instance, small health care plans frequently try to force medical practices to receive payments through a virtual credit card – one that charges unnecessary fees of up to 5% per transaction.
Practices should instead receive payment through an electronic funds transfer (EFT), which charges no fees. “By requesting the health plan to send [payment] by EFT instead of virtual credit card, [practices] can save quite a bit,” Ms. Benson said.
For more information on this topic, visit TMA’s Practice Operations Resource Center.
And check out the Ask the Expert webpage for podcasts, additional resources, and upcoming live events. The next session on the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule is scheduled for Nov. 30 at noon CT.