Healthcare, like most other industries, is cyclical. During the 1990s, hospitals were buying independent practices. Eventually that slowed, and doctors’ offices were thriving on their own. Changes in reimbursement and technology have brought a return in the cycle, however.
Practitioners who want to stay under their own patronage can do so. They just have to make wise practice decisions. Here are tips from experts on ways to remain strong and independent.
Start at the source
To run a healthy practice, you have to have patients. The best way to keep them coming through the doors is through referrals. Jim Hook, director of consulting for the Fox Group, said there are three ways to strengthen ties with referring physicians.
First, get referred patients into the office in a timely manner. If patients have to wait 60 days before they can be seen, they will start looking elsewhere, he said. Second, make it easy to refer to you. Make sure the office staff knows the referring physicians and works well with them. Finally, provide referring physicians with timely feedback. The bare minimum is a report that includes your findings and treatment options. Send a thorough report quickly, but don’t inundate doctors with information, said Gray Tuttle, a principal with Rehmann Healthcare Management Advisors. Tuttle said he receives a lot of complaints from primary care doctors who use electronic medical records and are buried in useless data. One way to get them the information they need is to send principle referral sources a quick survey to find out what they want and how to send it.
“It shows you are paying attention by asking what they need to take care of their patients,” he said. “It makes a good impression to referral docs and practices that aren’t doing that should.”
Kathleen L. DeBruhl, a healthcare attorney in New Orleans, said a physician must understand his or her referral patterns. “Ninety-nine percent of time doctors will say they [referrals] always come from primary care sources,” she said. “But there are almost no independent primary care doctors.”
Primary care doctors may like the ease of referring to specialists in their own hospital or multispecialty group, so you have to show them how much you want to care for their patients. DeBruhl said one old-fashioned management trick that works well is to pick up the phone. Sometimes a call thanking them for referring patients to you can work magic. Tuttle recommends sending a card or providing them a direct-dial number to get referrals to you quickly.