Use Data for Drama-Free Practice Improvements

There’s a troubling trend going on in healthcare today, maybe even in your own practice. While we’re seeing patients become more engaged, our employees are becoming less engaged. Practices are often stretched thin, both from financial and staffing perspectives. Forced to operate with fewer and fewer resources, physicians, administrators, and staff are at risk of becoming increasingly frustrated with working in healthcare.

This is bad news, because todays patients expect a full slate of bright, chipper staff ready to meet their every need. If they don’t get that, they’re more than ready to move on to the next practice. Some practices think that it’s no big deal if a patient is unhappy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only does it cost several times more money to acquire a new patient than to keep a current one, but longer-term patients tend to spend more money at your practice. So not only might you lose the unhappy patient, you’ll likely replace them with a less-profitable patient.

At the same time, you know that the only way to alleviate these stressors is to make significant changes in the way your practice runs. Unfortunately, the myriad struggles today’s eye care practices are facing mean that staff tensions can run high. And paradoxically, that tension often derails the practice improvement plans that were supposed to alleviate the tension in the first place. It can really be a catch-22.

Data Doesn’t Lie

I learned a long time ago that in order to confront problems and accomplish meaningful change, you have to try to take the emotion out of it. Playing the blame game, fear of conflict, and avoidance of accountability are just a few of the reasons that practice improvement initiatives run off course. Using the right data will help you drill down to the root cause of costly problems and can help take the drama out of practice improvements. Focusing on the data will go a long way towards eliminating emotionally charged and unproductive situations, allowing you to get the buy-in that you need to plan and accomplish the improvements your practice needs.

Setting the Stage

Successfully executing any new strategy requires new behaviors, and a lasting change in perspective. If you’re not willing to change, it will be very difficult to influence or expect anyone else to change. This will really put a wrench in your plans. Influencing others takes perseverance, and it’s so much easier to be lazy and to give up rather than to push and push for change.

I always tell everybody “It’s never about you,” (even when it is). When a staff member or a patient comes to you with a problem, let them tell you what’s going on without interjecting stories about yourself or your experiences. You probably think you’re commiserating with them, but you’re really just making it all about you.

You also have to start building trust. Building trust—with patients and employees—is one of the most critical challenges facing practices today. Using data transparently will help you do that. If you’re not transparent with your employees, everybody thinks you’re trying to take their job away from them. When everyone is looking at the same exact data, it prevents people from hoarding information, or from manipulating or distorting facts to spin a situation to their advantage.

Measuring Accountability

So many times I see people try to influence change, and there’s no accountability. If there’s no one accountable for completing a task or achieving a goal, chances are good that you won’t get the results you’re looking for. In order to foster accountability, you need a clear understanding of your goal—only then will you be able to measure your progress.

You can track accountability through benchmarking. When you do this, you’ll want to focus on lead measures, not lag measures. Lead measures are the most high-impact things we want to accomplish, because how we do on lead measures can actually change your outcome. In contrast, lag measures are an after-the-fact data point. They only tell you how you did in the past. For example, the accuracy of your registrations is a lead measure, because it influences your denial rate (inaccurate registration accounts for about 60 percent of denied claims). The more accurate your patient registration, the lower your denial rate should be. In contrast, your denial report is a lag measure, it tells you what’s already happened.

Putting Data to Work for You

Let’s take a look at an example of how data can help you objectively assess what’s going on in your practice and come up with alternative solutions.

Studies show that it takes 10 minutes longer to check patient insurance eligibility when the patient is in front of you than it does if the eligibility check is conducted prior to the visit. So let’s say it normally takes 10 minutes, but when the patient is right there it takes 20 minutes. Assuming your front desk staffer has an hourly rate of $15 per hour, that’s an extra $5 of staff time. If you have five new patients per day, that adds up to $6,000 extra dollars of staff time per year. And that’s not to mention the patient frustration and the impact on your patient flow.

If you didn’t have access to this time-based data, what would your improvement process look like? You might think, “Well, our patient flow problem is the front desk’s fault because they’re waiting to do the eligibility checks and they’re not doing them when they’re supposed to. They need to do a better job.” Meanwhile, your front desk staff are going to become resentful because they feel like they are shouldering the blame for this problem. But when you do have access to this time-based data and can look at the actual numbers, it will lead you towards a better, drama-free solution: suddenly, that new online check in and kiosk you’ve been eyeing doesn’t sound like such a bad deal.

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