Editor’s note: This article is the first of a two-part series; the second installment will appear in the October issue of AAOS Now.
In today’s constantly changing and complex healthcare environment, it can seem impossible to keep up with the latest industry trends, operational efficiencies, software and security requirements, legal/compliance issues, and more. That is because it is impossible. A good place to start is by talking to peer groups and attending conferences hosted by professional organizations such as AAOS or the American Association of Orthopaedic Executives to remain knowledgeable about trends, meet with vendors, and learn about general solutions.
There are certain situations that require additional help and guidance. You may consider hiring a consultant when one of the following four situations arise:
- You need an impartial party. Whether the topic is physician compensation plans, mergers, governance structure, strategic planning, or dealing with a disruptive partner, having a third party to help manage politics can be invaluable. Often, individuals intimately involved in a situation do not have credibility with the entire organization because there is a perceived (or real) bias toward a solution that is self-serving or beneficial to select physicians. It can also be carrier suicide for an administrator or physician leader to make decisions that have a negative impact on certain members of a group. For example, the consultant industry jokes that the best physician compensation plan is one everyone dislikes equally; everyone receives equitable treatment, and no single party comes out ahead at the expense of another. When
interviewing clients and employees about problems or solutions, consultants tend to be more open because there is no retribution or emotional baggage associated with such conversations. Consultants can help facilitate communication between affected parties and “sell” a solution to both sides. The goal of a consultant is to develop a collaborative, practical solution—not to maneuver for position or power in the future.
- You need an outsider’s perspective. If a practice is accustomed to dealing with a problem or inefficiency, it can become normal. Anyone can be blinded by status quo or just trying to get the job done in a busy practice. As an example, a practice had three-part charge tickets (before the electronic days) but two of them eventually ended up in a shred box. Eliminating printing the other two parts and reducing the pounds of paper sent to shredding saved the practice almost $30,000 per year. Sometimes, a fresh set of eyes with operational experience can identify obvious areas for improvement or ways to solve seemingly impossible chronic problems.
- You need guidance about something that is not your specialty. As good as most physicians, administrators, and managers are at running their businesses, organizations can lack certain skillsets—particularly smaller practices. Consultants spend their time studying the environment, becoming subject-matter experts, interacting with other healthcare entities, identifying best practices used by their clients, and solving problems. From information technology security to electronic medical record implementation, cash controls, compliance, coding, and strategic planning, a consultant can evaluate a practice, outline needs and goals, and help implement solutions. Often, managers and physicians who spend their days putting out fires are great at instant problem-solving but may not have the correct temperament or experience to plan long-term. If a practice is considering a big decision pertaining to things such as expanding a product line, adding a new location, partnering with a hospital, or buying a new piece of equipment, a different strategic or financial/analytical skillset is important. The right consultant probably has dealt with the specific issue before and will have unique insights into how it has been solved across the region. The consultant can help reassure that the organization is on the right track or guide it to a more appropriate path before there is a costly or catastrophic mistake.
- You and your current staff need resources. All of the operators of a practice are focused on managing patient flow, maximizing revenue, and handling the latest employee and patient issues—all while trying to maintain the highest quality of patient experience and care. Perhaps the skillsets needed for other issues do exist inside the organization but the time to solve the problems does not. For large or complex problems, staff members often cannot spare the time, effort, and focus to gather data across departments, build consensus on a solution, develop a work plan, and handle project and change management. Consultants can dedicate 100 percent of their time and effort to address such issues.
Engaging an experienced healthcare consultant can be expensive, but for the impartiality, fresh perspective, unique experience, and ability to make your project the top priority, the value may justify the cost.
Lisa Warren, CPC, MSHA, MBA, is CEO of Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.