Are Practice Management Consultants Worth Hiring?

In the end, the practices who invest in themselves are, almost always, the top performers. You’ll see among best performing practices, that many have engaged – and continues to engage – consultants on matters that are outside their expertise.

This is a guest post from Chip Hart. Chip is a frequent contributor to PediatricInc and former co-host of the highly revered Pediatric Management Awesomecast. When Chip isn’t protecting independent pediatric practices against evil conglomerates, naysayers, and the League of Shadows, you can find him at PCC doing… something (I’ve never figured out what is it that he does at PCC, exactly). 


I will never forget the scene. I was the lonely consultant in the dark and shag-carpeted basement “conference room” of a large pediatric practice and was giving them a stern lecture about their pricing. The practice hadn’t updated its prices in years and was undoubtedly losing money. Lots of it.

Chip Hart and Brandon Betancourt
Working really, really hard.

After my explanation of RVUs and why 105% of Medicare wouldn’t cut it, the senior partner – well, the loudest one, anyway – looked me in the eye and said, “OK, that sounds smart, let’s just raise our prices.” It was the response I was hoping to get.

The youngest and newest partner jumped in quickly, “What?! How can you listen to this guy?”

Uh oh, I thought. His voice cracked, “…I’ve been telling you this same information for almost two years and he just waltzes in here and says ‘Correct your pricing.’ and you do it just like that?”

I honestly thought he was going to cry in frustration and relief. 10-minutes of back-and-forth among them ensued. I just stayed out of it. At the end of the year, the additional $250,000 they collected erased the discomfort and awkward part of the memory for them.

I didn’t forget, however. I remember sitting there thinking, “This poor practice lost hundreds of thousands of dollars simply because they were unwilling or unable to listen to themselves. They had to hear it from someone else.”

HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?

The answer is both obvious and convoluted. I have often said that the most important and difficult task for any small business is to find and hire good people. Unquestionably, this challenge extends to the hiring of practice management consultants.

Pediatric practices successfully hire consultants all the time without a tremendous amount of consideration – realtors, attorneys, I/T – but when it comes to getting help on the inner workings of the practice, the majority of pediatric offices too reluctant to ask for help.

And when they do ask for help, it’s often ineffective.

Every practice I visit codes imperfectly, yet some practices lose tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as a result of their inability to address the problem.

Most practices could use help negotiating with insurance companies, yet remarkably few of them do. Many practices need help with a compensation model or managing a challenging partnership, yet most of them just live with the problems and hope it will go away. And so forth.

Physicians, unfortunately, are uniquely susceptible to mis-using consultants, even if it is simply to not use them enough.

You expect most vendors and consultants to try to take advantage of you – all doctors are rich, right? – while having trouble admitting that you cannot solve all of your own problems.

Combine those aversions with the impecunious nature of most pediatricians, and there is no surprise that I meet practices every week who would rather lose another $15,000 this year due to a poorly designed superbill and bad pricing than pay a consultant half that amount to fix the problems.

HOW AND WHEN DO YOU KNOW YOU NEED A CONSULTANT?

There is no magic formula, but try these parameters on for size:

  • When there is an issue that your partnership cannot resolve, or when a neutral third party can facilitate a necessary change in your practice, consider a consultant.
  • When you are not an expert in the matters that affect your practice or if there is simply another party who might be more effective and efficient at addressing the matters, consider a consultant.
  • When your practice is losing more money on an issue than it would cost you to fix, consider a consultant.
  • When the amount of money you would pay a consultant is less than the amount of money you would generate seeing patients, consider a consultant.

Those last two examples are often conjoined in a death spiral of inaction. Many of you don’t want to pay a consultant $20,000 to renegotiate a contract increase of $50,000 annually because “you can do it yourselves.”

Yet, you don’t do it. Or you start the project and sink 10, 20, 40 hours into the task – often worth more to the practice than what you would pay the consultant – and then never complete the job.

Pediatricians, as business owners, are notoriously bad at examining the return on their potential investments and usually focus far too heavily on only the costs.

Pretending to be 100% self-sufficient serves no one except, perhaps, the insurance companies. Your patients don’t benefit, your lifestyle suffers, and you leave money on the table.

HOW THEN DO YOU HIRE A PRACTICE MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT?

First, hiring a consultant involves a lot of common sense. You want a written contract that spells out the terms of your obligation.

The terms should clearly outline your expectations, identify the fundamental goal, and determine conclusion of the contract. Ultimately, it involves a relationship of trust and confirmation. Some suggestions that go beyond the generic:

1 – Pediatric practices are different, don’t let a potential consultant tell you otherwise.

Most medical practice consultants live in the Medicare world and look for “alternative income sources” that just don’t exist in pediatrics.

More importantly, the attitude and (often unspoken) philosophies of pediatric practices differ from other medical specialties. Find someone who knows pediatrics.

2 – Work with a consultant on one or more smaller projects and build up to a strong relationship.

Before you leap into that full payer-mix and negotiation mission, see how well you work together on something smaller, like simply reviewing the state of your existing contracts. If you are not getting the kind of performance you expected, better to have not committed so heavily.

3 – Don’t be afraid to use different consultants for different needs.

Just as you may not be an expert on RBRVS or pediatric compensation models, your consultant may not know it all, either.

Although some consulting resources pride themselves on their breadth of experience, depth is usually more important. A good consultant might look at your practice and identify work that needs doing. A great consultant can identify work that needs doing, but suggests another resource.

4 – Even after you have chosen a consultant, keep an eye out for conflicts of interest.

Although they are impossible to avoid and sometimes even lead to efficient work (like one consultant recommending another), conflicts are often poorly revealed in the industry.

5 – Use your network of pediatric peers to help vet your consulting needs.

Surely, if your potential consultant expects to work with you, he or she can provide you with pediatric references whom they have helped with similar issues. SOAPM is an excellent place for a sanity check.

In the end, the practices who invest in themselves are, almost always, the top performers. You’ll see among best performing practices, that many have engaged – and continues to engage – consultants on matters that are outside their expertise.

Let’s Talk About What Happened In Vegas

My friends from the Pediatric Management Institute (PMI) put on another great practice management conference in Las Vegas last January.Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.55.37 AM

The content was excellent, thanks to the fabulous faculty PMI brought in.

The topics varied from customer service principles to fundamental changes happening in the health insurance industry and how those changes are – or soon will be – affecting doctors’ financial bottom line.

Below are a few highlights and notable points that resonated with me.

ANCILLARY SERVICES | INCOME DIVERSIFICATION

Dr. Jeanne Marconi presented an account of how her practice diversifies income streams by incorporating ancillary services into her practice.

Admittedly Dr. Marconi’s comprehensive – almost overwhelming – plethora of services (they even offer in-house exercise training programs for children with high BMI) is probably too much for the standard practice to implement.

But for me, her talk wasn’t an invitation to follow her footsteps, but instead, provide insight into what is possible, what can be done and what is available to practices.

Dr. Marconi dished out several challenges to the physicians in the crowd. But the one that resonated with me the most was her call for pediatric practices to challenge the status quo, expand their minds, think creatively (or to use a cliche, think outside the box) and begin to think about ways to diversify practice’s revenue streams.

HOW HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANIES ARE PAYING DOCTORS

Susanne Madden arrived in Vegas with her extensive knowledge and expertise of the health insurance industry.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 11.10.10 AM
Dr. Jeanne Marconi and Susanne Madden

She presented attendees the sobering reality of how health insurance companies are adjusting, changing – even experimenting in some cases – with their models to continue delivering value to “their” shareholders. And by value, she means lower cost and higher profits.

Susanne underscored the importance of implementing quality measures such as P4P, HEIDIS, PCMH into our medical practices. But not for the reasons you might think.

While many of these health insurance programs are currently in place as rewards (e.g., enhanced or incentive payments) for medical practices that achieve quality measures thresholds in patient care, Susanne highlighted that these programs will soon become a requirement for practices.

What does this mean exactly? Insurance companies will soon stop offering enhanced payments programs to practices for achieving PCMH level III certification (or other types of incentives). Instead, they will reduce payments to doctors don’t meet PCMH certification.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, she added that many payers are evaluating providers based on how much the provider costs the company in benefits payouts.

How is that different than what they do now?

The difference is that they are not looking at the practice as a whole, but rather evaluating each provider individually.

The implications are that if you have physicians in your practice that don’t adhere to designated quality standards, payors can potentially pay each doctor in the practice different amounts.

HOW MUCH CAN WE AFFORD TO PAY AN EMPLOYED PROVIDER?

PMI’s very own Paul Vanchiere gave two of his hallmark presentations. The first one focused on customer service using the acronym KIDS (Kindness, Integrity, Dignity & Service).

His second talk was my favorite. Why? Because Paul took a complicated, MBA, executive consulting level exercise (determining how much can your practice afford to pay an employed provider) and distilled it into an easy to follow, step-by-step, process, which only requires one to understand a few financial concepts and enter value sets into a spreadsheet.

BROADEN YOUR CODE REPERTUAR

Dr. Rich Lander went over the fundamentals of proper coding. In addition to reviewing the differences between coding Level 2, 3, 4 & 5 for a sick visit, Dr. Lander stressed the importance of documenting “time” correctly in a patient’s chart.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.56.21 AM
Joanne Blanchard and Dr. Richard Lander

Dr. Lander shared multiple clinical scenarios that we often encounter with patients. But some of the codes he suggested I wasn’t all too familiar with. I couldn’t recall if we used them.

So I wrote down a reminder to myself to check how well (or not) providers at Salud Pediatrics were using the full scope of codes available.

NO PRESENCE, NO INFLUENCE

Dr. John Moore – a new PMI faculty member – brought us up to speed with some of the new social media trends (Are you familiar with SnapChat and how kids are using it?)

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 11.10.19 AM
Dr. John Moore and Paul Vanchiere

One of the points that Dr. Moore articulated that I appreciated the most was the importance for pediatricians to embrace social media.

He said something that I’ve been saying for a long time; which is, had pediatricians adopted social media at a faster clip, the pro-vaccine vs. anti-vaccine arguments would have been balanced. Moreover, there was the potential to stifle the anti-vax movement.

CHANGE IS THE NEW STATUS QUO

You can always count on Chip Hart to deliver great wisdom and insight. Chip also gave two talks.Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.56.11 AM

I’ve heard Chip speak many times, but this time, I felt his talks were different. Chip’s talks had a subtle, tough-love tone to them.

While addressing the challenges practices are facing today, he stressed that pediatricians have faced similar challenges before. He mentioned that during all previous tectonic shifts (aka industry changes) naysayers shouted out the demise of private practices. Much like many are shouting today.

Chip eloquently argued that not only are the doomsayers wrong, but that pediatricians are actually in a better situation than most think.

Chip wasn’t disregarding the challenges or downplaying the potential threats. We are indeed going through tough times. But these tough times were an opportunity to transform and reinvent our practices, he argued.

My takeaway was: If the plan is to defend the status quo and hedge the long-term success of your business on account that you have the initials MD after your name, thus somehow inoculated from change, the end is certainly near for you.

MEETING, CONNECTING, NETWORKING, SOCIAL LEARNING

Attending a seminar like this to learn from the speakers is certainly worth the price and the time. But more often than not, the icing on the cake, at least for me, is the immeasurable, intangible value I glean from networking.

The people who attend these events are the smartest and brightest in my opinion (and I’m not talking about the faculty, although they are good too).

Whether attendees are veterans in managing practices or opened their first private practices last week and believe they have no clue what they are doing, the truth is, there is opportunity to learn from everybody.

The faculty makes the trip worthwhile. But I would say the attendees make the event special.

Next year I hope to see you there. Especially if you didn’t get a chance to attend this year.

Place: New Orleans
Dates: Jan 27-28th 2017

 

#23 Step by Step Guide To Setting Prices For Your Medical Practice [Pediatric Practice Management AwesomeCast]

At the end of last year, Chip and I talked about New Years resolutions. I shared a few things I had on my list of things I wanted to accomplish in 2014 and Chip provided several suggestions we could do as a practice. One of Chip’s resolutions for practices, was to adjust our pricing.

I wrote his suggestion down. The truth is, I haven’t looked at our pricing in a couple of years. So I knew it was time.

The thing is, I wasn’t sure if I was setting our practice’s pricing correctly, so I asked Chip to give me some direction. After talking about it a little we came to the conclusion that this would be a great AwesomeCast.

So here you have it. How to set up your practice’s prices, step-by-step.

Audio Only

You can listen to the AwesomeCast by visiting the links below:

iTunes

Pediatric Practice Management Media Cast