Are you an ambitious professional, straight out of med school with a vision to open your own private practice?
Do you already have an established medical practice but it’s not thriving or even underperforming?
Medical school and residency teach an incredible amount of information. Knowledge is dumped into the learning physician, who is eager to start helping patients and earn a great living doing so.
However, there is a knowledge gap that is even more important than being a great provider.
“You have to run a successful business to have a successful medical practice.”
It’s very simple, but easier said than done.
Meet David Sanchez, RN, and CEO and founder of Digitalis Medical and a nonprofit addiction treatment center.
Reflecting on his own experiences of mistakes and victories, he shares with you a few critical areas that will save years of headaches and tens of thousands of dollars or more if you do them right.
These are the 5 main topics we will be discussing that are very important for a successful medical practice:
- Basic Marketing in Its Purest Form
- Medical Sales and Business Development
- Billing – Oh, Billing.
- Efficient Staffing
- IT: Need I Say More?
1. Basic Marketing in Its Purest Form
Revenue is the cornerstone of a functioning business. If you don’t have money coming in, it doesn’t matter how great your services or staff are.
If people aren’t aware you exist, how will they know to use your services?
We tend to overcomplicate things, but really it’s pretty simple.
The more people know about your organization, the more they will give you money.
It’s just not possible to help people unless you have the financial means to pay the bills, plus LOTS of extra to cover taxes. (We don’t need to talk more about taxes, right? Let’s not get sidetracked here.)
Your Medical Website = Your Professional Reputation
The way your website looks and what it says will determine your patients’ opinion of your practice.
This is your first impression with your patient base and it plays a crucial role in your potential patients’ decision to trust you enough to call you.
How crucial? Almost 100% crucial.
Research reveals that “websites influence 97% of clients’ purchasing decisions.”
With that said, let’s take a glance at your current website and do a quick assessment.
As you are looking through your web pages ask yourself, “If I was in need of my services, would I make the call based on my website?”
There are key elements of your website that highly impact the opinion of your potential patients, which determines if they will choose to call you or not.
Now, does your website have ALL of the following key elements?
- Valuable, relevant, and timely information that answers your patients’ most pertinent questions
- A clear list of your services and offerings
- An appealing and clean design and layout
- Easy to navigate
- Includes credentials and specialties of your providers
- Reviews and testimonials from existing patients
- A clear, unobstructed method for patients to contact you
- Available ways to engage and interact with you online
Are there any elements that your website is lacking?
If yes, then you could be damaging the reputation of your practice by failing to meet the needs of what your patients are looking for.
Once your website is in tip-top shape and is ready to impress, the next step in creating a successful medical practice is making sure your website is found online.
Every Medical Practice Needs at Least Basic SEO
When was the last time you used a phone book to look up a service that really mattered to you?
Que a quick quip from David:
“Google has replaced those big ugly phone books my mom used to make me taller so I could eat at the dinner table in the 80s.”
Google is the most used search engine platform in the world. That means that there is a lot of information from websites vying to be on top of the results list.
Why is the top of the search engine results list so important?
Simply put, the top three results get 75% of the clicks!
Users prefer the information available to them before they have to scroll down. Nevermind clicking to page 2 of the results!
So, how do you get your website at the top of the list?
It depends on whether or not your website meets the specific criteria of Google’s ranking algorithm.
To help get your website to the top of the list it must be Search Engine Optimized (SEO).
Here’s a quick overview of some of the best SEO practices to help your website rank higher:
Have High-Quality and Relevant Content on Your Site:
Google respects a website that has robust, authoritative, up-to-date content because this is what the user is looking for.
Also, if your content uses the key terms that your potential patients are typing into the search box then your site’s relevancy ranking will increase as well.
Much more than keywords, the content on your web pages and in your blogs needs to be of value to your readers.
Discuss health issues, symptoms, and prevention, as well as procedures and treatments relevant to your practice. Keep your readers informed of the latest relevant health trends, research, and news.
Use this as an arena to show off your expertise, gain more trust, and truly benefit your readers.
Valuable content equals a higher value in Google’s rankings to get your website higher on the results list.
Get Others to Link to Your Site
If other websites include a link to your site, this tells Google that your site has awesome content that is worth sharing and referencing!
Now, this can be done organically – the writer of another website does research for content and deems your information worthy for a mention.
There is a proactive approach as well. That is to promote your content on other platforms to encourage shares and links back to your site.
Google uses these backlinks as a way to measure your credibility and where you fit best in its rankings.
Increase Your Medical Practice’s Citations
The more places your practice is listed online in the NAP format, which lists your Name, Address, and Phone number, the more it helps to increase your site’s rankings as well.
Plus, if you’re not listed on Google, Yelp, Healthgrades, Zocdoc, Vitals, RateMDs, and other online directories, people won’t know about you and why they should choose you.
According to personal research and business advice, platforms like Yelp or YP.com can be a waste of your time and money. These apps limit your target audience to only those who use their app or website.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, like Rehabs.com or Psychology Today, but definitely talk to a digital marketing consultant before shelling any dollars out to online directories.
You’re more than likely going to get burned and waste your marketing budget on an audience that you are not intending to reach who don’t need your services.
Improve the Overall User Experience:
The experience your visitors have on your website tells Google a lot.
The longer a visitor stays on your site lets Google know that your site is valuable. This is known as the user’s dwell time.
Here’s what impacts your visitors dwell time:
1. Your site speed, which is how fast your website loads, will impact your rankings.
The patients you are trying to reach just don’t have the patience to sit around and wait for your site to load.
If your site speed is slow then you are at risk of having your visitors “bounce off” (leave) your site.
This tells Google that your site is not worthy of the user’s time nor for the top of the results list.
2. Your website’s navigation is taken into account based on how easy it is to navigate.
If users can’t find what they are looking for, they are heading to the next site.
3. Mobile optimization is important as most online searches are conducted in the palm of your patients’ hands!
Your website must be formatted to fit within the limits of the smaller screens of mobile devices.
If it’s not, the user is hitting the back button before they can even find your “Call Now!” button.’
Print and Mail Outreach
These can be extremely useful when you’re targeting a specific geographical location.
David’s word of advice is “not to rely on print marketing alone.” As you may be able to relate, most people only glance at these pieces before they end up in the trash.
If you do use mailers or print ads, make sure you have eye-catching graphics and an extremely compelling offer.
When Am I Ready for Paid Ads Online?
Basically paid ads, or pay-per-click ads, fall under two main categories:
1. Google Ads (also known as SEM, or Search Engine Marketing)
Search Engine Marketing is when you buy ad space at the top of the search engine’s results list.
This approach works when a potential patient types in a keyword that is attached to your ad campaign. Your ad is then triggered to appear at the top of the list among the organic results.
It will be apparent to the patient that the listing is an ad, as it will be specified with the word “Ad” at the front of the listing.
Search Engine Marketing is available with Google, Bing, Yahoo, and the rising star DuckDuckGo.
2. Social Media Ads and Display Ads
Social media ads are paid advertisements on social media platforms.
Display ads appear on web pages rather than search engine results lists.
“I have seen medical practices waste tens of thousands of dollars on them, just because the timing or the messaging wasn’t right.”
How to Know When You’re Ready to Use Paid Ads:
This advertising strategy is effective only if you are in the right place in your practice to handle the outcome.
Two different scenarios to see if you are ready for paid ads:
- When your practice has plenty of money and patients without the ads.
- When you have a generous marketing budget, and time is more important than money.
Of course, paid ads can be extremely effective, but if you don’t have the infrastructure in place to handle these things, you’ll be in a world of hurt and out of money quickly.
Here is what you can expect with a paid advertising campaign:
- A lag time of 2-3 months to get the campaign working well
- Testing dozens of changes to the images, calls to action, and offers
- A constant flow of new callers that will demand more of the front office staff and adequate phone systems
- An efficient scheduling system in place
2. Medical Sales and Business Development
Just like any other business, the healthcare industry operates in the same way.
Your practice is your business. Here are some best practices to have a successful medical business.
Business Development and Partnerships with the Right People
Networking with other business leaders can help launch your success.
There are some gold nuggets you can glean from taking part in business relationships and partnerships, like learning from their mistakes or following their best practices.
Your success does not rely solely on your efforts (Phew! That takes some of the pressure off!).
Many other successful businesses have been on the road you are on now. Working with similar specialists can get your wheels turning.
You will be inspired to try new strategies or follow suit with what has been tried and true.
Connect with Larger Companies That Will Help You
The success and growth of your practice go beyond increasing your recognition with your target patient audience.
Increasing the awareness of your practice among others who also care for your preferred patients can open the door to many more opportunities.
Get connected with:
- Technology platforms and apps that serve your ideal patients
- Organizations that serve your specialty or closely aligned specialties
These relationships will help place you in the best position to become the right fit for the right patients.
Healthcare Influencer Marketing
When you step out into the networking world to meet and connect with other specialists, you can really take your medical practice up a notch.
You can do this by connecting with local influencers.
Local influencers are other healthcare professionals whom your ideal patients already have an established, trusted relationship with. They can instigate a constant flow of patients your way with their referrals.
Examples of local influencers can be a local maternity photographer for your OB-GYN practice, or a bariatric surgeon if you’re a plastic surgeon.
3. Billing – Oh, Billing.
“Don’t get me started on billing. Let’s keep this conversation from getting sidetracked, please.”
There are a million billing providers out there. The trick is to find the right one for your practice.
Here are some areas to guide you:
It’s All About the Revenue
You want to make sure to maximize the following:
First-pass acceptance rate
The medical claims you submit first need to pass the clearinghouse (the middleman between a provider and the insurance companies).
Clearinghouses do, what is known as, claim scrubbing, which is a thorough review of each claim to check for any errors.
Your claim will either get rejected or pass before it can be submitted to the insurance companies for payment.
It is imperative for your medical practice to choose a diligent medical billing company who’s medical claims have a high first-pass acceptance rate.
This will help decrease the number of days the claims are in accounts receivable and get sent to the payer faster.
The faster the claims pass the clearinghouse, the faster your practice gets paid.
Average claim reimbursement rate (as a percentage)
The efficiency, accuracy, and industry experience will determine your billing company’s reimbursement rate.
The average claim reimbursement rate is calculated by the total amount of payments received divided by the total amount of claims submitted.
Of course, the higher the rate, the higher the return in revenue.
In House Vs. Third-Party Billing
Let’s be honest, billing can be a beast, which makes outsourcing it to a third-party provider sound like a good idea, right?
We all know what a hassle this part of running a practice can be, plus your staff is already going above and beyond with their duties.
So, the purpose, you’ve concluded, for hiring a third-party billing company is to increase efficiency, decrease errors, and to maximize your revenue.
This calls for you to get down and dirty in the hiring process to find the best company for the job.
Here’s what to look for:
Expertise in the healthcare industry
This requires an in-depth knowledge of the specific codes for billing, which are ICD-10, CPT4, and HCPCS coding. Plus, knowledge of medical terminology will help to reduce common errors.
Understanding and knowledge of your particular specialty
Specialty-specific billing companies also get specialty-specific training to fully understand the regulations within that field.
It makes life a whole lot easier if your billing company doesn’t need you to walk through every detail of billing to ensure higher accuracy.
What helps to increase the turnaround time from billing to accounts receivables is having the manpower to dedicate to your account.
Read reviews from other customers and ask around in your networking circle to see who others recommend.
Top-Notch Customer Service
Running a medical practice doesn’t afford you a lot of time to be distracted by issues from your billing company.
With that said, when you call or online chat with a CSR, you want efficient on-the-ball customer care.
Side note, the sales team to get you on board as a client is not a fair representation of their customer service.
Get a Fair Rate
You may need to roll up your sleeves and throw on your negotiator hat here.
David advises that you are going to want to negotiate for the lowest rate possible.
“I’ve seen a range as low as 2%, and as high as 11% for some specialties”.
Take the time to do the math to see what your net revenue will be when all is said and done.
It doesn’t matter how much money you save if the billing company doesn’t get the claims paid, though.
It is worth it to pay a higher rate to work with a reputable third-party billing company that consistently gets paid more on a higher number of claims.
Billing Software and People Can Change Everything
Plain and simple, how successful and smooth your operation runs is all about who you hire.
Claim scrubbing is critical:
You want the max return on your medical claims from the paying insurers. If there are any errors in your medical coding, your claims will get rejected or denied and you may not get paid.
A claim scrubbing software will analyze billing for any errors to help maximize the highest reimbursement.
Avea is a claim scrubbing software developed specifically for behavioral health and addiction treatment center billing to automate manual work
Billing partners do the heavy work:
The role of a billing partner is to do the negotiating in order for you to obtain maximum reimbursements from payors.
Collect RX is a billing partner who specializes in getting medical providers the greatest reimbursement for both in and out-of-network payors.
They have a track record working with private practices, behavioral health, ambulatory surgery centers, hospitals, and labs.
Your bottom line is what’s at stake when choosing the approach and companies to work with for your medical billing.
A clearinghouse provides the platform for your claim submittals. Take a test drive in a few different platforms to check out the ease of use for tracking claims. Transparency is key!
Keep in mind that when you choose a clearinghouse that your payors are also enrolled in, reimbursements are more streamlined, as it is in the same system.
If a payor is enrolled in another clearinghouse, your claim must go through their clearinghouse after it has been cleared with yours.
Waystar is an innovative clearinghouse that stays on top of the many changes in the healthcare billing system.
This company implements these changes into its platform to make for a seamless and simpler revenue cycle management program.
Claims are simply tracked throughout every step. You can easily see where each claim is in the revenue cycle.
Pertinent Questions to Ask Any Third-Party Billing Company You’re Considering Hiring
Is the company familiar with the type of billing you need?
What type of claim will you be filing, UB-04 or CMS-1500, and does the company work with this type of claim?
How many behavioral health clients do you have?
How often do you bill?
What kind of claim scrubbing do you specialize in?:
Do you offer electronic billing?
Which clearinghouse do you use?
What is your turnaround time?
What is your percent of billed amount collection rate?
What is your percent of claims collected on at 30/60/90 days?
What type of billing reports do you run and how often?
What is your fee structure?
How many coders do you staff?
How much will our facility need to be involved in the billing process?
Do you work with Collect RX?
4. Efficient Staffing
Now that we have looked at hiring companies to help smooth out and increase your revenue management.
There are others who play a big role in how successful your medical practice is…your staff.
Your mission is to have a thriving medical business. To obtain that, you need a well-staffed office consisting of a kick-butt team.
From the front office to the medical assistant, the nurse, physician’s assistant, to the billing department – every role needs to be cohesive in order to have a high functioning office.
In David’s experience, “Let’s be honest: staff can make your life heaven or hell.”
Here’s a spoon full of medicine that can actually improve your health (mental and physical) if you take it to heart:
“You can’t hire your way into a successful practice, and you don’t have to hire someone new for every need your practice has.”
There it is in all its glory.
So, how do you get the staff your practice needs?
Only Hire Rockstars. Period.
You’ll regret it if you hire anyone besides A players.
“A great physician once told me (this was during a surgery), ‘You’re only as good as the staff you hire.’”
These are the wise words from Adam Feingold, an OB-GYN who still runs a very successful practice in Northern Arizona.
David reflects, “that was before I started my own facility, but I took it with me. It’s very true.”
When you are hiring your ideal staff, you should already have a vision of what your practice will look like.
While you interview your candidates ask:
- Who is going to help me get my practice to where I want it to be?
- Who is driven to reach the same goals I have?
- Is this person open and flexible with change? (this is crucial!)
As you implement new strategies, procedures, and protocols that will benefit your practice, your team really needs to be able to go with the flow.
More importantly, they need to be able to give you honest feedback as well as solutions for improvement.
The rockstars you hire will not only help you but more importantly, they are there to help the patients.
If your patients have a poor experience with your staff, it will, unfortunately, reflect upon you.
That leads to the next point. When you hire rockstars, make sure to offer plenty of training.
Serve Your Staff and They Will Serve You
Humans need structure, guidance, and order to be able to be successful at what they do.
Setting the expectations from the get-go of their career with you will help to eliminate gray areas.
Establish and implement the mission and values of your organization. Always provide ample amounts of training!
Setting your staff up for success will also determine whether you can ever take time off.
Cross Train So You Aren’t Constantly Putting Out Fires
When you run your own practice, there is a lot of weight that falls on your shoulders.
If you apply the previous step effectively, then you can trust your rockstar staff to manage a lot of the decision making.
Take some time to review every responsibility that is on your plate and start delegating and placing the trust in your staff.
If you believe in them, they will believe in themselves.
Your Job is to Help Your Staff and Enable Them to Excel
An open-door policy goes a long way with your staff. Make yourself approachable and all ears to hear concerns.
Problems are going to arise in any setting with more than one person, even with rockstars. Empower them to find solutions for the problems they face.
Have open lines of communication to hear them and provide constructive support.
If your staff is struggling to keep up with expectations, protocols, or responsibilities, hear them out, ask them what they need, and come up with solutions together.
Remember, people thrive on recognition and appreciation. A “job well done” will brighten any staff member’s day.
5. IT: Need I Say More?
“In healthcare, technology is either your best friend or worst enemy.”
To be successful in your healthcare business you need to have top-notch, high-performing, and reliable technology systems.
These could include:
- Computer systems
- Network systems
- Phone system
- Practice management software
- Security systems
…to name a few.
To ensure that these systems run as you expect and as you need them to, hiring the right IT solutions company will be your golden ticket.
Choosing the right IT provider can make all the difference in the world.
When looking for an IT management provider there are a few things to consider.
1. Is 27/4 surveillance of your systems available?
Having this service provides immense peace of mind for you and your staff.
As with any technological program or hardware, it can be subject to glitches and malfunctions.
With 24/7 remote management services, issues can be avoided or remedied before it impacts your workflow.
2. Does the IT provider follow HIPAA Compliance?
Confidential patient information is being shared within your practice’s network, servers, and cloud-based systems.
Ensure that your IT provider is knowledgeable of, practices, and complies with HIPAA regulations.
3. Does the IT Provider have experience in the healthcare setting?
Each type of business has its own unique systems that are relied on for security, communications, and management solutions.
In healthcare, there are specific practice management solutions, patient portals, and billing systems.
It makes your life a whole lot easier when your IT provider understands the complexity of your workflow within the programs, software, and hardware that you rely on.
4. Does the IT Provider have trusted and reliable customer service, response times, and emergency services?
During your search for the right IT provider, ask other medical professionals in your network who they recommend based on their experiences.
Also, read reviews from other customers to get an idea of the type of service you can expect to receive from the provider.
It is frustrating enough to have slow or downed systems. You want a fast response from a provider who takes your downtime seriously and makes it a top priority.
The following areas are very important to get this piece right.
Build trust with a reliable phone and communication system
Efficient and trusted communication between patients and your office increases the reliability, trust, and satisfaction with your patients.
An office that does not have sufficient phone lines that constantly go to a menu and then a voicemail can cause patients to lose trust in their medical provider.
Making other methods of communication available to your patients is pertinent as well, such as online or in-app patient portals or even telemedicine.
From getting reminders for appointments, test results, and responses from the nurse, your patients need a trusted method of communication when their health is in question.
Computer Systems are the hub of your workflow
It can be quite uncomfortable when you have patients in front of you or on the phone who are waiting for your system to produce their medical records, insurance authorization, in-network referrals, etc.
This actually looks quite bad and as though your office is behind the times and running inadequate systems.
Work with a trusted IT provider to implement a computer system and network that provides the following:
- Speed and efficiency
Grow A Successful Medical Practice With Digitalis Medical
We have covered a lot in this article. That’s because there is a lot to consider, research, and implement in order to grow a successful medical business.
We encourage you to leave us your questions and insights in the comments. Share with us your most effective strategies to build your practice and what you have learned along the way.
We are all in this profession to help improve the health of our patients. Join in the conversation below!
If you are ready to implement some of these strategies into your practice, call Digitalis Medical to see how we can help.