business of pediatrics, practice management

Building a Better Practice by Walking Out Your Door

If you have a challenge in your practice that needs to be addressed, the tendency is to hunker down and look inward. Let’s say you need to keep better track of adolescent patients who are overdue for their well visits; you want to create a system to bring them into the office. Or families have been clambering for evening appointment options but you can’t figure out how to make it work for your team.

Instead of mulling these things over – or avoiding the issue until there’s “enough time” to deal with it – Chip Hart, director of PCC’s Pediatric Solutions Consulting Group, encourages you to pick up the phone, call a fellow pediatrician, and have a conversation. Seek out your peers online. Better yet, visit another practice.

“I want you to get outside of your office,” he says. “Talk to other practices about your strengths and your challenges. Leverage the knowledge of your peers.”

By breaking down the silos that artificially separate you from other pediatricians who have a wealth of knowledge to offer, you build a stronger network of independent pediatricians who are providing excellent patient care. You’re also challenging yourself to see the work you do from a broader perspective. You may come back not only with a plan to address your particular challenge, but also a wealth of new ideas.

Ready to step outside of your comfort zone, network with other pediatricians and improve your practice? Here are some ways to take action.

Network and Share Information Virtually

The American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Administration and Practice Management (AAP SOAPM) offers many opportunities to connect and engage. If you’re not a member, join. The section is open to any pediatrician interested in the management of a private medical practice. Put a message out to the listserv asking for help with your challenge; you’re likely to get tips, recommendations and opportunities to connect from experts across the country. Section Chair Dr. Suzanne Berman cites the SOAPM listserv as “the single most active social media platform in the AAP” in her statement on the organization’s website. She points to the broad expertise members bring to the group, including on subjects as diverse as “insurance contracts, employment law, the VFC program, practice finances, claims submission, HIPAA compliance, and coding.” The first step is simply sending your question to the listserv.

The Pediatric Practice Management Alliance, a subcommittee of SOAPM, offers even more opportunities to engage practice managers specifically. Created to “empower pediatric practice administrators and managers to overcome many of the day-to-day challenges of running a medical practice,” the alliance makes available online learning opportunities like webinars, a Practice Transformation website with a plethora of links, articles and other resources, as well as its own listserv. Your local chapter of the AAP is also likely to offer online resources. Find them online and explore their resources.

Social media channels maintained by reputable sources can be helpful to find new voices and solutions. Hart suggests PCC’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, and LinkedIn page as places to go to find resources curated with the needs of independent pediatricians in mind. Other options include the Facebook group We are Pediatricians, founded by members of AAP SOAPM, and PediatricInc, a blog focused on business practices in pediatrics. The online space can be useful; consider it a jumping off point for further conversations.

Make Real Life Connections

Hart challenges pediatricians to seek out new experiences when trying to solve a problem.

“The easiest thing for you to do as a pediatrician is to retreat into the exam room where you can actually control what happens and feel productive,” he says. “The answer to the questions about managing your practice is not in your space. You need to get out of your office to learn anything.”

Have you been meaning to catch up with an old friend from medical school or pediatric residency? Call them up and arrange a visit. Ask if you can spend a day with them at their practice. Are you planning college visits with your son or daughter? While they’re talking with professors and touring campus, find a peer through SOAPM with a similarly-sized practice and visit their office for a few hours. Figure out a way to make human connections and put yourself in a new space.

“Spend a day, see how they do things,” Hart says. “You will find solutions to problems that have been plaguing you for years.”

Conferences can be helpful for the chance to hear from nationally prominent experts on a range of issues and topics. One upcoming opportunity: The annual PCC Supergroup Conference, scheduled for May 15-17, 2019, in Philadelphia, Penn. Sessions focus on a range of topics including “Leadership and Teamwork in Healthcare,” hosted by Dr. J. Andrew Chacko; “Do You Work with the Wrong People,” hosted by Hart, and “Ready. AIMS. Fire: Fighting the Anti-Vaxx Effect Online and in the Exam Room, hosted by Dr. Todd Wolynn and Chad Hermann. The conference is open to all pediatricians, regardless of practice size or affiliation with a supergroup.

Another one to plan for in the coming year: The Pediatric Practice Management Conference, hosted by the Pediatric Management Institute in January of 2020 in Miami, Fla. Over 30 industry experts will be speaking during the two-day event, on topics including practice governance, digital marketing, coding and billing for mental health services, compensation models, and much more. Some of the topics even include continuing medical education (CME) credits.

As you sign up for conferences in the coming months, don’t forget to explore meetings and seminars outside of the pediatric-specific space. This could include local business roundtables, offerings through your chamber of commerce, or events at a local university or business school.

Create Change at Home

You’ve made some connections through the AAP’s SOAPM. You’ve visited another pediatrician for a day. Maybe you’ve attended a conference or local event. Now it’s time to take a look at your own practice.

“I want you to walk into your practice with a fresh set of eyes,” says Hart. Enter the waiting room and sit in a couple of different chairs. Look at the space from a patient’s point of view. Is the rug faded or stained? Is there furniture in need of repair or toys in need of replacement? Follow the path that a patient and family would take. What do you see – at the front desk, in the hallways? What are some simple steps you could take to improve the experience? Making these determinations requires stepping outside of your role as pediatrician.

“You need to hear what your patients hear and see what your patients see,” says Hart. “In many cases, the briefest interaction they have with your entire practice is with you in the exam room.”

The best part about this exercise is that often changes can be made immediately and with minimal effort. It may be as simple as applying a fresh coat of paint in the hallway, replacing some chairs, or changing out some dated artwork. It’ll pay big dividends when it comes to patient satisfaction.

As you evaluate your practice with fresh eyes, it’s also important to turn to the digital space.

“If you haven’t updated your site substantially in the last two or three years, this is a place to look,” says Hart.

Make sure your site is optimized for mobile users. According to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Americans now own a smartphone, up from 35 percent in 2011. Your website may look great on a desktop, but if the navigation gets clunky or important pages get buried on the smaller screen of a smartphone, visitors will leave your site in frustration.

“If your website is not easily used and navigated using a cell phone, you are losing patients,” says Hart. “Why? Because the parents of your patients are women between the ages of 20 and 40, all of whom live on their cell phones.”

Creating a Facebook page, or beefing up your presence if you’re already there, is another route to consider when it comes to making small changes with big impact. It’s a place to reach parents, and mothers in particular. A 2018 Pew Research Center study found that 74 percent of women in the United States use Facebook, as compared to 62 percent of men. Consider creating a social media plan for your page that includes information about your practice, tips and tricks for parents that address concerns you’re hearing in the office, direct them to reputable online resources. Make the space a chance for families to connect with each other.

The bottom line: Change is within your reach. Connect with other pediatricians online or by visiting another practice. Attend a conference to network with others in the field and experts on a wide range of topics. Then, come back to your practice with renewed energy and great new ideas. After you implement your plan, invite other pediatricians in to see the changes you’ve made to improve the patient care experience.

This blog post was written using excerpts from Chip Hart’s webinar. See all of his past webinars on PCC’s Smart Pediatrics Resource Center.

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Erin Post

A resident of Burlington, Vermont, Erin Post has a B.A. degree in English from Hamilton College, and is a graduate of the writing program at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She is currently working on her master's in public health at the University of Vermont. In her spare time, she likes to bike, ski, hike, and generally enjoy the Green Mountains of Vermont.