Managing a small medical practice, whether led by a physician or by an allied health practitioner, is challenging on numerous fronts. Time consumed on managing payors and reimbursements, acquiring new patients, managing affiliations with multiple health systems, and confronting the realities of ongoing competitive consolidation — all of these represent demanding challenges for any practice owner.
That’s why innovations that can help improve practice operations and growth are so essential to survival and long-term growth and success. Here are five emerging innovations that can make a difference in your small medical practice:
1. Web-Based Booking Tools
With ZocDoc leading the way, a new generation of web applications is providing unprecedented access between patients and providers. For practices looking to acquire new patients, tools like ZocDoc, Practice Fusion and Healthgrades provide an extremely valuable platform for patients to locate a new provider. It’s important to understand, however, that services like ZocDoc provide a variety of access level options for physician practices.
At its most basic level, ZocDoc simply allows a patient to search for a practice and then request an appointment time. At the most advanced level, patients can firmly book a guaranteed appointment time, submit insurance details and even fill out new patient forms. The more advanced the level chosen by the provider, the less ‘friction’ exists between patients and selecting a new provider with whom to work.
Takeaway: Putting your practice on the digital ‘map’ by way of partnering with web-based booking services can dramatically increase new patient inquiries.
2. Electronic Medical Records (EMRs)
Alongside web booking solutions, perhaps the most demanding technology change to recently impact the practice of medicine has been the advent of electronic medical record systems. EMRs were originally designed to serve as a central repository of information about a patient, essentially serving as a digital chart.
Today, they do much more — from maintaining prescription history and tracking a patient’s appointments, to verifying drug selections against an insurance formulary, sending and receiving referrals, or managing insurance submission and reimbursement documents. While EPIC and Cerner essentially dominate the enterprise-level EMR market and are often made available to affiliated physicians through large medical centers, products such as Kareo, NueMD and Praxis provide cost-effective solutions to small practices.
One reason implementing an EMR can be so valuable is that it can enable patients to stay on top of their appointments, prescriptions and doctor’s instructions, and message their provider with questions. It also makes better appointment follow-up adherence possible and can improve patient compliance overall.
Takeaway: While often costly and frustrating to deploy, EMR system with strong patient portals and mobile capabilities can enable far more efficient connectivity between providers and patients, while also increasing patient adherence and practice loyalty.
3. Offering Allied Products, Services & Solutions
For years, dentists have cornered the market on making use of waiting room time and patient loyalty to sell related dental products and solutions to their patients, whether they be water-jet flossing devices, ultrasonic toothbrushes or special wearable orthodontic devices.
Physicians of nearly any specialty are finally starting to catch on and recognize that offering patients convenient opportunities to purchase healthcare products or related services is a good thing, both for patients and for the bottom line of your practice. It also means that more and more physicians are partnering with non-physicians to create holistic multi-specialty practices.
Takeaway: Patients want and desire curated access to products, services and related providers who can support their health journey. There is no reason for a progressive, patient-centered practice to hold back from delivering more value to patients (and more revenue to the practice).
4. Changing Network Designs
The longstanding model of providing blanket ’one insurer, all providers’ coverage — popularized largely by Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans that appealed to enterprise employers – are starting to face competition from new approaches that can benefit small providers who are economically well-positioned.
Kaiser Permanente has long demonstrated the value and overall benefits of a narrow-network model (in the Kaiser case, patients almost exclusively see Kaiser doctors), but new insurance companies such as OSCAR are disrupting the traditional market by creating narrow networks (for example, in New York, OSCAR partnered with Mount Sinai and Montefiore medical centers to create a curated provider network).
Small practices who are efficient, strategic and technology-friendly are likely to find success partnering with providers such as OSCAR since they can easily ‘plug in’ to the model successfully.
Takeaway: Industry consolidation has long forced small practices to suffer for lack of scale in a competitive healthcare marketplace, but narrow networks and other innovations can actually benefit small practices who are efficient and technology-savvy.
5. Shifting Point-of-Access Opportunities
The era of waiting days or even weeks for a traditional doctor’s appointment as the only means of accessing healthcare are rapidly coming to an end. In many states, physician assistants (PAs) or nurse practitioners (NPs) can now deliver care independently (or with minimal real-time oversight), dramatically increasing the flexibility and access for general and family practice care. CVS Health famously stopped selling cigarettes back in 2014, taking a massive $2 billion per year revenue hit up-front in order to position itself as a leading primary care provider in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) era.
In addition to retail-based practices such as those now located inside many CVS stores, upscale private providers such as OneMedical (not to mention insurers like OSCAR) are offering app-based real-time access to a doctor outside of normal practice hours.
Takeaway: Patients are learning to expect and experience 24/7 real-time access to providers via mobile apps and web interactions. Partnering with other practices or with third-party services to offer this capability to your patients can dramatically decrease patient defection and ratchet up satisfaction at the same time.
In the end, what all five of these innovations share in common is a unified focus on reducing friction and frustration in the healthcare system, for both providers and patients. In that sense, they all align patients and providers on the same side of a shared mission to make healthcare easier to access, faster to obtain, and simpler to adhere to over time. Patients’ clinical outcomes, as well as their customer loyalty and satisfaction, can all be enhanced through the adoption of one or more of these innovations within your small practice today.