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From The Desk of Nan Gallagher – Lessons Learned from Mr. Love: People, Patient Care, and a Business Mindset for the Trifecta Win

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By: Nan Gallagher, JD, Esquire

If you’re like many physicians, you may sometimes feel that you’re working harder than ever but ending up with low patient volume and less money in your pocket.

I get it. As an attorney, I’ve experienced the same frustrations on occasion, too. Much like physicians, I’m convinced lawyers like doctors get bogged down in the commitment to our specialty. We’ve been taught to serve others, to solve their problems, and, in your case, to administer patient care.  These are noble goals, but in the midst of pursuing them, we tend to lose sight of one extremely important fact: We’re running a business. We have to run our practices with a business mindset. 

On your worst days, you may be saying to yourself: If I’m living out my professional dream … doing my life’s work … how could my vision fall short? I’ve had that thought, too. One day, though, an “A-Ha” moment came to me and led to my clarity around this concern. It was my annual license renewal time. I was circling back to a business owner who employed me when I was in school from the time, I was 14 until I clerked following law school when I was 27. Mr. Love was a wonderful boss and an excellent businessman who earned every penny from the financial and sweat equity he invested in his dry-cleaning business.

I can already hear you saying, “dry cleaner,” and wondering how that relates to the practice of law or medicine. But hear me out, because I believe I sensed even back then before I knew anything about business that Mr. Love was a topnotch businessman. And, that’s the connection. Mr. Love owned and ran a business, and so do we.

Identifying Some Best Business Practices

That particular day when I was reminiscing, I reflected on the characteristics and actions that defined the way he successfully ran his business. Some of the things that came to mind included

  • How well he trained us in the processes we were expected to follow
  • How frequently he talked with us to make sure the learning stuck
  • How he walked the talk of trusting us by delegating responsibilities to us
  • How he was always there for us, joining us at the counter if we were running into difficulties with a customer
  • How he evolved with innovations and changing times, upgrading his equipment and introducing better technology to improve efficiency and deliver an even better customer experience

In short, Mr. Love was totally invested in his business. It wasn’t enough that he ran the presses and oversaw all the dry-cleaning processes. He kept his finger on every other aspect of his business: human resources, business processes, and his financial investment in infrastructure.

A Complement to Patient Care

Call my lookback what you will … a reverie, nostalgia, an epiphany, but there were some rich nuggets of learning about what makes best business practice. The realizations grounded me and unmuddied my thinking on how I, too, could grow a successful business. They also provided a foundation to expand my insights to help my clients develop ways to improve their medical practices by being proactive and front ending the many challenges they face day-to-day when operating their businesses.

I understand that it’s difficult to find the time to make adjustments, but right now we have a window of opportunity that has ironically come to us with COVID-19. This virus has been devastating for all of us. But it has given us one good thing: some time for self-reflection and strategic business planning around the ways we manage our practices.

Cut Expenses to Increase Revenue?

A primary consideration is the money you pour into your practice. In a tight economy, your office and staff expenses continue to climb. You are struggling to increase revenue, and you’re striving to cut costs across the board. But are your expenses always a deficit, or is more analysis required?

If you evaluate how much revenue each cost contributes to your practice, you may discover that an expense you’d labeled a cost center could actually be turning a profit. For example, staffing is a huge expense. But having the right staff is an important business driver. Paying your front desk person or insurance coder a noncompetitive wage certainly won’t inspire their loyalty. If they’re talented at what they do, they will likely not be sticking around for any length of time. What’s more, if you try to replace them with less experienced people who draw lower salaries, your practice may fall short on customer service which could send some patients packing.

As part of your analysis, you may want to poll staff on how they’re managing their workloads. They may say they are overworked. They may well be. But before you react quickly by hiring more staff, stop to consider the procedures you require your staff to follow. Do you have adequate job descriptions for staff?  If they are lacking in clarity and quality, a prudent first step would be to develop and initiate foundational systems and processes that will improve workflow and enhance the patient experience.

Every Staff Member Makes a Difference

From the moment your staff greets patients or when they call to confirm appointments, they are responsible for customer service. Patients expect outstanding service, and, as you know, your reputation hinges on the level of service you and your staff provide and extends beyond patients to other physicians who can be your advocates and referral sources. In fact, when a patient disengages from your practice, or other providers stop referring to you, 9 times out of 10 it’s because your service experience fell short.

The popularization of social media has had a great impact on the healthcare industry. Patients have become extremely medically savvy. They are:

  • Comfortable turning to the internet to seek out medical information both about disease states and medical providers
  • More critical and independent and quick to research, ask questions and seek second opinions
  • Are fickle and less likely to develop long-term relationships

In a dynamic and competitive healthcare marketplace, communicating a positive impression of your practice gives you a market advantage. But sustaining reputation by walking the talk is also important.

Regardless of your specialty, customer service matters, today, more than ever. Not one of us can afford to overlook the way we train, respect, and communicate practice values to our staff members who are at the heart of our practices.

How We Do What We Do: Chaos or Compliance

Once you’ve established policies, a great way to make them stick is by creating an employee handbook. A handbook memorializes the way processes are delivered and managed, rationalizes systems, and creates consistency. Plus, systems allow you to ask the right questions:

  • What worked
  • What didn’t
  • What can we do better

When you act with this perspective, you are always seeking improvement, and course corrections are easily initiated.

Systems help your staff take care of every aspect of their jobs without missing important pieces. This leads to better efficiency in scheduling, greeting, confirming appointments, billing and answering questions, and extends to associate doctors whom you employ, your nurse practitioners, or physician assistants. Everyone needs to know what’s expected of them. Also, having these expectations spelled out in print can certainly minimize potential employment liabilities or confusion.

When systems are well-thought out and written, they help to ensure efficiency and accountability throughout your practice. What’s more, clearly recorded processes allow you to be out of the office or on vacation and not have to worry if the office is running like clockwork. Systems enable your staff to intuitively know what customer service looks like and make it easier for them to deliver it.

So, I thank Mr. Love, who taught me such valuable business lessons during my formative adolescent and adult years.  I hope some of what he imparted upon me rubs off on your medical practice.

At the The Nan Gallagher Law Group, we understand that it’s imperative for you to embrace a combined patient care and business mindset. We are committed to helping you manage your practice with this dual mindset.

Call us at (973) 998-8494 and let us help you establish the goals, perform the analysis, and develop the sound processes that lead to a win for your patients, your staff, and for you.

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