Learn the secrets to running your practice without a hitch.
Richard Hom, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Imagine finding out that your practice's accounts receivables hasn't been monitored closely? Or, how about discovering that your office has inconsistently and inadequately prepared third party claims submissions? Eventually, such conditions will diminish your practice's cash flow.
A key component to a smoothly run optometric practice is the set of business processes that convert patient data into real income at the end of each month. Formalizing, retaining and replicating the business process to directly address such business issues are steps as valuable as your patient records.
How computerization can help
Think back to that first year of practice when you tried and discarded methods and procedures because they weren't as efficient or as profitable as you'd wished. You may have even stuck with one of them just because it was convenient.
Well simply saying, "It's the way we do it," might be an acceptable answer now, but what about when you orient a new employee or partner? Imagine the following scenarios:
- Your favorite, long-term employee gives you her 2-weeks' notice. Do you ask her to stay a little longer to enable a smoother transition for her replacement?
- You're ready to sell or transfer your practice and you don't necessarily want to stay in the office for 2 to 3 years to break in the new owner.
Let's take a lesson from corporate America. Computer software programs at these companies were created to standardize procedures from ordering materials to checking and updating an employee's personal information.
In optometry, practice management software (PMS) performs a similar function. Computerization and a little planning can make dealing with similar dilemmas easier.
Tools of the trade
Large corporations have long realized that being in business long-term requires a formalized plan for capturing workable and efficient business practices (or processes). Similarly, we use our office manuals or PMS to accomplish the same goal.
- The office manual. For years, we've used office manuals efficiently and productively. It's the traditional approach to the management process, and it's usually the first step to formalizing processes because you can easily write them.
However, this flexibility is also a liability. You can change or partially execute office manual-based processes too easily and adhering to them is sometimes haphazard. It's also difficult to electronically link the office manual-based processes to your vendors or third-party payers when ordering materials or submitting third party claims.
- Practice management software. This approach takes the office manual one step further by automating it. We call this automation of business practices and processes business process management. With automation, you can replicate a business process to ensure that current or successive office staff will execute the process the same way each time.
Codifying a business process establishes the process as a kind of standard operating procedure. Both replication and codification are the foundation for understanding business processes. The ultimate goal is to improve the way your office conducts business.
Those of you who are purchasing or upgrading a PMS should ask yourselves this question: "Do I have to change the way I do business?" For example, if your office effectively and efficiently bills patients for their vision plan co-payments, overcharges and deductibles, can the PMS be customized to adapt to my current business process?
Take It from the Pros
Years ago, I wondered why I had such a difficult time getting my staff to perform the tasks I wanted them to -- or at least do them the same way each time.
It took looking at the business processes of large corporations for me to understand that they face the same struggle we do. Global companies such as General Electric are rapidly detailing and standardizing their business processes to achieve maximum benefits from e-business. Small wonder that these companies have flourished in the past 2 years.
A closer look at PMS
It's likely that legislative oversight and review will increase in optometry. Universal electronic claims submission, third party electronic review of patient data and the finalization of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) regulations are probable areas that will force optometry to look closely at its business process. Technological changes will move the industry momentum to eventually link third party payers and product vendors to our offices. As we all focus on maximizing our returns and creating efficiencies, interacting with others and their business processes becomes a major goal.
We buy and use PMS to define and improve our business processes. Once adopted office-wide, we can replicate and automate these processes to maximize productivity and profitability. PMS can transmit diagnosis and treatment information directly to the billing module/software without manual re-entry of the information. This type of information is often confusing for office staff and any lack of consistency could lead to incomplete records or claims submissions.
Much like their larger business software brethren, PMS vendors are quickly adding features to their products to help us participate more efficiently in the eyecare value chain.
A step in the right direction
A mentor once told me that a financially successful business model is the greatest value that the optometry profession can provide to its students. Future O.D.s must see the profession as financially rewarding.
A step in that direction is the rapid adoption of business process management by our profession via formal office manuals or PMS. Look into this option and you too could become a smooth practice operator.
Dr. Hom has practiced optometry in a variety of settings and currently practices part-time in San Francisco, exclusively caring for complicated contact lens patients. He now leads all strategy and execution of corporate Application Service Provider (ASP) programs at Silicon Graphics, Inc., in Mountain View, Calif.
Optometric Management, Issue: March 2001