Are you an independent provider who would like to grow your practice? The average primary care physician typically retains between 1800-2200 patients, as this range allows for a provider to effectively treat each patient while maintaining financial health. Achieving the optimal panel size for your practice is essential to fulfilling the aims of population health; it’s important to manage the health of enough people to make a dent in the health of your larger community. What’s the right number? How do you see more?
Though many providers are caught in the day-to-day management inside of their practice operations, it is best for providers to take a step back and look on top of their practice flow and implement changes to improve patient care delivery. I’ve worked with over 200 practices and have over 10 years of experience. Read on to learn how to identify and improve barriers to growth by improving your practice’s operations, workflows, and patient access to your practice.
- Think strategically about templating — Does your current scheduling mechanism only allow for you to see a paltry 15 patients a day? That’s simply not enough. The success of your practice relies heavily on the scheduling templates you establish and on those who schedule patient visits each day. Are you able to see same-day sick patients? Efficient scheduling can improve patient satisfaction, provide vitally important access (ensuring timely care to avoid unnecessary urgent care and emergency department visits) and improve practice profitability. It’s important that your team understand these concepts. It’s also important for you to understand provider access limitations and how that compares to the access needs of your patient population, as well as the revenue targets that you’d like to achieve. Successful execution will also lead to practice growth, if you have the capacity to grow ( we’ll touch on this topic later). One additional caveat here, is the design and flow of the day relative to a provider’s schedule. If the schedule is templated correctly, there will be a reduction in the feeling of burnout.
- Redefine your hours of operation — Consider the community you serve when determining your hours of availability. If you serve an older population, regular business hours may be fine. However, if your patients are young people with busy lives, or middle-aged adults with families, consider opening your practice during nontraditional hours that are convenient for them. Match your demand with appointment supply without delay. In the world of population health, access is key. Are your patients disproportionately using urgent care or the emergency department for their primary care? That means you need to increase access to your care. Adding an online scheduling component – through a patient portal or website – is vitally important to patient convenience and demand. Similarly, providers should be considering alternative appointment types, such as telehealth visits, chronic care management (CCM), or group visits for select members of the panel.
- Leverage advanced practice providers (APPs) in your practice — If yours is a physician-centric organization, consider leveraging APPs, like physician assistants and nurse practitioners to extend the reach of your practice. By delegating some of your preventive and chronic services to APPs, physicians can maximize their panel sizes and provide recommended preventive and chronic care to their members. In addition, APP’s are excellent providers of patient education, assisting in closing care gaps, or leading group visits, which all enhance the service delivery of the practice. The ideal ratio is 1 physician to 3 APPs but physician can manage up to 4 to 6 based on state regulations.
- Optimize your staffing — If your aim is to increase your panel, you better be sure that you have the right number and balance of staff to handle the volume. Presently, many offices are staffed with a one-to-one ratio of Medical Assistants (MAs) to providers. The really successful practices (operating in more population-health oriented spheres, such as patient-centered medical homes) are staffing even higher number of MAs. To promote even more effectiveness, the higher functioning groups are elevating the role of the MA and having them practice to the top of their level. If MAs are currently charged with rooming patients and taking vitals, transition them into a role where they also function as active population health advocates. MAs can play an active role in population health management by tracking quality data, answering questions on the phone or through the patient portal, and participating in monitoring the clinical inbox. Engaging your MAs in clinical huddles is an effective way to identify patients with chronic conditions requiring special attention or proactively reviewing charts for preventive protocols.
What are the barriers to growth in your practice, and have you successfully implemented some of the tactics outlined in this blog? Let us know in the comments section below.