One of the great things about consulting is developing long-term relationships with clients. I have a couple of clients that I’ve assisted for almost a decade, starting with some side engagements when I was a CMIO. When I transitioned to full-time consulting, they began engaging me for larger projects. Although we initially started with EHR optimization and organizational development work, they’ve seen the value of having outside help and we’ve been able to move into change leadership and strategic planning.
One of them is particularly great to work with, and not just because they’re located in a great city for live music and outdoor activities. Some organizations are nervous when working with consultants, afraid to expose parts of their operation that they think are problematic. Over the years we’ve developed a great deal of trust.
It’s one thing to let a consultant work on a process that has obvious problems, but it’s another to proactively bring functional-appearing processes to the table and ask for them to be examined in detail. Being given carte blanche to assess the organization at all levels, including the C-suite, has allowed us to identify many areas for improvement. As we’ve moved from department to department with standardization, increased technology adoption, and active management, we’ve stabilized their core practice areas while helping them through a time of unprecedented growth.
Part of their success can be attributed to the vision of their leaders, who are committed to playing the long game. Although they understand the need to keep up with regulatory requirements and to maximize incentives, they consistently put patient needs at the front of decision making. Effectively, they’ve tripled their size over the last five years, not only from a provider headcount perspective, but also when looking at patient volume.
As a Medicaid provider, they’ve seen an expansion of their patient panels due to increased coverage. Although they initially had to use locum tenens physicians to cover the surge, they’ve worked diligently to hire a good mix of both new and seasoned physicians who are committed to the organization’s mission. They’re not afraid to let a provider go when it turns out he or she is not a good fit and they’re not willing to be held hostage by staff with unreasonable demands.
We recently finished revising their plan for provider compensation. First, we did an analysis to look at how their provider compensation fits into their overall financial situation and their budget for growth. We also looked at provider salaries compared to industry benchmarks and to other healthcare employers in the region. It’s tempting to just use national or state data, but when you’re in the middle of a high-tech corridor that has a significantly different economic profile than the rest of the state, then you need to take a much more focused look at how employees are being paid.
We also had to dig deeply into the true cost of care delivery vs. the payments received, which was a project of its own. My client has historically received a lot of grant money and the employee culture was that they shouldn’t charge for certain services because they were “free.” This led to some financial underperformance, as front-line staff didn’t realize that grant money is sometimes tied to documentation of services provided, which can’t be demonstrated via reporting if it wasn’t documented. Although there were some significant findings from the analysis, we decided to pend a project to address them until we were done with the task at hand.
It’s tempting for organizations to dive headfirst into situations like this when they are discovered. Although I’m sympathetic to the fact that they were losing money, they appreciated my support of their plan to address this after the provider compensation project was finished so that the new project could have appropriate organizational focus and so that they could cultivate buy-in from site managers and clinical team leaders. The reality is that waiting another four to six weeks to get our plan together is likely to achieve a faster correction of the problem than if we tried to do it in a half-baked fashion.
I’m especially glad we waited, because our analysis of the missed charges led to discovery of some other workflow processes. Had we tried to have multiple training sessions and process changes, we would have lost a fair amount of productive time. By waiting and doing deeper discovery, we were able to retrain multiple processes at the same time and only pull people away from their clinical duties one time.
Now they’re getting ready to embark on a couple of facility expansions, which has led to the need to look creatively at how (and where) people in the organization do their work on a daily basis. It’s hard to completely remodel office space when people are working in it, and midsize medical practices don’t have a lot of experience with remote work. I’m spending time shadowing a variety of workers to determine exactly what happens during their work day.
It’s often surprising how much people’s day-to-day work doesn’t actually match up with their job descriptions. Employees are often assigned special projects that become part of their regular duties without them being documented. It turns out that staffers we thought could work remotely with little impact are in reality performing tasks that require more face-to-face interaction than would be possible with a telecommute. My goal is to see if we can identify ways to bundle those tasks and consolidate them among a smaller set of workers who would remain in the office, or arrange them so that people could take turns rotating into the office so they maintain the skill set.
The other challenge is to prepare people who haven’t worked from home for the challenges that are ahead. It always sounds great to be able to work in your pajamas, but the realities of working at home sometimes take people by surprise. I’m putting together some training programs to discuss how to set up a home work space, how to manage being away from your co-workers, and how to address the scheduling temptations that come with being a home-based worker. It’s great being able to throw in a load of laundry while you’re on your break, but I know a lot of people who need good advice on how to manage barking dogs when you’re on calls or how to manage when others are in the house with you when you’re trying to work.
It’s been rejuvenating to deal with problems that are a little outside the realm of healthcare IT and to help the organization realize that these issues are no less important to their overall success than interoperability or reporting their clinical quality measures. Figuring out how to best leverage your workforce and motivate your providers might even be more important at times. Too many organizations forget the people part of the equation. I’m excited that this group has been willing to be a laboratory for setting up the practice of the future.
How are you positioning your practice for the next decade? Email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.