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The intersection of business and physician practices can no longer be ignored

June 11th, 2020

The emergence of a best practices playbook for physician practices following the pandemic is likely as close as any primary care physician practice has come to having a strategic plan. Of course, a playbook or return-to-work strategy is not a strategic plan. It is focused on health and safety for patients, practice teams, vendors and anyone who sets foot in a physician’s office. But if you haven’t considered adopting a broader strategic plan as an offshoot of a playbook, it’s advisable to do so now.

Learn from other industries. I was in the trenches with PCPs as they struggled with financial issues, staff layoffs, insufficient personal protection equipment and other COVID-19 induced threats to a practice’s viability. Prior to the recent availability of guidance from national and state medical agencies and professional medical associations, which came far too late in my opinion, I turned to social media as part of my information gathering process to create our own back-to-work manual. That’s where I “met” Gary Johnson, Chief Manufacturing and Labor Affairs Officer at Ford Motor Company.

I don’t know Mr. Johnson, but I requested permission via LinkedIn to utilize the Ford Motor Company COVID-19 Playbook. He gave me permission and I incorporated some of the Ford Playbook foundational approaches into MedNetOne’s primary care practice playbook. To pay it forward, our playbook is now available online for use by other physician organizations and the healthcare community at large. Lesson? In developing a strategic plan, look beyond healthcare to learn from industry titans like Ford, Lear and other companies who are emerging as back-to-work leaders.

Create a new inventory mindset. Inventory isn’t just an added expense. It’s a lifeblood of your practice in the new era.Maintain a minimum 30-day supply of PPE and hand soap, hand sanitizer and janitorial supplies, including bleach and surface disinfectants. Welcome your cleaning company as a new member of your practice team. Some cleaning companies will not be able to make the transition to the new cleaning protocols. If yours can’t, find a new supplier and evaluate their service level regularly.

Commit to training and education.

A major change to our organization’s membership requirements will be mandatory adherence to the playbook and any other best practice regulations that are instituted for patient and practice team safety and third-party payor reimbursement, which is likely to expand payment of new or enhanced services as it did with virtual consults. Change is coming rapidly in all directions. It’s a smart business decision to assess your team’s strengths and weaknesses and develop a training and education strategy accordingly. Continuing medical education is a given, but no longer sufficient. Find the gaps in your collective team’s ability to help run the business side of the practice; cross-train and upskill as necessary.

Get on board with EHRs and Telehealth.

Speaking from the vantage point of our organization, the majority of physician offices with two or more providers have modern practices with electronic health record systems and HIPAA-compliant virtual consult capabilities. Moving forward, I ultimately see such technologies as being required for membership. Seemingly overnight, a doctor’s practice has gotten significantly more complex and physicians need to be prepared and responsive.

Formalize a business recovery plan.

Many physician practices got through the initial onset of this pandemic on a wing and a prayer. It wasn’t strategic – and for most it didn’t work well. Be prepared for the next business disruption; whether it just hits your office (e.g. a fire, flood or death) or a pandemic that takes down whole sectors, document now everything that needs to be done to stay open or promptly re-open. From IT and billing to communications via website, social media and direct patient outreach, be ready for a disaster with a business recovery plan that minimizes disruption to patient care and the financial viability of your practice.  This is also a good time to ensure that your legal and business advisors are meeting your needs. Your practice may need an attorney or CPA with deep experience in physician practices.

Lastly, expect physician groups to deploy care managers to perform practice audits and questionnaires for both the clinical providers and practice team to ensure compliance with new guidelines.

We still need the old school touch of a physician, but the new normal demands business acumen, modern tools, multi-disciplinary teams, and incorporation of measures that identify and respond to the social determinants of health. Payors and employer groups will be looking for these enhancements – and such actions will prepare us for future catastrophes.

Ewa Matuszewski is the CEO and co-founder of MedNetOne Health Solutions and also founder of Practice Transformation Institute.

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