Should You Hire a Practice Consultant?
A healthcare consultant for your practice can be valuable to you at any stage of your career. But before you hire a consultant, ask yourself if you are willing to dedicate the necessary time to implement change. Are you ready to sacrifice some of your professional and personal life to make some changes? Are you going to be open to making changes in the way you lead and the way your practice is managed? It can be difficult to hear from an outside perspective that there may be a better way of managing the practice from what you have been used to doing. Having the willingness to change is critical to a successful consulting relationship.
Once you do your self-assessment and decide that you indeed need a consultant, it would then be a good idea to dig deeper and think why you may need a consultant.
A key element of hiring a consultant is to weigh the tangible and intangible benefits that you will gain from the working relationship. Write these benefits down and make sure they align with your goals in terms of hiring a consultant. For example, if the consultant says, “At the end of our time working together, you will have comprehensive standard operating procedures manual for your practice”, but this is something you have already created and do not need, you will want to know what additional benefits come from working with that particular consultant.
There can be several reasons for hiring a consultant. Generally, a consultant can benefit you to:
- Reduce stress
- Increase production
- Improve internal and external communication
- Establish management systems
- Increase efficiency
- Transition in or out of practice ownership
- Learn staff and patient management
- Improve leadership skills
However, you may be just looking to simply fine-tune your operations rather than have a complete overhaul. You may still get some of the benefits mentioned above. Make sure the consultant is willing and able to address the concerns you have and avoid getting pushed into a “cookie-cutter” consulting program.
Once you identify your reasons for hiring a consultant, you should take the time to set the goals you would like to achieve. More importantly, assess if your goals align with the background and experience of the consultant. Once you have a matching goal for your practice, the right consultant can help you achieve success.
After setting up the goal for your practice, it is time to evaluate how you hope these goals will be achieved. More experienced consultants will quickly “feel” the pulse of your practice operations. You have to decide if you want a consultant to be more “hands on” with the team and patients, or would you rather want mostly phone consultations and remote support?
Another question would be how frequently would you like to contact the consultant? Do you want your staff to interact with the consultant on a regular basis? How long do you think you will want to work with a consultant–for a few months, a year, a few years? Defining the expectations and the level of communication and interaction with your team will help create a successful relationship with the consultant from the beginning.
The next step after deciding on the method and frequency of your interaction is for the consultant to start to collect some data and statistics from your practice. This is when the consultant starts to learn more about your practice. Knowing how to gather the information is always going to be valuable to your practice, even when the consultant leaves your practice. However, gathering the information is just one part of the process, a consultant should then help you analyze the data. Upon analysis of your practice data, the statistics may tell you the areas of your practice that need the most improvement. For example, it may be that your new patient volume is high, but your collections percentage is low. This could show that you may not only need help in terms of marketing and generating new patients, but it may also indicate that you may need help establishing patient financial protocols and collecting fees from patients at the time of service. Some of the general statistics that consultants look for are as follows:
- Transaction Analysis: Gross production, Adjusted Production, Collections, and Adjustments
- Accounts Receivable at 30,60, 90, and over 120 day increments
- Patient Analysis: New Patient Volume, Patient Volume, Patient Encounters, Number of Active Patients
- Scheduling: Number of Cancelled, Failed Appointments
- Referral Source: Patients referred from each marketing source including other providers
- Practice Expense: Overhead expense
Although you may not know exactly where your practice should be with each of these statistics, knowing how to track, monitor, and interpret these numbers is half the battle.
Meantime, as the consulting process continues, the consultant should be able to provide you with a progress report. This is also a good time to make sure that you re-emphasize your goals and objectives for your practice.
Equal to the consultant’s progress, you also play a big part in the consulting process. Often hiring a consultant is reactionary. The practice is suffering and you make a quick decision to bring in a consultant, without recognizing that it is still your responsibility to lead the team and make implementation a priority. Nevertheless, an experienced consultant should be able to guide you and direct you in the right direction.