It’s no secret that the healthcare industry is changing. Medical groups no longer have the luxury of moving at their own pace and expecting patients to stay loyal.
Consumers want a timely, effective response to their healthcare needs. Immediate access to urgent care and primary care—once considered a gold standard—is now an expectation. Care delivery alternatives are on the rise, putting pressure on traditional practices to enhance service or risk losing patients.
Today’s healthcare consumer is looking for
- immediate access to urgent care services with minimal wait times;
- same-day access to primary care for urgent and acute services;
- patient portal access to schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, and exchange information;
- minimal wait times at reception and in exam rooms;
- timely and effective communication with their provider; and
- effective deployment of technology.
Competition is Creating Alternatives for Patient Care
With new care entry points emerging and turning up the heat, medical practices need to up their game. Some of these alternatives directly compete with both independent and owned medical practices. Alternative options for care include
- urgent care clinics, often for profit and not locally owned;
- retail clinics (for example, within CVS and Walgreens);
- concierge medicine—physicians leaving traditional medical practices to pursue cash-based services, catering to paying patients and avoiding the complexity of managing insurance;
- telemedicine options, which offer primary care access through web-based and mobile phone applications;
- employers developing onsite and near-site clinics to offer a convenient point of entry for their employees.
What Can Medical Practices Do to Remain Competitive?
With rising consumer demands and an onslaught of alternatives to the traditional doctor visit, medical practices need a game plan for staying competitive. These nine essential strategies can help medical practices keep pace in the current climate:
- Ensure effective governance at the practice level. Organizations often put collaborative models in place with physicians only to later recognize that decisions are still driven from the top down—and physician input is advisory at best. Develop and nurture a partnership between providers and management to help your practice meet the challenges of a changing healthcare market.
- Provide leadership training for management. Practice managers have a wide range of backgrounds, and many come to the role without the benefit of adequate education or training. Give your medical practice managers the tools they need to act as practice champion and embrace opportunities for growth.
- Provide customer service training for staff. As staff roles become increasingly complex, training programs often do not address added roles and responsibilities. Keep up to date by offering regular training opportunities, and solicit feedback from staff to make sure they feel prepared for the work required.
- Measure customer service in real time and provide timely recovery where necessary. Use tools that provide immediate digital feedback on services rendered so you can make course corrections and optimize service recovery.
- Ensure appropriate wage rates to retain staff. Practice staff wages do not always keep pace with the level of job responsibilities, and other community job options often pay the same or better with far less stress. Stay attuned to the current market and to the way your staff members’ roles are changing, and adjust wages accordingly.
- Measure access on a daily basis and respond quickly to remove bottlenecks. Encourage practice managers to monitor performance, identify breakdowns in the process, and pinpoint training opportunities that will help staff provide better service.
- Communicate with local companies to ensure you are serving their employees well. Develop joint solutions to optimize access.
- Deploy telemedicine options effectively to provide a convenient alternative. Some medical groups choose to do this independently; others partner with a national firm to provide telemedicine options. Whichever route you choose, take demographic factors into consideration and offer reliable alternatives that meet the needs of patients in your area.
- Explore team care models, which allow providers to work at top of license, increase productivity, and increase job satisfaction. Technology and quality mandates have increased work complexity for providers, and staff and physicians often spend hours completing documentation after the work day is over. But in an environment where the default mode is simply surviving the day, you’ll never exceed consumer expectations. Consider redistributing the work load for a more team-based, patient-centered approach to care.
Today, healthcare consumers are looking for convenience and speed, and they expect to encounter the same innovative technology applications they experience in other business sectors. Medical practices will need to keep pace in order to attract and retain their patient base. Solutions that can both enhance the customer experience and improve job satisfaction for providers and staff will help to keep medical practices healthy and vibrant.