Following residency training, the vast majority of new doctors feel unprepared for starting their own practice, particularly when it comes to the logistics and business aspects of setting up a medical office. I surveyed over 50 dermatology and plastic surgery colleagues via LinkedIn and found that this is a common feeling across the board. However, they were all willing and eager to share some of the practice management tips that they’ve picked up while starting and running their own practices throughout the years. Here are just a few helpful pieces of advice that I received.
1. Understand the Ins and Outs of Coding, Billing, and Marketing
“As a resident, we had very little exposure to practice management, which makes it very hard to leave residency and start your own successful practice,” says facial plastic and ENT surgeon Dr. Melynda Barnes.
“There is a steep learning curve when it comes to coding, billing, marketing, and staff management. I recommend that physicians meet with the head of compliance or the head of coding and billing and get a list of the top ten mistakes that new physicians commonly make, as well as ask for a tutorial on the different medical decision-making levels. For physicians who do procedures, they should ask about how to code visits that require an E&M and a procedure code. Last but not least, they should ask for an internal audit of their billing and coding practices quarterly for the first year so that they can develop good and accurate coding and billing practices.
“As far as marketing and staff management, I would recommend hiring a reputable company to help with the initial brand development and marketing message and to help hire reliable and dedicated staff.”
2. Choose Employees Carefully
When it comes to hiring reliable and dedicated staff, the process is often more difficult than it might seem. Many of the doctors with whom I spoke emphasized the importance of taking time to hire dedicated employees from the beginning.
For plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Phillip Lackey, having an RN with previous experience in an OR setting proved to be a great asset when starting out. “During my first year of practice, my office RN scrubbed every operative case with me,” says Dr. Lackey. “She later transitioned to full-time office staff, and the time spent in the OR gave her insight into caring for patients on nurse office visits, which later became invaluable as we increased our office-based procedures.”
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lacey Elwyn also shared some helpful advice to help build a strong team. While hiring reliable medical assistants is, of course, crucial to the success of your practice, do not overlook the importance of hiring a friendly front desk receptionist, as well as a qualified office manager.
“Your front desk receptionist is the face of your practice,” says Dr. Elwyn. “Hire someone who will greet everyone with a smile and answer any questions they may have in a friendly manner.”
Equally important is your office manager. “Your office manager has to be a professional, organized, respectful, and kind person. This has to be someone who is able to do the job with a smile and get along with all staff members so that everyone listens to and respects the office manager. He or she also has to be a passionate person who cares about the success of the practice and the happiness of the patients. Ideally, your office manager will meet with the staff regularly to ensure success!”
3. Effective Communication Is Essential
Once you have a small team behind you, you will need to take steps to ensure that everyone is communicating with you and other staff members effectively. For plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Amita Bagal, practicing good communication is one of the most important aspects of running your medical practice.
“One of the most challenging aspects of larger practices or offices is the ability to have solid communication,” Dr. Bagal says. “This can be done via weekly meetings, casual impromptu chats, staff lunches, or company outings. I have found that most problems stem from faulty communication, misunderstandings, or misperceptions. I am a firm believer in addressing an issue in close proximity to the incident with the individual(s) who may be responsible. I think my staff values my honesty and frankness over pretending that everything is okay and then having a build-up and exploding over it later.”
4. Always Inform and Educate
To run a successful medical practice, it is important not to lose sight of your primary goal: to help your patients. As facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Haena Kim explains, “the cosmetic industry often gets a bad rap for physicians being money-hungry, but that’s simply not true.”
Dr. Kim’s advice is to “take pride in being the type of physician who informs and educates the patient. Don’t be the person who tries to sell every patient on only what you have to offer. There is no shame or failure in sending someone out of your practice if you feel they would be better taken care of elsewhere. It’s just being responsible!”
If you’re a resident or new doctor looking to start your own practice, do not feel like you have to do it alone. As you can see, many seasoned physicians tackled the same obstacles that you might be facing right now. It is my goal to help doctors mentor each other on these common issues and, as you can see, most physicians are more than willing to offer a helping hand or sound advice to help you start your practice off on the right foot.
If you have additional questions about starting your own practice that aren’t answered here, or if you would like to share your own advice for future articles, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us online.