As news about the physician shortage abounds, with many predicting that the health care law will exacerbate the problem, you may think the issue only has the potential to cause access problems for patients and overcrowding in hospitals.
But don’t fool yourself into thinking that the doctor shortage is not your problem. An estimated 300,000 patients are expected to join the ranks of the insured come 2014. Some individuals in that total will need care and treatment from your practice. Are you prepared to bring them aboard your patient population?
If your practice doesn’t have long-term plans in place to avoid shortage repercussions, you could suffer decreased clinical quality and lowered patient satisfaction levels due to increased demand from consumers. Don’t let your business falter because it’s unable to support a higher load. Take these steps, if you can, to avoid trouble.
Consider whether you should modify your practice’s existing business plan. Were you planning to bring a new doctor on staff in, say, five years, once your head physician was closer to retirement?
You may want to move that acquisition up a bit. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. will have 62,900 fewer doctors than needed by as soon as 2015. In the years after that, the shortage may get exponentially worse.
If you try to hire in the healthcare industry a half-decade from now, you’ll face a great deal of competition. Top talent will have their pick of employers and a great deal of leverage in their negotiations for compensation. As such, it’s to your advantage to hire in the current market, rather than in the less-certain future.
Oftentimes in a practice, one physician will emerge as the in-demand provider due to a specific skill set. A doctor in your practice may have a mile-long waiting list because he’s the only practitioner in your office (or community) who can perform a specialized treatment.
If that’s happening in your practice, you’re placing patients at an increased risk for poor outcomes by stunting their ability to see a doctor quickly. That’s a problem that can easily get worse if more patients, including the newly insured, seek that lone-expert doctor’s care.
Have the other physicians in your practice trained to execute any specialized procedures or treatments that are currently relegated to a single doc. Doing so will give the in-demand provider the support needed to care for new patients in the future while enhancing your current level of patient access.
Embrace Team-Based Care
Your physicians aren’t the only healthcare professionals in your office capable of seeing and treating patients. Yet non-physician clinicians and nurses are often underutilized, tasked with largely administrative responsibilities despite the growing needs of a practice’s patient base.
Nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and medical assistants should be leveraged to the full extent of their capabilities to extend the workflow capacity of your practice to full volume.
You don’t have to move into a formal patient-centered medical home model to engage in team-based care. Start by finding ways to better utilize your full arsenal of clinical staff – for example, task NPPs with all check-ups, physicals, and follow-up appointments – and make your patients aware. Such a change frees up your doctors’ time for serious clinical issues and lessens the average wait time your new and existing patients endure.
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