Backlog! You have 35 patients to call to explain their lab results, 2 hour’s worth of faxes left untouched, three EOB’s that need appeal and don’t forget those voice mails and prescription refill requests. In the meantime, there are tens of thousands of dollars that you’re entitled to if you just have the time to complete your Meaningful Use attestation.
These are times when you feel the business of running an office and your mission to care for your patients seem to be mutually exclusive. Many practices have looked around for solutions and an increasingly popular trend is support service outsourcing and hiring of virtual medical assistants. While both are outsourcing per se, the former focuses on specific tasks while the latter focuses on having extra hands on (a virtual) deck.
Medical outsourcing, the most common being medical transcription and billing, involves contracting services from other companies for part of your operations. They have the advantage of flexibility – payment is results-based and only when needed them. If done well, it will not only reduce costs but also give you and your staff more time to care for your patients and build your business. Some tasks require a learning curve so your service provider can have all the information, access and protocols with your internal team to be able to take over. However some tasks are independent and standard enough that providers can take over rather quickly. Here are ten tasks you can outsource right away:
- Data Migration – If you have a new physician joining your team or if you are changing your electronic medical records solution, patient data may need to be transferred between systems. The two electronic medical records databases don’t exactly talk to each other and the vendors will need a few days to quote on having an expensive IT specialist on each side to design a data interface or configure them. However, a few hundred patient records may be done easily and rather quickly manually. Unless an interface already exists, the key is to compare the cost of customized data transfer against the cost of manually encoding the information.
- Digitizing Charts (Indexing Scanned Charts) – As an example of a facility with paper charts, a typical small physician group with a seven year retention can have half a million sheets of paper with more than 10,000 patient charts (numbers vary considerably). When migrating to a paperless charts, there is this enormous task of scanning each page, grouped (if multi-page) and put in the exact patient electronic chart in the proper tab or sub-folder. The actual chart disassembly and scanning (using a high speed scanner) takes about half the time, the other half involves indexing, sorting and putting notes. The time can be halved if the documents are scanned on-site and a virtual assistant will take care of the sorting.
- Patient Address Geocoding – Is your lease about to end and you want to decide whether to stay or move? If your patient addresses are in an electronic database, they can be plotted in an electronic map like Google Maps and you can see how they are distributed geographically. In addition to knowing where the majority of your patients live, you can also identify sparse areas to focus your marketing.
- Referral analysis – Who are your top referrers? This goes beyond making sure they get holiday cards but also seeing patterns and identifying issues. For example, a practice that has been referring 10 patients monthly dropped off to 2. This may be due to external or internal reasons but may be worth checking into.
- Accounts Payable Processing and Reporting – Would you like to have a monthly report of all your expenses summarized by category? All your invoices will be captured and put in charts to help analyze usage. Unmonitored business expenses will tend to have 10% to 20% fat that can be trimmed if managed.
- Value purchasing and contract management – Do you know if your hazardous waste contractor has a 90 day auto renew window and is 30% overpriced? Your photocopier contractor charges you for 3,000 monthly copies paid minimum but you only use 500? Or does your waiting room has a TV with a $50 monthly cable subscription that you can have for free with a $60 indoor antenna? Consultants can analyze your costs, negotiate them and offer options that would otherwise require being on call hold for 30 minutes to access.
- Web services administration – Ok, you’ve signed up for your website and having it hosted, you also signed up for social media marketing and for a customer service solution for good measure. However, all these require some maintenance. You need fresh contents in your online presence. New users need new passwords and those who are leaving need to be passwords deactivated. Customer relationship portals (like Demandforce) still needs continuous updating for new patients and schedules. Specialists can help marketing campaigns or just provide basic maintenance for a small fixed monthly price.
- Clinic Cancellation Alerts – It is five in the morning an there are 3 inches of snow and in road but you know there’ll be much more in a few hours. You decided to cancel clinic but need someone to call your employees as well as check your schedule to call all patients about the clinic cancellation, perhaps even reschedule them.
- Fax Inbox Monitoring – You receive 30 faxes per hour ranging from the one-page marketing flyer to the 120-page faxed chart from a referring physician for three patients (and you’ll need to find out where the first patient’s chart ends and the second begins). Someone spends a fourth of their time just periodically checking and deciding what to do with each document. This can be taken cared of handled correctly and the receivers can be immediately advised what’s in their inbox if urgent.
- Medical Insurance Verification, Pre-certification and/or Billing – there are standards on the type of information and formats when communicating with insurance companies and clearinghouses. Furthermore, knowledge of coding standards can both increase the chances of approval as well as be consistent with the rules (i.e. “upcoding” vs “downcoding”).
Companies with a hybrid US and overseas team and clinical management experience like Apex Medical Teleservices can understand your operations, recommend outsourcing options and suggest economical solutions.
The key to success to outsourcing are (a) clearly defining your deliverables in terms of quantity, quality and timeliness, (b) having clear interfaces with your local team, including mutual needs to get things done, and (c) having the right external team with the right IT/communications linkages. We will delve deeper into this in a future article.
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