Everyone Needs a Coach - Even Doctors!

Ted talks have become a phenomenon.I'm sure you all have heard at least one good Ted talk. One of my favorite authors and thinkers in the healthcare space is Dr. Atul Gawande. Many of you may have read one of his books on the checklist manifesto.

He gave a Ted talk on 'Want to get great at something? Get a coach'

(Watch the video here)

As we know, Dr. Gawande has really been focusing on how to make things work better especially in the healthcare arena. In this talk, he says it is not just how good you are now, it is how good you are going to be or how good you can be that really matters.

He was talking about being a great physician, but I will take it further - physicians need a coach even for their other role as a business owner.

Who needs a coach?

Here is what he said, "You are never done, everybody needs a coach. Everyone. The greatest in the world needs a coach." This view comes from the world of sports.

I am transcribing some of the things that he said here.

“So I tried to think about this as a surgeon. Pay someone to come into my operating room, observe me and critique me. That seems absurd. Expertise means not needing to be coached.

Turns out there are numerous problems in making it on your own. You don't recognize the issues that are standing in your way or if you do, you don't necessarily know how to fix them. And the result is that somewhere along the way, you stop improving. And I thought about that, and I realized that was exactly what had happened to me as a surgeon.

I'd entered practice in 2003, and for the first several years, it was just this steady, upward improvement in my learning curve. I watched my complication rates drop from one year to the next. And after about five years, they leveled out. And a few more years after that, I realized I wasn't getting any better anymore. And I thought: "Is this as good as I'm going to get?"

So I thought a little more and I said ... "OK, I'll try a coach." So I asked a former professor of mine who had retired, his name is Bob Osteen, and he agreed to come to my operating room and observe me.The case -- I remember that first case. It went beautifully. I didn't think there would be anything much he'd have to say when we were done. Instead, he had a whole page dense with notes.


"Just small things," he said.

But it's the small things that matter. "Did you notice that the light had swung out of the wound during the case? You spent about half an hour just operating off the light from reflected surfaces." "Another thing I noticed," he said, "Your elbow goes up in the air every once in a while. That means you're not in full control. A surgeon's elbows should be down at their sides resting comfortably. So that means if you feel your elbow going in the air, you should get a different instrument, or just move your feet." It was a whole other level of awareness. And I had to think, you know, there was something fundamentally profound about this. He was describing what great coaches do, and what they do is they are your external eyes and ears, providing a more accurate picture of your reality. They're recognizing the fundamentals. They're breaking your actions down and then helping you build them back up again.After two months of coaching, I felt myself getting better again. And after a year, I saw my complications drop down even further. It was painful. I didn't like being observed, and at times I didn't want to have to work on things. I also felt there were periods where I would get worse before I got better. But it made me realize that the coaches were onto something profoundly important.

Billing Challenges to stay independent

Patti Van Zuuk is VP or Revenue Cycle Management. She manages over 68 practices and has a team of 107 at the time of this interview.

 

Biggest Challenge Small Practices Face with their Billing

CHANDRESH: When you talk to your clients, what is the biggest challenge small practices face with their in-house billing?

PATTI:  I think there are two. One, they are not acting as a business- the doctors not involved at all with regards to finances. They think they went to school for medicine and they focus on medicine and of course somebody else has their interest at heart. If provider is not checking, 9/10 times, none of this will happen.

 

CHANDRESH: Why are the providers not checking?

PATTI: They’ve been taught through medical school that what they should focus on is medicine and they assume that they’re going to hire this person that is going to focus on the financial side. But that’s not the case, the provider is a business owner and should be acting like a business owner. And not to say that the provider themselves have to be the checker but somebody does.

 

What should a good biller do?

 CHANDRESH: What does the good biller do to keep current with the codes and modifiers?

PATTI: Keeping current by signing up for all the CMS updates, using ‘super coder’ that gives you CMS updates; it’s a yearly subscription and you can also log in anytime and ask questions.

CHANDRESH: Is that a community?

PATTI: It is a community

 

What causes reimbursement to go down?

 CHANDRESH: The other question, some doctors always complain that reimbursements is down.

PATTI:  In some cases, reimbursements are down but not really enough to affect providers but 99% of the time it’s about coding and modifiers. Reimbursements went down as an example for balloon sinuplasty for 2018 but there’s a better code to be used, providers and billers just need to be educated to use those codes,

 

CHANDRESH: So as an extension of that, have you come across providers leaving their practices and joining hospitals? I talked to a few doctors and they say it’s because reimbursements are down and patient responsibility is high and patients are not paying.

PATTI: So basically, this is disfunction. I would say to any provider that tells me reimbursements are down and patient responsibility is up - I would take a look at their A/R because I would say most of what’s being lost is in the A/R. Their front office should be educated on how to collect money from patients prior to visits. I would bet that there’s a lot of money laying in A/R.

 

How to keep practice financially healthy

 CHANDRESH: That answer my next question, what would you advise them to keep their practice financially healthy in addition to what you just said, is there anything else?

PATTI: Proper education on what each department is responsible for.

CHANDRESH: Assuming that they have a good billing person and office manager, what should provider be asking and reviewing with their biller on a weekly basis?

PATTI: I always say from 10,00 feet, it should be charges, revenue and A/R. They should also review schedule against charges to make sure everything is being captured and charges against revenue to make sure they’re being paid completely on what they are contracted at and A/R to make sure there’s nothing laying in there.

 

How important are rejection rate and denial rate?

 CHANDRESH: How important are the rejection rate and the denial rate?

PATTI: Denials not so much. Denials are insurance companies asking for information. Rejections are very important, generally they are about patient demographics, whether it is their insurance or actual demographic and that needs to be corrected right away.

 

How important are front desk people in a practice?

 CHANDRESH: When it comes to billing and collections, what role does front desk play and how important is it?

PATTI: They’re the most important person in the medical office. They can make or break a practice, they are more important than the billers because if the front desk does what they are supposed to be doing, the biller really doesn’t have to do that much at all. The front desk collects correct information, make sure the patient is eligible, all the biller has to do is create the claim and off it goes.

 

What information should front desk collect?

CHANDRESH: What information should front desk collect?

PATTI: They should collect demographic information, insurance information, check eligibility to make sure that patient is eligible and patient responsibility.

Chandresh: I’m assuming that we should check and verify every visit.

Patti: Yes, insurance can change every 30 days

Patient Engagement - Best Practices - Interview

Ravi Kalidindi is the CEO of Simple Interact Inc. that provides Front Office Automation solution that helps healthcare providers improve profitability and efficiency by enabling them to acquire and retain more patients, while also automating repetitive tasks to efficiently handle high patient loads. They address front office concerns such as: Online Reputation, HIPAA Compliant Patient Intake Forms, Effective Marketing of Ancillary Services, and Automated Reminders.

I talked to Ravi Recently about his experiences.

CHANDRESH: How did you get into this?

Ravi: I have 20 years of experience in Information Technology. I worked with several fortune 500 companies especially in custom software. I saw that there was always an element of every software that has to do with customer engagement. I decided to build a reusable Cloud Based customer engagement platform. Once I got started, I realized, a) It is better to start with SMB clients since enterprise clients take a longer time to make a decision and b) It is better to start with a specific industry rather than trying to build a single solution for all industries.

I quickly realized that healthcare is one area that is behind the times in technology adoption. And since healthcare staff doesn’t have the time or inclination to learn technology, an ideal solution needs to be a simple turnkey solution. What attracted me to this industry was:

1.      Lot of activity and energy for change in healthcare

2.     There was room for innovation.

3.     There was an actual need for a simple solution for patient and staff engagement

CHANDRESH: That’s your initial research. How long have you been doing this?

RAVI: 5 years

CHANDRESH: Has your initial research been justified in these 5 years?

RAVI: Absolutely, we realize more and more that extreme simplification and low friction is necessary for software to successful.

 

Top challenges that small independent practices face and how automation can help

CHANDRESH: When you deal with practices, what are the top challenges that small independent practices face? Why is such a service better than physical, human calling patients?

RAVI: Small practices are usually understaffed, they can’t hire too many people. There are a hundred different things that the staff must do and its easy for them to forget stuff. There’s no need to waste valuable staff time on repetitive tasks. It makes a lot of sense to automate those things. Use that saved time for high touch patient engagement where they take time to smile, talk to patient and improve patient experience.

 

Patient Responsiveness to Automations

CHANDRESH: Practices certainly cannot afford a lot of staff. In these years, what have you learned? Are patients responding to such messages?

RAVI: Absolutely. The numbers prove themselves. We see very high participation rates

  • Eg. 30% participation rate on our surveys.

  • We see a lot of patients giving positive reviews,

  • Over 80% patients filling forms.

Many practices expect from experience that patients don’t want to use technology, and we always prove them wrong. One example is that despite lot of cajoling from staff, very few patients use their patient portal, so there is an expectation that a new solution will also not be very effective. We have proved that we can get over 80% of patients to fill online forms ahead of time. In other words, adoption rates are very high when you build software in a thoughtful manner.

Pew research says 80% of US citizens have a smart phone.

Every smart phone has 3 things, it has email, it has text and it has a browser. So rather than forcing people to download apps and perform complicated steps, if you just use those 3 tools, you can get very high participation rates. In addition, making things simple, and very visual. Its very significant in terms of getting very high participation rate.

 

Elements of Patient Engagement

CHANDRESH: So, what you mention about the success, you pointed out 3 things, patients filling out forms, patients doing reviews, appointment reminders and things like that, so what are the, in summary, what are the different services that you provide?

RAVI: Our main goal is to bring more patients through the door, that is patient acquisition and patient retention. Second part is making front office very efficient.

On the first part you want more patients through the door via local search results. Most patients happen to be local, so they need to find you in a basic local search. When they do find you on local search results, they need to see 4+ star ratings on agnostic sites such as Google, Yelp, Healthgrades, Vitals, etc not on vendor sites like demandforce.com which don’t carry the same weight with patients.

Once the patients come in, we want to make sure they’ll be able to quickly book an appointment; make sure that most of them show up instead of not showing up, that most of them confirm ahead of time instead of staff having to manually call, that most of them fill forms ahead of time, and instead of staff having to hand type this kind of data into the EMR and PM systems, you automate that process and push that data through.

If a practice has any ancillary services they want to market, we make it easy to identify patients who are interested in those services so the upsell rates are much better.

We automate the process of collecting self assessment data for outcome measurement so you capture the baseline score and improvements over time. Instead of relying on staff to remember these kinds of things, you just automate it.

 

High Participation rates of Patients

CHANDRESH: And that’s very important. You said the success rate of patients filling out forms ahead of time was high, what do you attribute that success to? Why are patients filling out those forms when the practices were initially skeptical? Why do you think that is happening?

RAVI: It’s a combination of a few things, one is user experience. One of our User Experience team members has a PhD in Experimental Psychology. We spend a lot of time designing a very usable, easy to understand interface. We tested it with patients, watched them go through the forms , identify where they stumble and where they get through fast and find ways to make that better.

These days you download an app, you don’t get training before you start using an app and if it doesn’t work, you don’t call support, you just delete the app. In short, you just expect things to work and be easy to use right away. When you’re dealing with vast demographics of patients, old, young, educated, uneducated, etc. you have to make sure everyone finds the solution easy to use. So that one aspect of it.

Then second aspect of it is low friction. Take Patient Portals for example, practices need it for compliance reasons. You are expecting patients to go to a portal, create a username password for something they are not going to use on a daily basis, so it doesn’t pass the ‘toothbrush test’.

If I’m not using something more than 2 times a day like Facebook, then I’m not going to bother creating a username and password. And another thing, I’m going to most likely forget that username password. That is the one reason why patient portals are not successful and you don’t get high participation rates.

So, what do you do as an alternative? When we send reminders asking patients to fill forms, we give them the specific links to the forms they’re suppose to fill, and we ask them information they already know like the first and last name, date of birth.

If it happens to require additional security for follow up, then we have second authorization step where it asks for a temporary pin that is sent to them via email or text. So those are the kinds of things you must do to make it more usable and reduce friction to make things work.

To lower friction, we take staff out of the picture because staff has 101 things to do. Putting staff in the mix is a stumbling block, it slows things down, makes it unsuccessful.

 

Measuring ROI

CHANDRESH: For a practice to take such a step, how do you help them measure ROI on your service?

RAVI: When the potential client contacts us, for each service, we provide ROI numbers they can expect because we have a lot of data from our existing client base. We show them what the cost is versus the Return on Investment. As an example, lets take our patient feedback and online reviews service, we can show that once you improve your online reputation, you could attract 40% - 45% or even 50% of your new patient business solely by improving your online reputation.

Let’s say you calculate the lifetime value per new patient ( ex. ENT patient) as $1200, so 40% of new patient business each month multiplied by $1200 is a significant amount of money which we help secure. And those online reviews are permanent. Even if you stop the service you don’t loose your reviews.

CHANDRESH: You’ve established some kind of base line metric or base on your experience working with other practices?

RAVI: We have quarterly reports so we’re able to show with any practice, what is a snapshot of their online reputation before we start, same thing with reminders, what is the no-show rate before we start and over time we can show how those numbers are improving. If there is a dip in anything, we provide recommendations and interpretations on how they can improve.

 

Patient Marketing

CHANDRESH: You mentioned patient marketing, how does that work?

RAVI: Typically, a lot of these practices have other services they would like to market. Let’s say an ENT practice offers cosmetic procedures, hearing aides etc. Typically, they may run TV ads in the waiting room, or have big posters on the wall, but its hard to know who is interested in what and being able to close that loop.

Whereas when patients are filling forms, they are a captive audience and its an ideal time to make them aware of various services, ask them qualifying questions and ask them if they are interested in learning more.

In general, doctors and staff members are not sales people, they are uncomfortable trying to sell something. Here the conversation is switched because here the patient is saying we want to know more about a specific service, and now the staff or the doctor is helping the patient in terms of the upsell. 40-70% patients self-identify themselves saying they want to know more about the service and even if you convert 5-10% of that, that’s a huge revenue add.

Billing Services failure - One simple reason

Medical Practices outsource their billing to companies that specialize in providing such services. 

During my conversations with practices as well as billing service providers, I constantly hear about certain practices not happy with the services that they get. I also hear about billing companies complaining about how certain practices do not cooperate. In the end, it is the practice that has to bear the brunt because of inefficient billing and loss of revenue.

I know for a fact that each billing company has majority of happy and satisfied clients. Why is it then that certain practices end up not being happy with the services?

Irrespective of the software platform and vendor, let us look at the billing process. The practice selects the codes in most cases after the patient encounter. This may be a manual or an EHR based process. The billing company creates claims and submits them. If the submission is successful, the billing company follows up regarding payment and does what it has to do post payments, run reports, and manage the aging or outstanding balances.

Theoretically, all of this should run smoothly. There are certain points of communication between the billing services company and the practice. For example, there may be problems with

  • patient demographics,
  • insurance details,
  • errors in coding,
  • need for further clarity on claims by the insurance companies,
  • proof of documentation, etc.

This is usually a manual process that is established between the practice and the vendor. And, also the main stress point or cause of failure. The process may involve faxing, phone calls, or secure messaging. There should be a person assigned in the practice that understands some level of billing process so that they can effectively communicate with the vendor. It is this middle person that plays a very pivotal role in the success of outsourced billing process.

This person does not have to be an accomplished biller or an officemanager. He or she must have the basic understanding of billing process so that they can communicate with the vendor and act as a middle person to make sure there are no bottlenecks and nothing falls through the cracks. This is the most important element of success or failure within outsourced billing company.

How to say NO as a Leader?

Here are some common places where you learn how to say NO.

There are times in life and dealing with your staff when you just have to say no. Perhaps it’s a suggestion about a strategy, execution of certain tactics, product and product features, marketing, human resources … and so on.

Or perhaps it’s about a feature that you have no intention of building, resources that you can’t dedicate, or promises that you know you will not keep. But this monosyllabic word is probably the hardest one to utter. It closes all doors and destroys all possibilities. And nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news, especially when these come from your most trusted and loyal employees that are looking out for the company as well as your clients.

So how do you say no?

According to a blog I read, here’s what the blogger suggests and I agree with it.

You cannot say ‘no’ to the people you love, not often. That’s the secret. And then when you do, it has to sound like a ‘yes’. Or you have to make them say ‘no.’ You have to take time and trouble.”

Employees will believe that as long as they think in the best interest of the company as well as clients, it will be done. Things are not that simple. Sometimes you cannot do what they are suggesting.

Most companies now sell products, but also provide professional services. It is important therefore to let clients know and keep on making them aware that you offer them. Equally important is to let clients know that the product(s) are standard off the self and not ‘work for hire’.

The problem is, sales! Sales folks will often say yes to anything when asked by prospective clients of the product’s ability to solve their problems.

Other departments that deal with the NO problem.

Sales

Prospects ask if you have certain features in what you are selling. Most sales people will go down the list of features and find out if they have the features that the prospect is asking for.

Sales stars, instead, solve a problem. Before even thinking about saying No, they will try to find out the reason behind the request for that feature. Ask Why – 5 times if you have to – to get to the bottom of the request so that you can help solve a problem and therefore turning a No into a Yes.

Customer Support

It is very similar to what I outlined above for sales. But here you have a slight advantage. The client is already using your products. They may be asking for a feature request but may not be able to articulate the reason behind that request. So, help them (and yourselves) solve the problem instead of focusing on features. If your company is offering professional services, you have an added advantage.

Back to Company Leaders

Dig in, dive in, engage employees, and understand the root cause and reasons. Instead of a flat NO, put yourselves in their shoes, and identify the issues that need to be solved. Perhaps you have a better solution, or workaround that fit within your boundaries and framework.

Copying from the Blog I was referring to (Click here to read that blog):

  • Things you CAN do + Stuff you SHOULD be doing: If you CAN do something and that’s the direction your customer base really believes you should be working on it, that’s a good reason to pump the gas on this one. These are under the radar issues that would crop up as you scale. It isn’t a customer problem currently, but it will be eventually.
  • Things you CAN do + Stuff customers WANT you to do: The Route to Professional Services. These aren’t things in your real road-map, but could offer as Professional Services. Take this route ONLY if you have the bandwidth and resources. Otherwise be nice, but say No.
  • Things your customers WANT + Stuff you really SHOULD be doing:  Road-maps to Nevada. Your current customers want it, and that is what your industry dictates you should be doing. Therefore grow, hire and provide the service or get ready with the best apology speech in the history of mankind.
  • Things customers WANT + you SHOULD + CAN do : The Commission’s Overlap of Possibility. This is your absolute high priority items. Never ever ever say NO here, even if it means shaving off a few dollars.

 

MACRA, Physician Reimbursement, and Moving beyond MIPS

Dr. Gail R. Wilensky, Ph.D has just wrote a thought provoking perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine. ("Will MACRA Improve Physician Reimbursement?" April 5, 2018)

Tracking the journey from Resource based relative value scale (RBRVS) and Sustainable growth rate formula (SGR) which was not really a value based system, to current MIPS portion of MACRA (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act); it becomes clearly evident that it is still work in progress. 

MedPAC March 2018 Report to Congress - Monkey Wrench

While agreeing with the initial goal of MIPS, MedPAC has thrown a monkey wrench, claiming that MIPS is a burden along with the claim that it's goal will not be accomplished.

MedPAC shares Congress’ goal, expressed in MIPS, of having a value component for clinician services in
traditional Medicare that promotes high-quality care. However, the Commission believes that MIPS will not
fulfill this goal and therefore should be eliminated.
— MedPAC March 2018 Report

They are making two recommendations:

  1. Eliminate MIPS as it is today.
  2. Establish a new 'Voluntary' value program in fee-for-service.

As Dr. Wilensky points out, 'Under the MedPAC proposal, physicians would have 2% of their fee-for-service payments withheld. To get the withheld money back, physicians would have to join an A-APM or be part of a (real or virtual) group that is evaluated on population-level performance measures such as mortality and readmission rates, potentially preventable admissions, and patient experience. MedPAC also proposes that the measures be based on claims, which would mean that the burden would be on CMS rather than clinicians to provide the relevant data. Clinicians who do not participate would lose the 2% that was withheld.'

Even if we agree with MedPAC's assessment that MIPS has flaws, I'm not sure if anyone has the answer. MedPAC has an alternative proposal, but dumping MIPS altogether is probably not wise, until CMS tests and tries the MedPAC proposal. Dr. Wilensky proposes that CMS should test it under its Innovation Center (CMMI).

In either case, we are certainly making progress. This is such a huge issue that we must test and try various models. There is no silver bullet. While Practicing Physicians will encounter a bumpy road, we must all pitch in to make our views known and heard.

 

 

Procrastination - Just One thing to do

I have suffered from Procrastination all my life. I guess who hasn't - to some extent, some more than others. 

I am 55 now and I don't say I have fully overcome it, I don't think I ever will, but I have to a large extent controlled it.

I recognized this is a huge issue when things started suffering. Work got delayed both at home and office. I kept pushing things off to the point of no return. I then started reading about it, seeking self-help books and articles. When I read them, I resolved to get better, and I procrastinated on those resolutions. 

There was a lot of theory. Here is what one article said:

Follow these steps to deal with and control procrastination:

Step 1: Recognize That You're Procrastinating. If you're honest with yourself, you probably know when you're procrastinating. ...

Step 2: Work Out WHY You're Procrastinating. This can depend on both you and the task. ...

Step 3: Adopt Anti-Procrastination Strategies.

Here's another article: If you're looking for effective ways to beat procrastination and finish your tasks timely, these 8 tips are for you.

  1. Eliminate distractions.
  2. Use your strongest sensation to memorise things.
  3. Set yourself deadlines. ...
  4. Work when you feel most alert and efficient.
  5. Don't stress too much.
  6. Eat healthy & exercise.

...and on and on...

My wife is the exact opposite. She is always on top and never procrastinates, and that's not an exaggeration. I observed her. I noticed and started implementing just one simple thing.

Just Do It!

When something comes to top of mind that needs/should be done, just do it right now. I initially felt - I'll do it as soon as... or 'I'll do it later'. We know what happens. Then, I realized if I stop what I am doing, and just get that thing done, it is not going to disrupt anything at all, because most of the time, what I am in the middle of, is never that urgent.

That's all - no long theories, no steps, Just Do It.

Best Way to Evaluate any Product - Ask - "And Then What Happens?"

Seth Godin's blog below got me thinking. This is how we should evaluate software and technology products.

A simple dialog can turn opinions into plans (or perhaps, into less tightly held opinions).

We ask, "and then what happens?"

Flesh it out. Tell us step by step. The more detail the better.

No miracles allowed. And it helps if each step is a step that's worked before, somewhere and sometime else. The other question that helps with this is, "has that step ever worked before?"

We don't have a shortage of loud and strongly held points of view about business, culture, or technology. But it may be that finding the time to draw a map helps us get to where we want to go (or to realize that we need a new map). 

What does all this have to do with Product/Software Evaluation?

When doctors buy EMR software, majority of them make the mistake of doing an improper evaluation and testing before buying. This leads to dissatisfaction and practice inefficiencies. Medical clinics have a lot of moving parts and workflows. Doctors will evaluate from the clinical perspective. Office managers and billing staff evaluate the systems from their own workflow point of view.

Where it gets complicated is that they focus on inefficiencies and dissatisfaction with their previous software. They assume that other parts of the system work fine. The evaluation needs to happen as if you are buying a system for the first time.

Every step of the process must be evaluated independently.

Do your homework.

This requires a lot of homework. Start by documenting every step of the process. This is more difficult than it sounds, because you have been doing things for a long time and you take things for granted. You don't do not feel the necessity to document simple steps. Once all the steps and workflow have been documented, this is where you need to ask the vendor, 'then what happens?' Keep on asking this question until you know the exact steps that you have to take in that software to do your job - everyone's job.

There is another side benefit of doing this. It will prevent future finger-pointing. In majority of the cases many unspoken things lead to discontent. How many times have I heard, "I thought you said...", Or, ... "You never told me this..."

Do yourself a favor, and keep on asking "and then what happens?". Spend as much time as necessary with the vendor evaluating the product.