From the Medical Post: Eight simple ways to save money and boost revenue: Take advantage of technology to increase efficiency and optimize your billing
Written by Wendy Glauser on September 8, 2011 for The Medical Post
In the current economic climate, are you feeling the financial squeeze?
While the following tips offer advice on cutting costs, we’ve also included ways you can boost your revenue. Many physicians make the mistake of simply focusing on costs, says Jim Sweeney, a practice consultant at MD Physician Services, a Canadian Medical Association-owned company.
For example, it doesn’t make sense to cut staff salaries before looking into revenue-boosting methods that may lead to more patients and a greater workload. “Cutting costs is secondary until you look at your revenue,” says Sweeney. Read on to learn about how to both save and make more money.
1 Convert faxes to electronic documents
Dr. David Kaplan, associate family physician-in-chief at North York General Hospital in Toronto, was concerned not just about the trees but also the money that his clinic was wasting by printing faxes and then scanning them to upload into patient’s records.
“Between five doctors, we were wasting 30,000 sheets of paper a year,” he says. The paper costs weren’t breaking the bank, but Dr. Kaplan was concerned that the time the secretary had to spend in front of the printer, scanner and shredder was an inefficient use of her time. So he installed Nuance Communication’s Omnipage software, which automatically sends an electronic copy of faxes to his secretary’s e-mail.
Faxes can still be printed when hard copies are needed, but usually the secretary simply files an electronic copy of the fax in the patient’s record. (Alternatives to Omnibus include the products ABBYY FineReader or Free OCR.)
2 Get a new water heater
One way to save money over the long term is to replace your office’s old, inefficient water heater with a tankless water warmer.
Because the hot water is always circulating, you don’t have to wait 30 seconds for the hot water when you need to say, heat up a speculum, explains Dr. David Price, chairman of the department of family medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton and the head of McMaster’s Family Health Team. His network of clinics recently made the switch, and they installed a timer so the water heater turns off for the night. “That saved us a considerable amount of money,” says Dr. Price.
3 Read up on the fee schedule
Gaining a more thorough grasp of the codes and procedures of the fee schedule, and keeping on top of updates to it, is a no-cost and surefire way to boost revenue. “If a physician doesn’t know what’s available in the fee schedule, chances are very good he or she will not be maximizing income,” says Sweeney. He notes that many physicians miss billing opportunities, such as tray fees or injections, simply because they’re not well-versed on the fee schedule.
4 Switch to a VOIP phone system
After switching from land lines to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), which transmits audio over the Internet, Dr. Kaplan’s office now saves about $75 a month in phone bills.
But the cost savings haven’t been the only benefit. Previously, when all four lines were in use, a staff member would have to wait until a line became free to make a call—and patients would get a busy signal when phoning.
Those problems have been eliminated because VOIP offers an unlimited number of lines and simply charges per user. In addition, because the system can be used via smartphones or laptops, it’s more convenient and there’s no need to shell out for phones in every room. “You can call from your computer while in the exam room,” says Dr. Kaplan. “From a work flow perspective, it’s made a huge difference.”
5 Use the audit function of your clinical management software
Most physicians don’t use their clinical management software to its full potential, says Sweeney, and that’s unfortunate because many of the built-in report functions of the software can add to a doctor’s bottom line. “Certain reports should be done every month: what I billed, what I got paid and accounts receivable,” says Sweeney.
Through these reports, the clinical management software can flag rejected claims so the doctor can correct the information and re-send the bill.
Provinces only allow a certain window in which claims can be paid, and Sweeney says he’s seen some “pretty sad cases” of doctors losing thousands of dollars simply because they didn’t realize their claims were rejected before it was too late.
6 Spend money to make money
It doesn’t always pay to be cheap, warns Dr. Price.
He provides the example of a time early in his career when he and his partner were hiring a clinic administrative manager. One particular candidate had a track record of improving efficiency, but “to hire her was going to be an extra $5,000 a year, which seemed like a lot of money.” Upon doing further calculations, however, Dr. Price realized that amount only required them to see three extra patients per week per doctor, which didn’t actually seem like much.
Six months in, the new hire was saving so much time in administrative paperwork that the doctors were able to see an extra two patients per day.
As the saying goes, sometimes you have to spend money to make money.
7 Do your own billing
As electronic medical record systems continue to make billing easier than ever before, physicians can boost their incomes by doing their own billing. As Dr. Kaplan explains, “Only the physician remembers what they did in the exam room.” An extra $5 or $10 here and there adds up over the long run, and it’s often worth the 15 seconds it takes to do a patient’s billing at the end of an appointment.
8 Charge for uninsured services
You do the work, so why not get paid for it? “More and more physicians are charging fees for uninsured services,” notes Dr. Kaplan and, as a result, there’s been a growing awareness among patients that not all procedures are covered.
If charging individually is an administrative burden, consider offering block fees, which save costs in the time staff members spend sending and processing individual bills.
Wendy Glauser is a freelance writer in Toronto.