Prepare Your Surgical Practice For Lean Times

Prepare Your Surgical Practice For Lean Times

There is a common misconception that medical businesses — including private surgical practices — are recession-proof because people will always need doctors. The data, however, tells a different story and shows that the medical field is not immune to economic dips.

By the end of the first quarter of 2020 (during the COVID-19 pandemic), healthcare had lost 1.4 million jobs, and consumption of healthcare services had plummeted by 4.97% as compared to the year before. 

While people are less likely to put off life-saving treatments, the chances that a patient will schedule their elective (aka non-essential) knee, orthopedic, or Lasik surgery during a recession are slim. Studies confirm the volume of elective surgeries is impacted by economic conditions.   

Surgeon worried and thinking about recession

On top of the lost revenue from the drop-off in elective surgeries, practices may also face the repercussions of reductions in reimbursement rates. In an environment where surgeons are taking home less money per procedure, they are under extreme pressure to perform more surgeries just to bring home the same dollar amount they did in previous years.

Whether you have noticed a decline in surgical bookings or not, you are surely aware of the challenges of trying to maintain a surgical practice in a precarious economy. Here is a breakdown of some practical strategies that will help keep your surgical pipeline strong and maintain healthy profits during a recession. 

Tips For Maintaining A Surgical Practice’s Bottom Line A Recession

1. Double Down On Your Follow-up Procedures

One of the biggest loss-leaders for surgical practices is when patients who have attended a surgical consultation never go ahead and book the surgery that has been recommended. There can be many reasons for this.

Fear of Cost

Patients shocked about surgery bill

Patients who are unsure about the actual cost of the procedure and exactly what is and isn’t covered by their insurance will often delay surgery.

Fear of The Procedure

Patients may be anxious about the recovery period, how much pain and discomfort will be involved, and whether something might go wrong. 

Lack of Information

If a patient hasn’t had enough time to ask all their questions, they may delay surgery because of uncertainty.

Lack of Trust

If a patient isn’t given enough time to discuss all the options available to them, they might lose trust in the provider (and look elsewhere). 

It is important to always be aware of how the current economic climate might be affecting your patients. Any concerns or doubts a patient may have about surgery could be exacerbated due to their personal economic situation.

Those who have lost jobs (and, alongside it, their employer-sponsored health insurance) will avoid taking on extra costs. An already wavering patient may use any small detail that they are worried about or don’t fully understand as a reason not to go ahead. 

Follow-up Calls

Follow-up calls allow practices to address doubts and unanswered questions while providing valuable opportunities to build a rapport with patients so that they feel heard and understood.

The calls can also reinforce the benefits of the procedure, making the patient feel more confident about their choice to go ahead. 

Follow-up calls allow practices to address doubts and unanswered questions while providing valuable opportunities to build a rapport with patients so that they feel heard and understood.

The caller can also use this time to reinforce the benefits of the procedure, making the patient feel more confident about their choice to go ahead. 

Patient getting a follow-up call from surgical practice

A best practice for surgical clinics would be to ensure every patient who attends a consultation with the surgeon and is recommended surgery receives a warm and empathic follow-up call within a certain time frame. 

Unfortunately, many practices miss opportunities to follow up due to poor record keeping and lack of effective tracking. 

The good news is that upon implementing a follow-up protocol, practices are likely to see an immediate uptick in surgeries booked. A surgical scheduling and coordination platform can help implement this protocol, ensuring follow-up calls are carefully tracked and monitored.

Such a system should allow staff to record relevant information to the case, including the reason for hesitation and time frame for follow-up.  It should also be possible to generate automated tasks for staff to follow and build and run follow-up reports to track the effect of follow-up efforts. 

2. Track Surgical Volume KPIs

Practice CEO reviewing surgical reports

While it seems obvious that a practice that wants to remain profitable should track relevant KPIs, many practices don’t have the necessary information at their fingertips.

When times are hard, it is especially important to collect data so that you know where you need to focus your efforts to improve. As the primary concern of most clinics during a recession is to keep the number of surgeries booked as high as possible, it’s important to track the following metrics: 

  • Number of surgeries performed in any given time frame
  • Number of patients who were recommended for surgery
  • Number of patients who were recommended surgery and followed through 
  • Reasons for not scheduling surgery
  • Rate of cancellations and the primary reasons
  • Number of canceled surgeries that have been rescheduled

A surgical scheduling platform can make it much easier to stay on top of your data. The best-of-breed surgical scheduling and coordination platforms have reporting modules that should be able to generate these kinds of reports on demand. 

These reports can be used in management meetings to revise procedures and set new targets and policies as needed.

3. Be Ready With All The Information Your Patient Needs 

Even once a patient decides to go ahead with a procedure, they may still have significant anxieties that need to be addressed. The more prepared staff at the practice are to provide patients with the information they need, the more confidence they will inspire. Staff should be ready to answer questions and provide information about:

  • Costs – What, if anything, does the patient have to pay out of pocket?
  • Insurance – What is covered by insurance, and what is not? 
  • Preparation – How to prepare for the procedure and what is required on the day of (fasting, stopping medications prior, what time to arrive, wait time anticipated, etc.)?
  • The surgery itself – What does the surgery entail? Some patients require a detailed explanation of the surgery itself (with diagrams).
  • Recovery – What is the expected recovery period, and what will the patient need to organize care/ take time off work, etc?

Surgeon talking to patient about procedure

A surgical scheduling platform can make it easier to provide patients with the information they seek because customized paperwork can be generated automatically, based on their CPT code.

Staff can also easily look up fee structures and insurance payout information in the system. Practices can also plan ahead by pre-preparing fact sheets about different kinds of surgeries that can easily be printed off or emailed to patients when needed.

4. Organize Your Post-operative Coding Process  

One of the biggest impediments to cash flow in surgical practices is the failure to submit post-operative reimbursement codes in a timely manner. There can be many reasons for this.

Lack of Staff And/or Resources

Medical coding can be complicated and time-consuming. Many practices struggle to keep up with the workload — especially if they don’t have a dedicated member of staff assigned to the job.

Verification of Documentation

If medical documentation is incomplete or unclear, staff members may need to seek clarification from providers before submitting codes, which can cause delays.

Billing And Reimbursement Issues

Some practices may delay sending post-operative codes due to concerns about billing and reimbursement.

For example, they may need to ensure the codes verified were the codes that were actually performed and in line with any prior authorizations attained, and if not, make adjustments accordingly. 

A surgical scheduling platform can automate and streamline this entire process, ensuring that codes don’t fall between the cracks and that staff are notified and in the loop. Surgeons can confirm codes immediately after surgery (and in a HIPAA-compliant way) through the platform. They can also report on additional codes performed if necessary.  

Keep Your Profits Rolling  

Profits chart with thumbs up

In times of recession, it is important to effectively manage all your processes and procedures so you don’t lose out on revenue unnecessarily. Following up with every patient will help you keep the number of surgical bookings high. Tracking KPIs will give you a realistic view of how you are faring so you can make changes and improve operations. Organizing your patient information will help you provide good customer service and inspire confidence. Streamlining the submission of post-operative codes will keep reimbursement funds flowing and ensure you’re not caught in the red.

For all these critical functions, a surgical scheduling and coordination platform will enhance efficiency, reduce staff workload, eliminate human error, and ensure you maintain all your revenue-supporting tasks.