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5 Big Ideas for Physician Groups

Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media , November 2, 2011

Last week’s Medical Group Management Association conference in Las Vegas featured four days of workshops, networking, and almost 100 sessions devoted to the challenges facing physician groups as they attempt to navigate the business of healthcare reform.

Here is my (Margaret Dick Tocknell’s) analysis of the big ideas discussed at MGMA:

1. The healthcare reform train has left the station.
If you’re sitting around waiting for the final court decision on healthcare reform before investing in electronic health records or exploring different payment models, then your practice is so far behind that it may never catch up. The feds have been pumping some serious dollars into demonstration projects and other initiatives to help physicians and hospitals develop the infrastructure to compete in the new world of healthcare.

Even providers that don’t participate in these projects are aligning themselves with other providers and payers to develop healthcare delivery systems and payment models that move patient care from volume to value and focus on higher quality and lower cost care. Through these partnerships, providers and payers are putting processes in place to collaborate, develop clinical engagement, and manage transitions of care. Healthcare has changed and it will not return to the old way of doing business.

2. The physician-patient relationship is in flux.
Physicians tend to make many treatment decisions for their patients, but implementing new healthcare delivery systems that emphasize collaboration will require patients to be more engaged in the decisions that affect their medical care. Studies show that, all things being equal, patients tend to select less invasive and less expensive procedures when they have the tools and information to assess the trade-offs of different treatment options. That means the physician or the staff must take time to provide the resources a patient needs to make informed healthcare decisions.

I predict physician practices will adopt a common practice of pushing decisions and jobs to the lowest level possible. A physician’s time will be reserved for patients who need more intensive care and physician assistants will handle more of the everyday medical cases. E-mail, once health plans agree to reimbursement terms, will play a larger role in patient-physician engagement.

3. Physicians have a role in incentivizing patient behavior.
My insurer tells me that I can earn $50 just by completing an online health risk assessment. I still haven’t taken the time. But what if my insurer put some real money on the table and got my doctor involved in the process? One insurer offered $1,000 for family members to complete an HRA, review it with their primary care physician, and then develop and follow a medical care plan. Its HRA completion rate jumped to a whopping 80%. By engaging physicians and adding a medical plan, this insurer added real value to the HRA.

4. Healthcare will be important to economic development.
Employers will send their jobs to cities and states that support a robust healthcare industry with sufficient providers. Some companies are already taking healthcare services into consideration when they look at facility locations. Employers are becoming more aware of how healthcare price competition and availability of medical services can affect their workforce and their bottom line.

5. Making a list and checking it twice isn’t just for Santa Claus.
Physician offices can benefit from developing checklists for even routine activities. A checklist clarifies a process so the same steps are taken each time. It establishes priorities, makes sure everything that needs to get done gets done, reduces errors, and can help the physician office staff function better as a team. It’s a relatively simple effort that can save a practice time and money.

These hot topics will change the practice of medicine for years to come. If you were at MGMA, or even if you weren’t, what’s your take on these big ideas?

(Please send your ideas to and Pinnacle Healthcare Consulting will post your responses on our blog!

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