HealthFebruary 03, 2020

The best way to approach medical practice staffing

By: Emily Paulsen

The way medical practice staffing is approached can make or break a medical practice. It's usually the biggest item in the overall practice budget, and with operation costs on the rise, that chunk of change can make a tempting target for budget cuts.

But skimping on staffing might not be the wisest route. A survey by Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) found that practices that spend more on staffing often end up with higher revenue, even after expenses. The key is figuring out the right medical practice staffing mix for your situation.

In other words, you need to determine whom you need, when you need them, where to find them and then, once you've hired your staff, whether the structure is working.

Identify key practice roles

While there are certain key roles in almost any medical practice — front desk/receptionist, scheduler, back office/billing manager, coder, practice supervisor, provider, medical assistant — the best staffing structure for a particular practice will depend on a variety of factors, including the practice size, specialty, payer mix and the population being served.

Shifts in the healthcare landscape, from technological developments to team-based care and quality reporting, have also caused shifts in medical practice staffing needs, generally from the front office towards clinical areas. New roles in medical practices include previsit planning, follow-up care and care coordination. As Health Services Research reports, some doctors are finding that expanding the role of medical assistants, including having them assist with documentation and follow-up, helps improve the healthcare experience. Others may find that having staffers with a variety of backgrounds, including RNs, LPNs and MAs, helps them serve a greater range of patients and needs, especially for delivering value-based care.

While smaller practices may not need a dedicated IT/data manager, most will at least need a point person to field questions about EHRs and generating quality reports.

Look for scheduling trends and solutions

It may seem like no two days are the same in your medical practice, but certain trends do affect staffing. Mondays are busiest, winter means flu and staff vacations can mean shuffling roles and maybe hiring locum tenens.

To identify the trends in your office, think about your day. Are you or your staff regularly putting in overtime hours? What are the things that trip you up, take more time than you thought or contribute to burnout? Do you see more people for physicals at a certain time of year?

The answers to these questions may point to the need for creative scheduling solutions. Cross-training staff to take on more responsibility and more varied tasks can improve productivity and job satisfaction, a win-win. Other solutions might include outsourcing, part-time positions, remote work and job sharing.

Make wise hiring decisions

Building a solid medical practice staff takes more than defining the right roles and schedules. You also need the right people. With operating costs on the rise, according to Medical Economics, it's more important than ever to make wise hiring decisions. It makes more sense to pay someone a higher wage and keep them on board than it does to churn through dissatisfied or unqualified employees.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects increased demand for MAs in the coming years. With that demand, new programs are cropping up, and not all are created equal. Researching the candidate's experience as well as the program they attended is necessary in this environment, and it can lead to better hiring decisions.

Listen to your staff and patients

A March 2019 poll by MGMA showed that 84% of healthcare managers depend on benchmarking data to improve practice operations. Looking at a variety of data — overtime costs, panel size, patient census, patient satisfaction scores, employee satisfaction scores — can often reveal problem areas.

But don't just look at the numbers. Check in with the people, too. Nobody knows your office, its challenges and its successes, better than your current staff and your patients. Getting their input can lead to a-ha moments and help identify problem areas you never even thought about. And in our digital age, don't overlook the value of online reviews. While you may not always consider them fair or accurate, they can provide an invaluable candid perspective on your practice and staff.

Addressing the problem areas you uncover can in turn increase patient and employee satisfaction ratings, along with the likelihood that they will refer their friends and family to your practice. And referrals from staff and patients are the surest sign that you're getting medical practice staffing right.

Emily Paulsen