Book Club: The E Myth Physician

I love to read, especially anything related to business and medicine.  I have finally realized, after 15 years in practice, that is not enough to just be a doctor.  Whether we like it or not, we are all small business owners, and some of us are even entrepreneurs.  Today I will review The E Myth Physician, by Michael Gerber. Gerber is a small business guru, and has written extensively on how to start a business, and common mistakes entrepreneurs make.   His best book, in my opinion, is The E Myth Revisted.  I bought the E Myth Physician hoping for great things, but was disappointed.  The book simplifies when it should be more detailed, and lacks a clear understanding of what exactly physicians do. 

However, I thought the chapter, “On the subject of work” was worthy of discussion.  Gerber casts physicians in to three roles: that of the technician, and that of the manager, and that of the entrepreneur.  Physicians tend to focus on the technician role–that of seeing patients, curing diseases and saving lives.  There is also the role of the manager–scheduling the patients, filing, posting charges etc.  The physician may or may not be involved in the manager role, but none the less, if he isn’t he should at least know what the manager does!  However, according to Gerber, most physicians neglect the last, and most important role, that of entrepreneur.  You may have no interest in being an entrepreneur, but like it or not you are.  If you are an owner or a partner in a medical practice, you are an entrepreneur.  Ignoring this will not make it go away.

Gerber advises us to do “strategic work”  i.e. work on the business, not just in it.  He notes that entrepreneurs will do strategic work in order to help their practice/business thrive.   He advises us to ask and then visualize answers to the following questions:

  • Why am I a doctor?
  • What will my practice look like when it is done?
  • What must my practice look, act and feel like in order to compete successfully?
  • What are the Key Indicators of my practice?

The point of “strategic work” is to have us lift our heads up beyond the minutiae of everyday practice, and make sure our medical practice is in line with our vision of why we are doctors.   Asking these questions will help us design the future of our practice, and plan for that future.  One of my favorite sayings is, “Hope is not a strategy.”  We all need a clear vision of what we want our practice business to look like, why we are doing it, and how we will realize that vision.  To that end we are all entrepreneurs.

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To market, to market! A marketing plan for the next 6 months.

 

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As promised, I would set up a goal for the year, and plan to achieve it.  I had earlier noted that business for my company, ExtraMD was down for the first time in five years.  My company supplies physicians to clinics/hospitals/urgent care in the city where I live.  I am the physician owner, and feel responsible to the other 5 physicians in our group.  So, I developed a marketing plan for the next six months to bolster our shifts.  The general marketing theme was a birthday celebration, as ExtraMD is turning five.   

The goal: have 5o shifts per month for our physicians.   (This is what we usually have, but has suddenly decreased.)

Unless noted, all responsibilities for marketing are mine.

The plan (by month):

January: send an email to our clients, announcing our birthday celebration, and giving a discount of 10% off the first shift.  (Already done by our trusty office manager.)  Send out a press release announcing the birthday celebration.  (My responsibility.)

February: deliver birthday cupcakes to potential clinics with cards/brochures. 

March: build a referral tree via email.  E.g.: if a client refers someone to us that uses us to fill shifts, the referring client will get a discount off their next shift with ExtraMD.

April:  send out postcards reminding clients/potential clients of our services, focusing on how we benefit the practice when one of our doctors fills in.

May: send out email reminder for practices to book now for summer vacations.

June:  send out a newsletter with tips on practice management to our email subscribers.

Most of the marketing will be low cost.  This marketing plan was developed with help from Philippa Kennealy, a physician entrepreneur.  I also consulted Duct Tape Marketing, by John Jantsch.   I’ll keep you informed as to our progress.

Staying Afloat in Tough Economic Waters Part 2

So, continuing on with my tale of my little business…I left off describing how ExtraMD ( my local locums company) was going to weather these stormy economic times.  I have noticed a drastic drop in shift requests.  Over the past two years, we have typically had 10 shifts per month unfilled, almost enough for a full time physician.  However, over the last 3 months, I have seen a distinct drop, such that by December we only had 2 shifts that went unfilled.

Scary.

Next, an urgent care cancelled a shift, saying they were so far behind in their receivables, they couldn’t afford any more debt.  We haven’t yet received the money owed for work we did there.

Scarier.

In addition, a large clinic system cancelled over 16 shifts for one month, leaving 4 doctors with out work for February.  They emailed me, saying, “Good news for our clinic…we’ve hired a full time physician, so won’t need coverage.”  Bad news for us.  We do have a 30 day cancellation policy, but the clinic squeaked in at 31 days, so didn’t have to pay the full cancellation fee.

Scariest.

So, what will we do?   How will I find work for my  docs, keep my company afloat and sleep at night?

Here’s my plan:

  1. Calm down.
  2. Send out a post card mailing, advertising a birthday discount.  (ExtraMD is turning 5.)  Something cute and eye catching will be on the postcard,  like a birthday cake.
  3. Email our clients, letting them know we have a birthday  celebration discount going on.
  4. Consider taking  birthday cupcakes to our best customers.
  5. Put an ad in the local medical journals.
  6. Talk to the other physicians in our group about leaving business cards and chatting up the business at practices where they are working.  As the physician owner, I have done all the marketing myself, but hey, it’s worth a try.
  7. Create a press release targeting the local market about ExtraMD’s birthday celebration and discount.  Let practices know that we are a  good interim solution during tough times–it’s cheaper to use us than hire another physician, especially if  a practice isn’t certain it can support another full time physician.

I’ll keep you posted as to the results.  How is YOUR practice doing in these tough times?

Enter to win a Amazon gift card–list a goal for your practice this year and a plan to achieve it!

See the December 29 post and enter your practice’s goals for 2009.  Include a plan by which your will achieve the goals.  The best plan wins a $15 gift card from Amazon.

Power to the Punctual! How Physicians can be on Time!

Patients have a pet peeve: they hate waiting for the doctor.  I hate waiting for the doctor, and hate it when patients wait for me!  It’s very funny, but in my personal life I tend to run late, but at work, I’m usually on time.  Reflecting on what helps me be on time, I came up with some tips:

  1. Don’t check voice mail or email first thing.  Get to the clinic (or hospital, as is my case), and get started.  Checking emails/voice mails will likely take up more time than you have.  Remember, the beauty of email/voice mail is that you can respond when you are able.
  2. Give yourself extra time to get to the office/hospital.  Don’t fall in to the “well, I have three extra minutes so I will check my emails, start my latest article, read up on transplants…”  trap.  Get to work first!
  3. Set your clock or watch ahead by an uneven amount.  (It’s harder to subtract, although my fiendish little brain has become adept at subtracting odd numbers.)  Set different clocks ahead by different amounts.  (Take that, smart brain!)
  4. Estimate accurately how long something will take, then add 15 minutes.  When a nurse calls me and asks when will I see a patient, I estimate how long it will be, and then add the extra 15 minutes.  The patients and families love it because I am on time, and I really look good if I arrive in the room early!
  5. Don’t schedule meetings during peak times.  At one hospital I worked at, they wanted us to meet with the case managers at 9:00 am.  I am hitting my rounding stride around then, and having a meeting in the middle of the morning would really slow me down, (not to mention slowing discharges down!)  My group was able to get a different meeting time set up.
  6. Set a goal for what you want to accomplish ahead of time.  I try to break my day up when I’m rounding into segments.  I will set a goal of seeing 2/3rds of my patients by 1:00 pm for example.  I know I am much slower in the afternoon, so I try to have the bulk of my work done before lunch.
  7. Set up your day so you can use your peaks effectively.  I try to see my ICU patients first, when I am sharpest, and leave phone calls for late in the day, when I can sit down with a cup of tea and really listen to what the families say.
  8. Don’t dwaddle on the Internet.  There is so much to read and learn, but getting sucked into the Internet black hole is a guaranteed time drain.  Be strong!
  9. Cut the optimism.  We all have ideas that we can get “just one more thing” done.  Try doing less, and you will probably be able to do more, because  you are less stressed because you are on time!
  10. Lastly, why are you late?  Is it a rebelliousness toward the system?  Are we physicians late because we can get away with it? Better book some time on the shrink rap couch!

So what are my top reasons for being late:

  1. Exuberant optimism about how much I can get done.
  2. Perfectionism, for example trying to get my computerized note to look “just so.”  (I am desperately trying to break this habit!)
  3. My kid/family/dog.
  4. Reading when I should be in the car driving.
  5. Complaining.  (Seriously, the way we docs carry on!  I am working HARD on breaking this habit, and will post on my ‘no complaining’ bracelet later.)

And you?  What’s keeping you from your patients?  Make 2009 the year when physicians are on time!  Power to the punctual!!!

Resources:  See posts on Lifehack and MedicineNet.

Enter the YOUR plan to improve your practice and win an Amazon Gift Card!

See the December 29 post and enter your practice’s goals for 2009.  Include a plan by which your will achieve the goals.  The best plan wins a $15 gift card from Amazon.

Don’t Write Off E-prescribing

I may appear to be somewhat of a troglodyte, but I actually have  committed myself to learning to love technology.  I am the proud owner of a smart phone, have mastered my email, and actually use two different EMRs.  So, you see, this qualified me as an expert on EMRs and e-prescribing (wipe that smirk off your face!)

It was with interest that I read “Effect of Electronic Prescribing With Formulary decision Support On Medication Use and Cost” in the December 8/22 2008 issu3e of Archives Of Internal Medicineby Michael Fischer, MD, MS et al.  The authors describe a study in which physicians using e-prescribing with formulary decision support were compared with physicians using traditional paper prescriptions with respect to prescribing tier 1 medications.  When prescribing electronically, the physicians were more likely to choose the lower cost generic tier 1 medication.  There was a 3.3% increase in tier 1 prescribing, with a decrease in tier 2 and 3 prescriptions.  Fischer et al estimate that this would result in an $845,000 savings per 100,000 patients, based on the assumption that each patient filled one prescription per month.

I love saving money, but what was the cost of saving money?  According to the authors, “government estimates of approximate first year costs were $3000 per prescriber.”  In the study, Blue Cross Blue Shield supplied the software to the physicians, along with a free wireless device, access to a secure Web portal, licensing and wireless carrier.  So, the cost was not borne by the participating physicians.

I think as a first step toward an EMR, e-prescribing makes sense.  I do not think that every insurance company should provide physicians with it’s wireless device.  Can you imagine, five different devices for five different insurance companies?!

So what is to be done?  The federal government must mandate one SINGLE e-prescription system that we all should use, and insurance companies should bear the cost, based on percentage of patients enrolled in each plan.  Why should health insurance plans pay?  Because they are the ones that will enjoy the savings!  I think this would be an effective way to usher in the beginnings of an EMR.  Mr. Obama and Mr. Daschle, are you listening?

As physicians, we must look for ways that we can use e-prescribing efficiently and effectively.  We must commit to learning all the bells and whistles, and using it to our advantage.  So, stop hiding behind your prescription pad, and make way for what is inevitable.  Get out there and lobby for what should be done, rather than whining when we get handed the bill for something that will most benefit the health insurance industry!