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.

Hip Hip HIPAA–Myth Busting 101

Photo: starpulse.commythbusters003_m

As far as I am concerned HIPAA has added another layer of useless paperwork on to the backs of physicians, and I particularly resent the cost it has added to primary care.  Therefore, I was excited to see an article on HIPAA myths.  Below is my summary of HIPAA myth bustin’:

Myth 1: You can’t have a sign in sheet.  Yes, you can.  You must limit the amount of patient information on the list.  E.g. don’t have the chief complaint.

Myth 2: You may not say a patient’s name out loud in front of other people.  Again, say the name, but use the minimal amount of information, rather than, “Mrs. Dysmenorrhea, Dr. Strangelove is ready for your pap test.”

Myth 3: Patients may sue you for non-compliance.  No, but HHS (Health and Human Services) recently fined a home care companyfor a major security breach.  Moral: be especially careful with laptops, pdas etc.

Myth 4: Patients are entitled to a free copy of their medical records.  They are certainly entitled to the records, but not for free.  The cost to the patient may include the cost of labor to copy the records, as well as the cost of supplies and postage.

Myth 5: You may not use a fax to send protected patient information.  Not true, grass hopper!  Faxes must be sent to known locations, from secure machines, with the number pre-programmed to reduce dialing errors.  The cover sheet must contain a request to destroy the  information should it go to an incorrect destination.

So, be safe out there.  And yes, we can finally say our patients’ names again.

Health Care Reform With Out High Tech: Changing a Culture of Fatness to a Culture of Fitness

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photo: flickr.com

 

President Obama has a stimulus package all ready to roll out.  Reportedly, it will include money ear marked to expand COBRA.  If this is true, there will be precious little left to fund the ‘everybody has to have an EMR’ mandate.

Good, I say.  Let’s work on some low tech solutions that will reap true benefits.  Yes, I admit that the low tech, grunt it out in the trenches approach is not nearly as sexy as an EMR with bells and whistles, but this time, I think low tech will trump high tech.  Here goes the PookieMD save the world through hard work approach:

First, focus on America’s growing middle.  Here are five low tech ways to cut the fat and increase activity.  (Literally and figuratively!)  I will work from the global to the micro.

  1. Mandate the physical education be held every day from kindergarten through 12th grade.  Our plump kids are the diabetics  and cardiac stentees of tomorrow.   Making time for health now will pay off immensely later as we make physical movement a daily part of children’s day.  (By the way, cup stacking is not a sport!  Getting the heart rate up counts!  For a great look on what happens when schools institute a required daily physical education class read Spark, by John Ratey, MD.  Hint: test scores go up, learning improves and discipline problems go down.  Pretty good for having a bunch of kids run around a track!)
  2. Offer tax benefits to companies that have in house exercise programs.  Tax benefits would be proportional to percentage of employees participating.  We need to change the culture of fatness into a culture of fitness.
  3. Get your office workers in shape.  With all due respect, many times the office help are bigger than the patients.  One practice I know had a very successful biggest loser competition.  Why don’t YOU sponsor it, and include yourself? Consider a small prize (gift basket with soaps/lotions?) for the biggest loser.  Of course, absentee rates and sick days will go down as you and your staff get more fit.
  4. Make fitness a part of your office culture.  Have info on health clubs, classes, rec centers available.  Consider a group visit for obese patients, focusing on exercise. Do group walks, enter a 3 k, host a weight watcher type group, do SOMETHING.  Getting your office in the news would be a nice side benefit.
  5. Encourage patients to “chunk”.  (No we don’t want chunky patients!)  The surgeon general recommends 30 minutes of exercise daily.  Encourage the couch  potatoes to start by walking 15 minutes two times a day, or 10 minutes 3 times per day.  There is no law that says it should be all at once, although it’s a good goal.  For the  obese, a gym can be intimidating, so start simple: encourage walking, then jogging, and then maybe a trip to the gym.  It doesn’t get much easier than a walk around the block or up the stairs.  (You do take the stairs at the hospital don’t you?)  Additionally, the television is filled with exercise shows–for those who still can’t tear themselves away from the small screen.

These ideas aren’t new, definitely aren’t sexy, and won’t get your sponsorship from a drug company.  However, they will work and we, as physicians, hold the keys.  We need to start with legislation, and move on to what we as ‘health coaches’ can do.    We can have huge impact on the huge, and not so huge.  Please, please, let me know what WE can do together to move our country to health, starting TODAY in our medical officese and clinics.

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.

10 Things Patients Love To Hate About Their Doctors

Patients have a love/hate relationship with their physicians.  They love some things and hate others.  Here is a list of things they hate, and actually take as a sign of incompetence, rather than just poor bed side skills.

  1. Being a slouch.  Patients take the lack of eye contact, hands in pockets and crossed arms as a signal your aren’t listening.  Lack of eye contact finishes it off. ( If your kid did this, would you feel they were listening?)  Lack of eye contact is the NUMBER ONE behavior that patients hate the most.
  2. Standing when the patient is sitting (or laying.) Sit down and look at the patient. 
  3. Standing far from the exam table/bed.  Patients are apt to think that YOU think they smell!  Seriously!
  4. Not being available.  When calls aren’t returned, patients hold it against you.  This also goes for being available while you are in the exam room.  I try to delay answering pages while I’m examining a patient, as I need to BE present for the patient I am examining,
  5. Giving the perception that you are rushing,  Please notice the word perception.  You may be hurried (harried?) but sit down, smile, and use humor if appropriate.
  6. Using technical terms.  Patients are intimidated by the words we throw about.  Speak simply. I don’t know anything about car engines and my eyes glaze over when the mechanic mentions words like “catalytic converter” or “repack the wheel bearings”.  Patients feel similarly about words like “congestive heart failure” and “synovial fluid.”
  7. Not answering questions.  If you don’t know the answer, tell the patient you will get back to them, or ask Dr. Bigg Bux, the orthopod, to explain exactly how the hip will be replaced.
  8. Don’t automatically say no, especially with out a reason.  I am ashamed to admit that I reflexively said no to a family request this past week, thought about the request, and then came back to tell them I could do what they asked.  Why was I so quick to say no?  Arrogance, time pressure, all of the above.  It took more time to change my mind then to do what they asked!
  9. Talking down to patients.  It is difficult to hit the sweet spot.  You want your conversations to be easy to understand but not juvenile.  You never know how patients will take what you say, but being flexible is helpful. 
  10. Mistrusting the patient/type casting the patient.  The book, How Physicians Think, by Jerome Groopman, has an excellent chapter on how physicians make mistakes when they stereotype patients.

Patients will also be less likely to trust you if you are of a different ethnicity, sex or culture.  These are harder to over come, and patients perceptions can be tough to change in these areas.  I still haven’t found a way around the fact that some patients prefer a male physician.  I happen to be female, and that’s one thing that ‘s not likely to change!

Resources: How Doctors Think, and Trust and Distrust in Organizations

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?

And Now A Little About Me: How ExtraMD is Weathering the Financial Crisis

If only I could get paid for worrying!  I was up last night at 1:30 am, worrying about my company, ExtraMD.  I formed ExtraMD five years ago, when I left the large hospitalist group I was working for.  The hospitalist group was (and still is!) made up of intelligent, caring physicians.  I earned a nice salary, got regular bonuses and had excellent benefits.  I left because, with a young daughter, I wanted to have greater control over my time.  Exit the benefits, nice salary and bonuses.  Enter flexibility and a steep learning curve with respect to business.

I consulted an attorney, created my company, got a designer to make up brochures and business cards and declared myself in business.  I would eagerly check the emails of my new business email, waiting for work.  I was studying to recertify my boards, and so was glad to have some extra time.  I was thrilled when I got my first free lance job, working for anther hospitalist group.

I realized that the jobs weren’t just going to pour in, so I decided to market.  One of my friends is a rep for a pacemaker company, and he suggested I try the “lunch with the doc” approach.   I dutifully called several offices, got their lunch orders, and, on the appointed day, would show up with the food.  I was lucky if the physicians at the office would even come talk to me.  The office staff was always glad to see me and consume quite quickly what ever offerings I had, leaving me to clean up the office lunch room.  I did get business that way, but hated doing it.   The final straw came when I was asked to bring lunch for THIRTY.  I complied, and the office staff barely said hello as they chowed down, chatting amongst themselves as I sat alone.  The physicians never showed up.   Offices didn’t care that I wasn’t a big fancy drug company, they just wanted free food.  End THAT strategy. Besides, it was so darn expensive and time consuming.   Not to mention how it made me feel!  I now have great compassion for drug reps.

I had already sent out masses of introductory letters and brochures, and got only one job that way.  I decided to try a different approach, and created a post card mailing with snappy color graphics.  I laboriously created a postcard on Publisher, and printed it on my trusty home printer.  I created a database of local physicians by website mining, then printed out labels and got my baby sitter to stick them on the post cards.  This approach got people’s attention, and I started getting more work in primary care and urgent care, which was what I was after.

ExtraMD grew by word of mouth, post card mailings, and ads in the local medical newsletters.  Soon physicians started approaching me to work for my company.  We have grown so now there are 6 physicians, providing “local locums” service through out the metropolitan area where I live.  In the past 4 years, ExtraMD has always had more work than it could handle, and has actively been recruiting physicians.   We now have a controller, a board of directors and a virtual assistant.  Things have been going on swimmingly, with steady growth in revenues and profits.

Until this past October.  Which is why I am up worrying about “my people”.  More in the next post.