While many medical group practices still struggle to meet patient demand amid a competitive labor market, the providers poised for growth would be wise to have a system for tracking how they acquire new patients to the practice.
An Aug. 22, 2023, MGMA Stat poll found that more than half (54%) of medical groups report tracking where or how they acquire new patients, while 42% do not and another 4% of respondents were unsure. The poll had 449 applicable responses.
Respondents to the poll detailed a variety of methods for acquiring and reporting new patient data, such as asking every patient upon registration and entering the source in the electronic health record (EHR) or practice management (PM) system. Most medical group leaders who noted how often they report this said they run monthly or quarterly reports from their system.
Specialty practices are frequently more careful to track new patient referrals than primary care practices, since specialty practices are dependent on physician referrals. EHRs often allow a referring physician and a separate referral source to be entered, but too many EHRs do not make the referral source field required. Too many front desk staff do not understand the importance of tracking referrals or leaving information in a referral source field inaccurate or incomplete. As practices try to market and grow, better information on where patients come from is terrifically helpful.
That said, tracking patients to the practice is as far as many practices get, but there is real value to tracking what happens to patients as they move through the practice. For example, picture two referring providers to a neurosurgery practice, Dr. Abel and Dr. Barr. Dr. Abel sends 30 patients to the practice each year, and Dr. Barr sends 10 patients. It may appear that Dr. Abel is a much better referral source than Dr. Barr until further analysis reveals that seven of Dr. Abel’s 30 referrals have surgery, while nine of Dr. Barr’s 10 patients have surgery. Dr. Barr may also send patients who have better insurance contracts or utilize more ancillary services. Following patients through the practice provides insights beyond a canned referring physician’s report and drives practice profitability.
Analyses like this were especially poignant during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a practice in the Southeast tried to ramp back up after visits were reduced, a key question emerged regarding which providers were allocated limited appointment slots. Rather than take a traditional approach of allocating more exam rooms and appointment slots to partners, this practice looked at historical data to see which providers generated the most ancillary care business and which providers’ patients received that ancillary care soonest. By allocating appointment slots to those providers, the practice was able to rebuild ancillary revenue to sustain cash flow as well as generate patient appointments.
Some medical specialties such as oncology or orthopedic surgery intervene once and then may not see the patient again. Other specialties such as rheumatology or primary care may see a patient for years. For those longer relationships, knowing how long a patient is an active patient can be very informative. The ability to link those patients with the referral source — as seen in the example of Dr. Abel and Dr. Barr — might reveal patients who arrive via social media stay half as long or twice as long as other patients. Practices that offer services such as physical therapy could track the average number of visits by the referral source to grow that aspect of their practice. Patients who already have a family member seeing a provider in the practice may last longer.
Streaming companies like Netflix are in a very competitive market and track a wide variety of metrics around their subscribers. What metrics do you track for your patients? What is the expected revenue from a new patient referral? How long will that patient stay with your practice? Will that patient bring other family members with them? How can you best use these metrics to make marketing decisions and set advertising budgets?
Strategic questions like these will be the focus of my “Business Intelligence for Strategic Planning” session on Tuesday, Oct. 24, at the 2023 Leaders Conference hosted by MGMA in Nashville. Plan on joining the conversation to get game-changing ideas for your practice. I look forward to seeing you then.