Healthcare is constantly evolving, and that includes the people working across the industry and, more specifically, medical practice managers.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook estimated a 32% growth rate for medical and health services managers through 2030, with about 139,600 new jobs being created in that period, outpacing average job growth for all occupations. Accounting for retirements and other changes in the labor force, the BLS projects about 51,800 openings for these manager roles each year over that decade.
Add in the impacts of stress, burnout and the increased likelihood of job-hopping amid the Great Resignation, and it becomes imperative for medical group practices and larger health systems to have strategies for voluntary job departures on the administrative side while contending with the increased rate of clinical worker resignations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
A May 17, 2022, MGMA Stat poll asked medical groups which areas are the most important for new managers to learn. With 553 applicable responses to the poll, the majority (31%) pointed to operations/IT, followed by:
- Revenue cycle (27%)
- Human resources (26%)
- Analytics (11%)
- Other (6%), of which the most common response was “all of the above.”
Managing a medical practice requires a set of technical skills and professional knowledge that are unique to the profession. To meet the challenges facing medical practices today, healthcare professionals must become well-versed across a variety of domains, including operations management, financial management and human resources management. From process improvements, strategic plans and benchmarking to labor relations, IT, and financial reporting, the healthcare leader must master myriad skills and develop proper policies and procedures to effectively manage the medical practice.
- The Principles of Practice Management (PPMC) Certificate Program is an in-depth online learning experience that provides healthcare leaders with a foundational knowledge of the key principles of running a medical practice. The program also equips participants with an understanding of critical laws and regulations that today’s practices face. Upon completion of the full 15-hour online program, participants will receive the Principles of Practice Management (PPMC) Certificate and Credential.
Several practice leaders pointed to the need for new managers in healthcare to get a firm foundation in operations to ensure efficient workflows in a time when physicians and staff are stressed, burned out and looking for ways to cut back on administrative burdens.
“Without a smooth schedule, adequate staff, and facility management, you will not have happy patients, employees, or providers,” one practice leader told MGMA. A new manager’s ability to learn the “how-to” functions of IT (e.g., entering service requests, requesting new-hire setups, IT troubleshooting, EHR applications) is vital to keeping practice staff working and minimizing downtime, which ultimately improves revenue and patient access.
Especially in an area of staffing turnover and unexpected leave due to COVID-19, an understanding of IT and the ability to automate areas of practice operations and allow for more hybrid/remote work are more important than ever.
It’s also important to consider your new manager’s background. Those with non-business career paths (e.g., technicians or certified medical assistants) might be more well-versed in operational processes and instead benefit from a professional development focus on HR, revenue cycle and analytics.
Recent business student graduates or others without clinical backgrounds working as new managers, however, need a solid understanding of each team member’s role across workflows. Or as one practice leader put it, “if you don’t know how the office is run, you will struggle with everything else.”
As several practice leaders told MGMA, understanding money in and money out is crucial. “Revenue cycle is the lifeblood of a practice,” one respondent said. “Without a granular understanding of the RCM process, a new manager won’t be successful.”
Practice managers should learn the entire RCM process — “from scheduling and check-in to documentation, coding, billing, payment, allowables, and denials,” as one respondent told us, “to have a clear understanding of how each process [affects] the viability of the clinic.”
Especially in medical groups that have some form of HR or IT service, the focus on learning the ins and outs of RCM is good for a new manager to ensure good cash flow and minimize lost revenue.
While the results of the May 17 poll point to a variety of perspectives on where new managers should start in their professional development journey, one sentiment loomed large among those who pointed to human resources: HR is all-encompassing — people management skills, job duties design, training, and regulatory knowledge — and if you don’t know how to hire and then treat physicians and employees with respect and equity, and build trust and teamwork, there will be problems with the business.
“In today's environment, retaining and recruiting employees is crucial. Having the skills necessary to succeed with HR is a top priority,” one medical practice leader told MGMA. Another practice leader said that HR skills are vital for a manager to gain and refine so he or she understands “how to lead by example, not by title.” Other responses included:
- “Keeping doctors and staff happy and engaged will help prevent some future issues and allows better buy-in for solving problems that do come up.”
- “It is very important for new managers to understand the consequences of their actions when related to staff. There are many HR rules that may not be known to new managers.”
- “Soft skills are the hardest to teach but the most important.”
- “If you don't have quality people none of the rest matter. ... Human capital is any practice’s most valuable resource.”
- “Managing people effectively has always been an important skill but in today's volatile healthcare market, it is even more important to possess advanced HR skills.”
- “If you can't manage people, the operations and workflows will suffer.”
In particular, new managers might want to spend time on how to reach potential new hires in creative aways amid ongoing job market upheaval, or modifying job requirements to create more flexibility for workers. Developing skills as a recruiter is a great foundation for success in other areas, as another practice leader told MGMA.
“If you can't hire the right people and manage the circus, nothing else will matter,” the respondent said. “Get the right people, then the operations, revenue, and business will thrive.”
Making data-driven decisions for a practice requires transforming data into insights, and new managers’ ability to analyze information will help alert them to problems they may not have known about, according to practice leaders who responded to the poll.
“Knowing the right analytics to review, what they mean, and implementing the right solution will turn a practice around,” one practice leader told us.
Analytics is another area that has multidisciplinary benefits: “One has to be able to analyze information and apply what they've learned to do all the other areas of management, including HR, revenue cycle, operations/IT,” one practice leader said.
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