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    Practice management Q&A

    We've discovered that many of you have questions about running your practice. You've learned how to be a successful pediatrician in medical school and through your training, but you've indicated that you would like some help learning how to be a success in business. Contemporary Pediatrics will offer a new section on practice management periodically in this space, focusing specifically on issues important to pediatricians. So, if you have questions about your practice, we'll gather up the right experts to answer them for you. We want your feedback, so send your queries and comments to
    . Here are a few questions to get you started.

    Q My practice management system is horribly out of date, but I'm overwhelmed by all the new options that are available and don't have much time to shop around. Do you know of any resources I can access that would help me understand the options and features that would be the best fit for my pediatric practice?

    A. With federal subsidies for EHR systems in effect, you may want to consider purchasing an integrated EHR system that comes with practice management software. Plenty of buyers' guides are out there from a variety of resources that list features and functions and sometimes vendor background information for both integrated EHR systems and stand-alone practice management software. Many professional associations have done some exploratory research in consideration of the specific needs of your specialty, so a good first stop is your own professional association—another good reason to keep up your AAP membership!

    Q. I'm thinking of adding an automated phone attendant to help my front office staff. Is this a good idea?

    A. Be careful about using an automated attendant to replace a staff member. Most people, including other physicians, hate these things.

    Many practices will answer up to 4 lines with 2 staff members; when all those lines are in use, the auto attendant comes on. This is a hybrid solution and much better than all calls going to an attendant. Many practices that have lots of options from which the caller selects lose callers in the process. Don't give more than about 3 options, and if the call goes to voice mail, return it within about 2 hours.

    Some practices use 2 appointment schedulers. They make return appointments as patients are leaving the practice and on the telephone. They get at least 20 voice mails per day. If they don't have time to answer the calls the first time, how on earth will they have enough time to make repeated calls to reach the patient? This is a real patient service gaffe that an auto attendant just makes worse. Patients who are calling for appointments and can't get service fast will let their fingers do the walking to the next pediatrician who can help them.

    Q. I'm looking to grow my practice. What are some common hiring pitfalls that I should avoid when staffing pediatricians for my practice?

    A. First, don't fall in love with a resume. The fact that a candidate went to a particular medical school, residency, or fellowship program doesn't guarantee his or her success in a practice. Comprehensive interviewing, reference checking, and assessing his or her fit in your practice's culture need to play just as big a role in the hiring process as the resume.

    Second, avoid hiring for hiring's sake. Just because a physician indicates interest in becoming employed at your practice doesn't necessarily mean this person is a good fit with your goals and needs. Make sure your candidate meets the needs of the open position. Sometimes you're better off not hiring until the right person comes along versus filling a vacancy with a warm body.

    Third, don't overpay/overspend. Use local benchmarks and national comparison compensation data to create a consistent platform for your practice and be sure to exercise fiscal restraint when making an employment offer to a qualified candidate. Remember, excessive spending doesn't always equal a successful hire in the long run.

    Last, don't be afraid to trust your instincts. If you don't feel confident about a candidate, walk away. It's better to keep looking for the right hire than to get involved in a bad deal.

    Answers to readers' questions were provided by ROSEMARIE NELSON, MGMA Healthcare Consulting Group, JAMESVILLE, New York; Judy Bee of Practice Performance Group, La Jolla, California; and THOMAS J FERKOVIC, RPh, MS, of SS&G Healthcare Services LLC, Akron, Ohio.

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