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Patient volume has recovered across the country, and most medical offices are back to a steady state of care delivery—but ambulatory care has changed irrevocably. We’ve entered a phase shaped by crisis and marked by even more intense cost pressure and consolidation. What steps can independent medical practices take now to help ensure stability and prosperity moving forward?

Offer employees a more rewarding work experience

The great resignation—unprecedented turnover in the labor market sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic—hit medical practices hard. Recruiting and retaining staff is now a major challenge.

The pressure is on for practice owners, executives, and administrators to make the medical office a more desirable place to work. How? As with other challenges, the first step is to focus on what you can control, including the technology at your disposal.

Automation is part of the solution. It can eliminate tedious, repetitive tasks, freeing people for more meaningful assignments. Many workers in the healthcare industry have chosen it because they enjoy and find satisfying being part of helping to care for people, so look for opportunities to enable this.  For example, a back-office worker who enters data into a computer all day can be shifted to more rewarding responsibilities such as helping patients with administrative questions or helping clinical staff prepare for the delivery of care. Use health IT to enable the shift of workers to higher-level tasks more directly connected to patient care.

Create more paths to patient care

Increasingly, the healthcare marketplace demands flexibility. Independent medical practices are under pressure to provide a more convenient patient experience.

How can your practice meet this expectation? Use technology to implement easier access, online scheduling, virtual visits, and other patient-friendly options. In addition, practices take convenience to a higher level by delivering care in community settings, such as schools, nursing homes, and homeless shelters, using mobile technology to document care.

This is a cultural shift and not without challenges. Some physicians may resent loss of control in the community setting versus an office. Virtual care has its limitations; for example, some conversations between patient and doctor must take place face to face, in real life. However, if a medical practice requires every 15-minute follow up appointment take place in the office and makes patients sit in the waiting room for two hours, they are likely to see patients go to competitors.

Virtual visits and community-based care delivery are strategies that allow providers to reach more patients in ways that can be more effective precisely because they are more convenient. Most physicians will welcome them if they are implemented thoughtfully and with necessary support from administration and staff.

Take advantage of solutions that level the playing field

Independent practices may perceive themselves at a competitive disadvantage with large health systems when it comes to attracting patients or negotiating with payers. However, advances in analytics can help level the playing field. The software you need is now widely available.

Use population health analytics to better understand the healthcare needs of the population and to identify opportunities. If your practice wants to initiate a screening program, for example, in what zip codes do the majority of people who need your services live? That’s where you should start your program. Make sure you know how to translate opportunities identified by the population health system into outreach to patients or insights at the point of care.

Similarly, your practice management system should be able to produce reports that allow you to analyze resource allocation vs. utilization in your practice, and payer payments vs. their contract, etc. Clinical quality reports can help prove the quality of care you deliver, and if your delivery is efficient that translates to the value of your care; these data are invaluable when negotiating rates with commercial insurance payers or deciding whether to accept them at all. Large healthcare systems are certainly doing this, but with the right technology and expertise, you can too.

Consider your own unique opportunities

Every independent medical practice faces different circumstances and different challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to healthcare delivery.

Independent practices can thrive if they use the technology at their disposal in innovative ways that reflect the strengths of their practice and the needs of the population they serve. Ultimately, the core principles for shaping our future are the same: 1) observe your environment and learn its risks and opportunities, 2) adapt to change, and 3) automate administrative functions wherever possible. Then deliver great care.

My colleagues at NextGen Healthcare and I are here to help. Visit us at NextGen UGM.

NextGen Healthcare is pleased to announce that NextGen® Office, the award-winning EHR and practice management system for small medical practices, has achieved the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC-Health IT) 2015 Edition Cures Update Health IT certification via Drummond Group LLC. This adds another Cures-certified healthcare IT product along with NextGen® Enterprise, certified earlier this year. For more information, visit our Newsroom.

Meet NextGen Ambient Assist, your new AI ally that generates a structured SOAP note in seconds from listening to the natural patient/provider conversation.

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Headshot of Robert L. Murray, PhD, MD, FAAFP

Robert Murry, PhD, MD, FAAFP

Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Robert (Bob) Murry joined NextGen Healthcare in July 2012 and was appointed chief medical officer in December 2021. He brings to this position more than 20 years of extensive clinical experience and background in health IT. Previously, Dr. Murry served as the company’s Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) since May 2017. During his time as CMIO, he was the "Voice-of-the-Physician" across specialties, product safety, and government/regulatory affairs. Before becoming CMIO, he was the company's vice president of Clinical Product Management, responsible for clinical oversight and workflow design.

Previously, Dr. Murry served as Medical Director for Ambulatory Informatics and CMIO for Hunterdon Medical Center, where he continues to practice family medicine at Hunterdon Family Medicine at Delaware Valley.

He is board certified in Clinical Informatics by the American Board of Preventive Medicine and board certified in Family Medicine by the American Board of Family Medicine. He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Dr. Murry holds an MD from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; a PhD in Physical Chemistry from Boston College; and an MA in Physical Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.