April 1999 Bulletin

SWOT analysis can boost efficiency

Computer capabilities can spot opportunities and problems

By Rosemarie Nelson

What can you uncover with a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis of the practice's information systems? Are you using every feature and component of your practice management system? I'd be willing to bet one day's consultation fees ($1,000) that I could find a task being performed in your practice that could be automated into your information system and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations.

Reporting capabilities can identify patient demographics and referral patterns. Know what patients you serve and what patient markets are opportunities for you to reach with an expansion of your operations. Geographic expansion as well as expanding services to reach specific patient populations (student athletes, specific industrial rehab) can be more effectively implemented when based on the strength of the information extracted from your practice management system. And in the patient utilization data your system reports, you can identify what type of cases (procedures and/or diagnoses) your referring physicians send to your practice. This system functionality provides you the opportunity to improve those referring relationships.

Another opportunity often underutilized in practice management systems is the recall or reminder functionality. How many times does your staff ask the patient to call back in a couple of months because your provider calendars are not updated far enough in the future? You may not be able to schedule a patient's follow up visit three months from today, but you should be able to flag that patient for a reminder or recall for a point in the future. With an automated recall list, staff can telephone patients and insure the return of that patient, as well as demonstrate to payers the practice's ability to manage ongoing patient care. Apply this technique to appointments for physical therapy services and your patients will appreciate the high level of service your practice provides and tout your strengths to friends and family.

How effective is the input of charges into your practice management system? Does staff enter procedures and charges via keyboard entry with occasional accuracy problems? A tremendous strength often found in practice management systems is the ability to scan in documents using bar codes and wands similar to the function found in the retail industry. Scanning is quicker and accuracy is improved.

Many practice management systems offer the capability to submit insurance claims, including workers' compensation filings, electronically. The strength in this feature carries directly to reduce labor costs in the billing functions within the practice. If your practice management system does not include the ability to submit claims electronically as well as receive remittances electronically, you've identified a major system weakness that can threaten the financial well-being of your operations. Practices testify to speedier turn around on receipts with electronic filings as well as more accurate processing of claims by the third party payers. Every effort should be made in the practice to reduce operational costs and increase the speed with which payments are received. Electronic claims and remittance processing brings efficiencies to all practices.

Is your automated patient appointment-scheduling component strong or are there weaknesses in the capabilities for scheduling sequential appointments? For the most efficient use of resources, your system should support your staff's need to schedule the patient for an X-ray and then a physician, getting the patient on both lists as well as effectively using the resources in the practice. The opportunity to improve the flow of patients for the most efficient use of resources (physician time, X-ray technician time, exam rooms) while also keeping wait times to a minimum for patients will set your practice apart from others.

A SWOT analysis can be performed quickly and frequently. Observe activities in the practice that create back-ups in patient flow, where busy work abounds, places where paper breeds paper; and ask your staff where they see an opportunity for improvement. Ask your sales representative from your practice management system to come in and address those issues (they'd rather keep your business than lose you to the competition). You'll be surprised what opportunities exist.

Rosemarie Nelson is vice president, business development, Health Care Data Systems, Dewitt, N.Y.

Computer Link welcomes suggestions about future topics for the column and questions about the use of computers in orthopaedic practice. Send your suggestions to the Bulletin at AAOS, 6300 N. River Rd., Rosemont, Ill. 60018.


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