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How Much of Your Day Is Spent on Practice Management?

If have been specially appointed to fulfil the manager’s role, one would sincerely hope that the answer to the above question is: “All of it”. If, on the other hand, your role is that of a physician, it is much more likely that, instead, your answer will be: “Far too much”. Regardless of who may be responsible, there can be no doubt that, in order to operate a successful practice, sound management is every bit as important as having extensive medical knowledge and a pleasant manner when engaging with patients.

Hiring a specialist administrator is, of course, always an option, although, because it is one that comes at a cost, it is also an option that not every private healthcare practitioner will necessarily be able to afford. At least some of the less complex tasks such as maintaining the appointment diary might reasonably remain the responsibility of a secretary or a receptionist, but oversights occur even among those with years of experience. Even if handled flawlessly, making appointments is but one of many administrative tasks, all of which are essential to the smooth running of a doctor’s rooms.

Among the most crucial practice management tasks is to ensure that its income is adequate and maintained. Not only must salaries, rent or bond repayments, taxes and utility bills be paid on time, but an adequate reserve of cash will also be required for the purchase of dressings, medication and other essential consumables. To meet these costs, the prompt and regular receipt of a sufficiently large number of payments both from the relevant medical aid funds and, where appropriate, directly from patients, is vital.

As a result, medical billing is a task that needs to feature high on the list of any private doctor, dentist, or similar healthcare professional’s practice management essentials. The process is not a simple one and may begin with requirements such as ensuring, in certain instances, that pre-approval for the cost of a given procedure or medication has been obtained. In addition, the correct South African ICD-10 coding standard must be observed, and the appropriate medical practitioner services codes used when completing, scripts, motivations, and claim forms. The process can be a potential minefield that, each year, results in losses amounting to millions of rands due to unfiled, incorrectly filed, and unnecessarily repudiated claims.

Important though it most definitely is, ensuring these claims are filed correctly and paid promptly is just one of many practice management tasks that must be regarded as equally crucial. It is a legal requirement for doctors to maintain up-to-date patient records with details of each visit, its findings, any treatment given or prescribed, and their outcome. It is further incumbent upon them to ensure that such records are handled in a manner designed to ensure that all confidential data pertaining to their patients remains secure from unauthorised access. Failure to do so could result in stiff penalties. Maintaining hand-written notes is time-consuming and, as well as offering little in the way of guaranteed security, a filing cabinet is certainly not the most efficient means to file, store, and retrieve information.

Practice management also extends to obligations such as reports to regulatory bodies, the payment of employees and filing the related returns to SARS, keeping an eye out for overdue payments, and following up with a reminder or perhaps initiating a collection when all else fails. Though essential, these are all tasks that, when left to a busy medical professional, can result in a serious drain on the time available for patient care and this, in turn, will invariably limit their potential income. In the light of these concerns, more doctors in South Africa are following the example of their international colleagues by investing in specialised software to streamline the practice management function to varying degrees. It is a move that is helping them reduce their overheads, increase profitability, and improve their overall business efficiency.

On the local scene, the Pretoria-based company, V Professional Services, has emerged as a leader in the field of medical administration through the use of specialised software designed to handle the day-to-day, non-core tasks of the self-employed healthcare professional. Saving users any up-front investment and the need for IT expertise, our software-as-a-service option ensures secure, 24/7, online access to a world-class practice management suite from anywhere.

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