Maximizing profitability: Timely tips for urologists

May 15, 2006

Technology is both a long-term commitment and a long-term solution.

Urologists in private practice face unprecedented challenges to the financial success of their practice. In the current state of medicine and reimbursement, practices may struggle to make ends meet, let alone to turn a profit. In the next few years, these practices will have to make substantial changes in, and be open to, new business opportunities in order to stay profitable. They will also need fresh financial strategies to stay in business.

Today's urologists cannot rely solely on the power of their medical skills. They need business savvy to successfully navigate the complicated waters of practice management. This article reviews recent data about the challenges urologists face in managing their practices and offers timely tips on how to improve your practice's profitability.

The second annual Medical Practice Monitor by OPEN from American Express, the company's small business team, reveals the severity of the business management and profitability issues that private-practice urologists face.

Struggling to keep up

In fact, nearly one-third (30%) of urologists said they would not have opened their practice had they known about the difficulties of maintaining and growing a practice, and 23% would have chosen not to practice medicine at all, according to the survey, which was based on online surveys of 100 urologists and about 700 other physicians from various specialties. This percentage was larger than that recorded by any other specialty surveyed, including general physicians, dermatologists, ophthalmologists, and oncologists.

As the number of baby boomers with prostate cancer and other urologic diseases increases, the need for urologists will become more important than ever. Thus, statistics such as these are truly distressing.

Time crunch: Business vs. patients

Urologists in private practice face serious issues when it comes to maintaining and expanding their practices. They have expressed particular concern about implementing an electronic patient record system (61%); managing malpractice insurance costs and coverage (51%); managing third-party reimbursements (47%); and collecting payments directly from patients (42%).

They are also spending more time in practice management, time they would prefer to spend practicing medicine. Almost half of urologists surveyed (43%) report spending the equivalent of at least 1 full day per week (defined as 7 hours) managing their businesses, and 14% say that either they or their partners spend the equivalent of at least 2 business days per week on practice management.

Many said they would like to better develop business skills, including financial management (76%), business management (72%), and information technology (64%) skills. Nearly all (93%) said it is extremely important for medical students to learn business skills in medical school.

Challenges such as these are the reason private-practice urologists often struggle to make their practices profitable. However, several small steps can be taken immediately to gain better control of the business side of the practice, leaving more time for patients and personal priorities.

Control expenses

Every well-run business must have a budget, but the key to controlling overhead is to regularly review expenses against the budget. Hold the people responsible for managing expenses accountable for their actions, and establish controls to prevent losses through fraud or pilfering.

Monitor purchasing decisions, down to the smallest ones. Except for personnel and malpractice costs, most practice overhead components are an accumulation of various smaller costs.

Regularly evaluate personnel-related costs, which constitute the largest practice expense, including whether individuals are as productive as possible, what steps and procedures can be eliminated, or how workflow can be improved.

Consider integrating workflow. Doing so will increase workplace efficiencies, reduce phone tag between the office and patients, eliminate inaccessible or missing information, reduce the number of full-time employees needed to manage the processes, and help you control overtime.