3 Tips for Handling the ACA Patient Influx

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The incoming 32 million patients entering the healthcare system in 2014 due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be a reason for physicians to rejoice. After all, more patients should mean more money for practices, right? Unfortunately, many physicians aren’t ready to reap the rewards of a patient increase.

About 48% of physicians lack the resources necessary to accept any of these new patients. Sure, you may choose to bring in an extra physician, hire a physician’s assistant or purchase an EHR to streamline operations. But like with everything, each tactic has its benefits and disadvantages.

Today, we’ll look at each of each strategy to determine the best possible course of action for successfully embracing the upcoming patient influx.

Add Another Physician
The obvious benefit of hiring a new physician is his or her ability to handle the same patient load you do without additional supervision. So if you average 40 patient visits a day, your practice should be able to handle twice as many with a new physician on staff.

It also allows you to incorporate a different kind of specialist. If you’re constantly referring patients to a particular type of doctor, keep that revenue in-house by hiring a physician who specializes in that field.

The downside of hiring a new physician is the high costs. Another physician will have gone through the rigors of medical school and expect to be paid accordingly.  Potential power struggle with a physician who has different ideas about how the practice should be run is also an understandable source of concern.

Hire a Physician’s Assistant
Hiring a physician’s assistant is obviously a less expensive alternative to bringing in a new physician. Although the nationwide average PA salary of about $94,000 per year is far from pocket change, this is about half the salary demanded by a proven physician.

Plus, PAs have also been shown to generate profits. According to MGMA, for every dollar a PA generates for the practice, the employer pays only 30 cents to employ the PA.

Recent studies show patients are becoming more comfortable with being treated by non-physician providers, especially if it means less waiting time. In a brief from the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 59.6% of patients prefer treatment by a PA the same day an ailment arises rather than waiting for a physician.

Of course, there is a reason for the reduced costs of PAs. They aren’t qualified to perform all the duties of a physician, so there are going to be times they can’t handle certain patients. Also, they must be supervised to ensure they are delivering quality treatment, especially in the beginning.

Embrace Technology
Thanks to the HITECH Act and the resulting Meaningful Use incentives, electronic health records (EHRs) have received much attention.

The benefits are promising. Top-notch EHRs contain appointment scheduling, patient tracking and template-building features that can help get more patients through your practice faster without hiring additional staff.

EHRs offer the potential to get away from the paperwork that inundates much of a physician’s day, one-third of it according to the Annals of Family Medicine. This is time that could be spent treating new patients.

Yet, technology doesn’t always live up to its promise. A 2012 KLAS survey reported that 50% of practices are looking to replace their current EHRs. If you don’t do your due diligence and choose the right EHR the first time, it could result in a serious waste of money.

Such a rapid increase of new patients in the market may never happen again. It’s important to weigh the negatives and positives of each method now, so choosing the best solution for your practice results in profits for years to come.

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