4 Tips to Prepare Your Practice for Change From Midwest Orthopaedics CEO Dennis Viellieu

Practice Management

Dennis Viellieu, CEO of Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush in Chicago, is preparing his facility for change. As healthcare reform's impact grows, so does the potential for reductions and reimbursement cuts, he says, and he can sense his colleagues' anxiety.

"How do you deal with what's going on with the changing healthcare environment?" he says. "You haven't seen a lot of real change in the world so far, but you know the changes are coming. You don't know all the specific details, but you still have to deal with the anxiety.

With inevitable changes for both small and large practices on the horizon, Mr. Viellieu shares four ways to keep your organization flexible and financially stable.

1. Make your practice as efficient as possible. In a tough economy, Mr. Viellieu says practices need to do what they've always done — but better and faster. Practices can benefit by investing in technology to increase productivity and minimize unnecessary work. Midwest Orthopaedics has been making the transition to electronic medical records, attempting to save time and clutter by getting rid of paperless records all together. He said investing in better technology — while it might be a financial obstacle now – can ultimately save your organization valuable time, increase your patient load and give you a competitive edge among increasingly state-of-the-art practices.

While your organization might expand technologically, Mr. Viellieu recommends streamlining your workforce. That doesn't necessarily mean layoffs, he says. Instead, you should note your team's strengths and use them to your advantage. "Do more work with fewer folks to keep the organization lean and efficient," he says.

2. Focus on the procedures that reap the biggest reward. When dealing with potential budget cuts, Mr. Viellieu says practices must focus on the procedures and projects that give the biggest pay-off. That pay-off doesn't have to be financial, either. Procedures that improve quality of care at your practice, can be done efficiently, attract attention from patients and providers or motivate your staff are all equally valuable. The projects providing the highest financial return should be prioritized to keep your organization financially viable. "Push the things that will provide the most improvement, and put them in place so we can reap the benefits," he says.

3. Give your staff the reasons for change. In any organization, Mr. Viellieu says, you will run into people who resist change, especially extreme overhauls like implementing an EHR or dealing with regulatory changes. The trick to dealing with resistance is helping your staff understand why the change is happening in the first place. "You have to be able to communicate down to the folks that are on the front lines and let them know the benefits and value of the new application," he says. "If the reason doesn't make sense, they're not going to be on board.

Mr. Viellieu says practices might run into difficulty from staff members who feel a change is making their jobs more difficult. An EHR, for example, provides a formidable obstacle during implementation, when physicians and nurses are trying to treat patients and learn a new software system simultaneously. "They might say, 'This is keeping us from doing what we need to do,' " he says. He recommends acknowledging the difficulties your staff is having and then pointing out the eventual benefits. "Implementation is always the most difficult time," he says. "You have to stress the benefits that you won't get if you allow them to talk you out of it."

4. Bring influential people to your side. Helping your team deal with change is even easier if you can bring some influential physicians or staff members on to your side, Mr. Viellieu says. Take advantage of the bandwagon effect: Convince a few key people, and the rest of the staff is likely to follow their example. This will be especially effective if key staff members use the new application and demonstrate its worth to others. "You can sell some folks, and some folks won't listen or buy into it," he says, "but they will buy into seeing the benefits in the field."

At the same time, he says it's essential to prevent negative spill-over. Frustrated physicians and staff members are likely to air their frustrations to each other, which can quickly create a strong group opposition to a new application. Keep physicians in close proximity so they can discover the positive effects of a change, he says, but make sure to cut off negative press when you hear it. He says large practices like Midwest Orthopaedics might find this easier. "It's harder for an individual to place pressure on the administration, so the effect of one person is kind of diluted," he says.

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