Baby Boomers are Coming: 8 Solutions to Looming Challenges for Orthopedic Surgeons

Practice Management

Here are eight challenges associated with providing orthopedic care for baby boomers and how orthopedic surgeons and industry professionals are overcoming them.

1. Competing for patients: focus on customer service. Retired baby boomers will take the time to research orthopedic surgeons and practices before scheduling a visit, which means orthopedic practices must compete to provide surgeons with the best clinical care, but also the best patient experience.

"We are investing in customer service training for our staff because we know that patients have choices and we want to give them an exceptional experience with us," says Christopher Browne, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Eastern Oklahoma Orthopedic Center in Tulsa. "In addition, we continually survey our patients about our service and fine tune our delivery based on their feedback."

2. Decreasing reimbursement rates: limit Medicare patients.
All physicians are dealing with the increased cost of running a practice coupled with the decrease in reimbursement for clinical services. Some surgeons are dealing with these difficulties are retiring early, at age 55 instead of 70, or limiting the number of Medicare patients they see each week.

"With Medicare reimbursing us less and less, it has changed the practice for a lot of physicians," says Terrence Crowder, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Sonoran Spine Center in Phoenix. "Some physicians are limiting the number of Medicare patients they will see. They are still seeing a few Medicare patients per day, so it may take several weeks for a patient to see a particular orthopedic specialist."

3. Low patient volume for elective care: market your services to baby boomers.
Orthopedic surgeons and practices can attract baby boomers by marketing their services right to them. "In the same way that sports medicine patients can be culled from covering high school or college sports, physicians can cover masters events or provide 'Masters' clinics at local gyms to attract more patients," says Guillem Gonzalez-Lomas, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at New Jersey Medical School in New Brunswick. "Baby boomers also are avid devourers of web-based services. Practices need to have a presence on the web and make sure they specifically cater to active boomers."

Testimonials from patients they can identify with are always helpful. Question and answer sections about common questions baby boomers might have (such as: Will I be able to run after my total knee replacement?) may reassure them that your practice understands their needs, says Dr. Gonzalez-Lomas.

4. Overloading surgeons with responsibilities: hire midlevel providers.
In some cases, orthopedic practices are inefficient because surgeons are trying to perform too many tasks. Hiring midlevel providers, such as physician assistants, can help fill some of these gaps. "The PAs, physical therapists and podiatrist we hire will help us maximize efficiency as more patients come into our practice as well as broaden the care we can provide to a patient and their family," says Steve Neufeld, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at The Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Center in Washington, D.C.

5. Patients are increasingly inquisitive about their care: educate staff about surgery.
Baby boomers often have several questions about their care and want to explore all options before deciding on the best mode of treatment for them. Having staff members who are educated about the surgical process available to field these questions and distribute accurate educational material to the patient may be helpful in a busy practice.

"Baby boomers have a lot of questions and our staff has been trained with basic knowledge of the procedures and diagnoses so they can impart that knowledge to the patients," says Patti O'Brien, administrator at St. Vincent Medical Center's Joint Replacement Institute in Los Angeles. "We teach our staff members exactly what the patients go through in surgery and what the postoperative course is like so they really understand what each patient is going through."

6. Learning new complicated techniques: bring on young physicians already trained in them.
Baby boomers often want to undergo treatment using the most advanced technology available, which often means minimally invasive procedures. If senior partners don't have time to take away from their practice to learn new techniques beneficial for some patients, consider bringing on a younger partner who received training in the technique during his or her fellowship.

"As we bring younger patients into our practice, we must make sure the technology stays current," says Timothy Payne, MD, an orthopedic surgeon from M and M Orthopedics in Lemont, Ill. "We bring on new orthopedic surgeons recently out of training that have extensive experience in the new technology during their fellowship, because that really makes a difference. The key is to educate people when they have a choice about their treatment pathways [such as partial knee replacement] instead of waiting until they are in a box and their only option is a total knee replacement."

7. Dealing with psychological stress of patients: partner with other specialists.
Patients often experience psychological strain associated with joint replacement surgery, especially if they are avid athletes who won't be as active post-surgery. Dr. Neufeld says there are a lot of baby boomers who are runners, which affect their feet and ankles, and they may need to switch activities.

"Runners might need to become bicyclists, and that can be difficult for baby boomers to accept," says Dr. Neufeld. "One unique thing I'm doing is partnering with a friend who is a psychotherapist and starting a support group for patients who are recovering from surgery. We are planning to hold weekly support groups for these patients to hopefully address some of their psychological needs."

8. Dissemination of false information: build a practice website focused on patient education.
There is a lot of false information available online about procedures or products aimed at persuading baby boomers to undergo a certain type of treatment for their conditions. However, if your practice website has strong patient education tools available, you can redirect inquisitive patients there before their next visit.

"We have built a practice website and we always refer our patients there for further learning," says Ms. O'Brien. "There are animated videos on the website for patients to watch that teaches them about the hip or knee procedures our surgeons perform. There are also patient testimonials on our website. Baby boomers are always looking for information about the research and development our physicians are doing, so our physicians are continuously publishing articles on their work and we share those on our website as well."

Related Articles on Orthopedic Surgeons:

5 Best Business Tips for Orthopedic and Spine Surgeon Group Presidents

6 Ways Sports Medicine Practices Can Cater to Weekend Warriors

8 Points Comparing 2009-2010 Orthopedic Surgeon Compensation Data

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