5 Ways to Make a Good Orthopedic Practice Great

Laura Miller -  
Orthopedic practices around the country are struggling to stay afloat amid a tough economy and declining reimbursements. Being a good surgeon is important, but doesn't necessarily guarantee a high patient volume or a profitable business in today's market. "You can't only be a good surgeon with good results," says Bal Raj, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Beverly Hills (Calif.) Orthopedic Institute. "You need to also have an X-factor." Here are five ways orthopedic practices can stay competitive in their markets.

1. Treat all patients like VIPs. There are a few simple things the practice staff can do to improve the patient's entire experience at the practice and make them feel like VIPs. Make sure the staff smiles at the patients when they arrive and throughout the visit. Ask the patients questions and make sure they have everything they need, and provide them with things they've forgotten. "Customer service is very important," says Dr. Raj. "If the patient needs to have their MRI but didn't bring it, my clinical staff will get the MRI."

This treatment should remain consistent throughout the patient's experience and recovery. Dr. Raj's staff calls the patient within a week of treatment or surgery to make sure the patient's imaging has been taken care of and they understand their physical therapy. The staff also asks if the patient is having any problems and, if they do, helps to solve them.

2. Select the proper patients for surgery. You have to have good results to be successful in a competitive market, and part of having good results is selecting the appropriate treatment for each patient. "If you're too hungry for surgery and you operate on anyone who comes in, you're going to have problems," says Dr. Raj. "Some patients don't need surgery or aren't psychologically ready to undergo the procedure. I definitely empower the patient with education. Usually, what I find is the patients find comfort in making their own decisions."

3. Incorporate new technology. Orthopedics is a fast-moving specialty and profitable practices stay abreast of the new technology available for their patients. "One of the exciting things in orthopedics is the rate of technological development, particularly with joint replacements," says Jeffrey Meisles, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Orthopedic Specialists in Elmhurst, Ill. However, adopting new technology can be costly. Research the technology and make sure it offers a clinical advantage that outweighs the extra cost before incorporating it into your practice. Even if the implants or equipment for the procedure are more expensive upfront, they can reduce costs later by shortening the length-of-stay at the hospital, decreasing rehabilitation time or eliminating the need for revision surgery. "As long as there's an ability to improve patient outcomes, and increase efficiency, there's a potential that the new technologies can actually lower the cost of some procedures," he says.

4. Take care of referring physicians. Orthopedic surgeons receive several patients from primary care physicians and other referral sources. These physicians are concerned about their patients and appreciate correspondence with surgeons. "I make sure to take care of referral sources and I'm in frequent communication with them," says Dr. Raj. When referring physicians are comfortable with you, they are more likely to recommend your practice to the appropriate patient.

5. Keep the clinic clean. Appearance is very important for practices, especially when patients have a choice among many practices in the community. The practice should be clean and aesthetically pleasing, says Dr. Raj. "My clinic treats all of its patients as if we were a hotel," he says. "The office is clean and has a high-end feel. The first five minutes in the clinic leaves a lasting impression on the patients."

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