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Expert Interview: Debra Beaulieu-Volk on The Changing Face of Medicine

Debra Beaulieu-Volk It takes a lot to run a successful medical practice – from business acumen to bedside manner, to being a trusted thought leader in your field.

FiercePracticeManagement is your one-stop shop for everything a health professional needs to stay at the top of their game, with job listings, cutting-edge news, and informative articles on a wide variety of health-related topics.

FiercePracticeManagement’s Debra Beaulieu-Volk took a moment to tell us about their company and what it takes to get, and stay ahead, in a competitive medical world.

For people who don’t already know, could you describe FiercePracticeManagement, what the goals of the website are, and what makes you different from other medical publications?

The key goals of FiercePracticeManagement are to provide news, trends, analysis and insider insights to help practice leaders make informed business decisions. As editor, I scour the web for practice-management news and aggregate the stories I believe to be most relevant to helping practices improve. In addition to the care that goes into topic selection, FPM is unique in that its content is distilled to be as concise and actionable as possible. However, readers who crave more information can easily click on the provided links to the full-length source articles as well as related FPM coverage and editorials.

In a recent blog post, you talked about the rising cost of running a medical practice, as doctors are making less and less. What are some ways that cloud computing can help doctors cut costs and raise profits?

With today’s increasingly complex and regulated healthcare environment, one of the few financial variables a practice can control is its efficiency. Cloud-based technology (e.g., electronic medical records) that is both cost- and time-efficient and offers adequate support, in general, can keep practices’ IT expenses down and their time caring for patients up.

In your article “5 Ways to Boost Your Bottom Line in 2015,” you talked about the importance of preventing burnout among physicians. What are some ways that technology can help a practice save time? How much time, and money, can they expect to save by doing so?

When implemented correctly, technological solutions such as EMRs, practice management systems, clearinghouse software, and even social media can help practices, employees, and physicians save time and stress in the long run. The amount of savings varies depending on practice characteristics and the IT solutions they employ. However, practices are more likely to reach their savings potential if they involve end-users in the decision-making and implementation process of any technology they adopt, and follow up with robust training.

What are a few essential apps that every medical professional should have or know about?

In general, many physicians find that decision-support tools, especially in a mobile version, can offer a convenient, fast way to access current clinical information they may need at the point of care. Other categories of apps physicians should be familiar with include the growing array of fitness- and health-tracking apps being used by patients. Even if physicians don’t use these tools personally or view patients’ data directly, it makes sense to learn from others (clinicians and patients) about the pros, cons, and quirks about various popular apps in managing particular conditions. This knowledge can also help facilitate productive discussions with patients. Finally, there are a host of productivity apps that may help busy professionals keep on top of their many priorities. The best way to learn about these is to network with others facing similar day-to-day challenges.

You’ve written about things for physicians to watch out for when posting to social media. What are a few things that can damage credibility? Why should or shouldn’t doctors’ offices be on social media?

Overall, I think the benefits for a practice being on social media outweigh the risks. Social media at its best is about creating and enhancing a connection between two or more parties. The possibilities are endless for information a practice could share with its virtual community via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or another platform: news, education, humor, encouragement, events, and so on. The main risks, including privacy violations, liability, and unwelcome postings by others, are fairly manageable with sound policies and training. These policies should not only outline rules for content, but have a plan in place to address faux pas or other problems should they occur.

Your most recent post was about the necessity of being caring for physicians. What are some ways that technology can actually help enhance compassion and humanity?

Social media is also one way physicians can overcome some of the isolation that comes with a demanding career. There are physician-only social networks in which physicians can discuss clinical and professional issues with their peers. Personal social networking (generally recommended to not involve patients) is also becoming a more prevalent way for many adults to keep up with friends and relatives they don’t get to see or call as much as they’d like. For better or worse, the way most humans connect today is by typing into the palm of their hands. Text messaging with family members may not be the same as being home for dinner, but many of today’s technologies allow physicians and other professionals to have more brief yet meaningful interactions with loved ones while away from home than they could in the past.

There is an increasing trend towards healthcare consolidation due to the Affordable Care Act, meaning that more and more health professionals are being forced to affiliate with hospitals. How can the right technology, and a properly streamlined office, help a doctor remain independent?

There are a multitude of variables that go into a physician’s decision of whether to be employed or independent, but any gains in efficiency that don’t compromise patient care can have the potential to help practices become more self-sufficient.

You’ve talked about the importance of staying on top of your revenue stream, as debt collection is getting more and more difficult. Can you give us a few tips on ways to do this?

While a physician practice’s main objective is to care for patients, it can’t perform that service without the revenue to sustain itself. When it comes to managing payments from insurance companies, many longtime best practices hold true. In particular, practices need a strong parallel strategy for preventing claims denials and taking prompt action on denials that do occur. On the (increasingly prevalent) patient collections side, practices may have to invest more time educating and communicating with patients, especially the newly insured, about their financial responsibilities and the practice’s policies for collecting them. In either category, practices can’t afford to get complacent. Even among the highest performers, there’s always room to improve.

The financial analysis of 2014 looks pretty dire, especially for smaller practices. Is this likely to continue? Is there any good news or silver linings that you predict for 2015?

I’ve asked many physicians that same question. And while many are concerned about the growing challenges of running an independent medical practice, they are also optimistic about being able to take care of more people who are able to obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The other insight physicians share with me year after year is that despite all of the struggles, having a role in helping people get and stay well is what many consider the best job in the world.

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