Challenges Physicians Are Facing in 2020 During COVID-19
Physicians face many challenges in addition to those of diagnosing and treating patients. This is especially true for those who are running their own practices, but even doctors in large institutions are not exempt from all of these stressors. COVID-19 and the resulting global pandemic have certainly increased pressure on medical practitioners and have added to the concerns that they have to deal with.
Diminished Patient Experience
COVID-19 has had a huge impact on how patients and medical personnel interact. None of the changes benefit patient experience, and can be particularly difficult for patients who already have fear of going to the doctor.
From the front desk, where employees now must be wearing masks and ensure that patients are too, to signing out at the payments window where the same conditions apply, the experience has become less personalized. Family members and support companions are often being asked to remain outside instead of accompanying the patient through their visit, which can increase anxiety, and hospitals have restricted visitation to a much higher degree than in the past.
All these combine to make it less pleasant for patients to visit the doctor’s office and to receive treatment, which results in appointments being put off or cancelled. Showing compassion to patients is an important part of care and is especially important in the current climate of uncertainty.
Cybersecurity and Protection of Patients’ Personal Information
HIPAA regulations made patient privacy data management a priority for medical offices, but with more and more records becoming electronic, plus the increase in telehealth practices, cybersecurity has become a real concern.
Medical records include social security numbers and all the personally identifying information cyber criminals need to establish stolen identities, so there is a premium price paid for them on the black market.
Practitioners must make sure that all their electronic communications, and any technology used by vendors providing support, use the necessary level of encryption and other security protocols to ensure data safety.
Negotiating Payer Contracts
The question, “Would you rather negotiate a contract rate or wrestle a shark?” would fairly get the response, “What’s the difference?” in many cases. Physicians didn’t go into medicine for the opportunity to hone their business skills in most cases, but negotiating rates is a necessary part of developing a sustainable practice.
It is important to make sure that maximum reimbursement is obtained initially, and then to get increases when possible. Some of the ways to do this include requesting rate increases for bringing more patients into the payer’s network when your practice expands and offering evening and weekend hours that reduce ER visits the payer would have to cover.
Medical billing partners can also provide valuable information. Each specialization has codes it uses that are unique to it. Any codes that are part of normal care should be covered and if they are routinely denied and have to be appealed, it adds to the practitioner’s costs. Medical billers can identify these codes so they can be included in contracts.
Avoiding Malpractice Lawsuits
With so many physicians being asked to perform duties outside their normal area and under extraordinary circumstances, there is a very legitimate concern over lawsuits. It is a sad fact that, as always, there are litigators who will actively pursue these kinds of suits. The good news is that the state of emergency puts protections in place that will make such lawsuits extremely difficult to win.
However, it is expensive to defend against a suit, and legal counsel is required from the beginning. Physicians need to consult their insurer to be certain that they will be covered for any aspects of practice they are currently engaging in. Proof of coverage must be obtained in writing, to ensure there are no misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions.
Additionally, many physicians are coming out of retirement to help during the pandemic. The CARES Act puts some protection in place and good Samaritan laws apply, particularly for volunteers, however, they may not provide complete protection. Retired providers need to confirm that any licenses needed to practice are current. And again, it is important to get it put in writing that complete insurance coverage is in place.
Documentation of circumstances is a simple step practitioners can take to protect themselves. Any time they are asked to perform outside their area of expertise or without all recommended equipment, it should be documented. When decisions are being made about serious matters, documenting meetings and protocols is also important.
Complex Electronic Systems
While electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR) have the potential to streamline physician office workflow, many of the systems introduced to accomplish this work have proven to be difficult to use. These systems were designed by several different developers and they don’t always interact well.
Before investing in software, providers need to assess all their needs and compare the abilities of each software package. Affordability is an issue for small practices, who may find that by the time their software has paid for itself, it has become obsolete and they have to purchase something new, so upgrades are another important consideration when selecting software.
Medcare MSO is a full-service revenue cycle management (RCM) company that specializes in medical billing for practices of all sizes, including labs and radiology facilities. We will negotiate contracts and provide EMR software that handles everything, or integrates with your existing practice management package, if you aren’t ready to do a full changeover. Our innovative approach to medical billing saves our clients money and makes practices run much more smoothly. Give us a call at 800-640-6409 to find out how we can help you overcome the challenges of growing a thriving practice.