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I’m a medical practice consultant (I’m all for full disclosure so I thought I’d start this post out with just that).  I enjoy healthcare consulting and our company does a fantastic job of helping new practices start up successfully, as well as assisting existing medical practices thrive in the face of turbulent times in our healthcare economy.  We love what we do.

I’m also a clinician.  I actually consider myself a clinician first, and consultant second.  What this means is that I understand the core business of healthcare – patient care.  Yeah, I understand the numbers, and how finances, marketing strategy, and operations all work hand in hand, but I never forget that a patient exists at the ultimate end of every equation we help to solve.

As a medical practice consultant and a clinician, I’m here to tell you that medical practice consulting, while extremely valuable, is not a panacea.  Much the same way as having a good doctor doesn’t make you healthy, a good medical practice consultant doesn’t guarantee the health of your medical practice.  Likewise, as it’s also not necessary to have a doctor in order to be healthy – many times, if not most often, you can have a healthy practice without a consultant.  You just have to be willing and able to spend some time and energy, and do some research.  We always recommend that this is the first place to start, and only after exhausting your internal resources, should you seek the services of a medical practice consultant or consulting firm.

Here are a few recommendations from a clinician-slash-consultant that may help you determine when (and when not) to look for help from a medical practice consultant.

1. Something’s broke, but you don’t know what.  Most often it’s not difficult to know when something’s awry.  If there’s something wrong in our body we usually don’t feel well.  When there’s something wrong in a medical practice it usually shows signs of decreased performance.  Decreased cash flow is a common indicator that there’s a problem, but it usually manifests only after a period of time – making a diagnosis as to the true cause of the problem somewhat complex.  This is a good time to have a medical practice consultant to help.  A consultant should be trained to move through each of the practice systems in order to confirm not only that something is wrong, but which specific area is the culprit – and recommendations to fix it.

2. You “don’t have time” to improve your practice.  Time is both friend and foe when it comes to improving one’s medical practice.  If you have time, it’s on your side and you can achieve just about anything you set out to do.  If you don’t have it, issues pile up left and right and bad situations can get worse overnight.  A lack of time is a big issue when it comes to a medical practice, because without the attention required to understand and fix issues as they occur, it is only a matter of time before a medical practice will show signs of fatigue and distress.  When time is of the essence, and you don’t have it to spend, this is definitely a time to seek outside help.

3. Your market changed overnight.  We live in turbulent times and between decisions made in congress, fluctuations in the stock and housing markets, and the existence of new competitors an any corner, the macro- or micro-climate in which we practice can literally change overnight.  When this happens, it’s not always possible (in fact it rarely is) to drop everything to adjust.  Often times the changes that are occurring are complex as well, making both the timeliness and quality of decisions very important.  If the necessary attention can’t be placed on your changing economic landscape, a private practice consultant can likely help.

4. Growth is happening too slow or too quickly.  Growth is a good litmus of progress.  Not enough quick enough and a practice can strangle; too much too fast and a medical practice may not be able to scale operations and capital requirements fast enough.  Either way, growth is an element that must be managed effectively in order to take advantage of the right opportunities, and avoid the pitfalls that exist along the way.  If growth doesn’t appear to be happening commensurate with what you envisioned or expect in either direction, a practice consultant may be able to help identify the internal or external reasons for this and provide recommendations for better managing the growth of your medical practice.

5. You want a second opinion.  There’s a reason second opinions are commonplace in medicine – they reduce doubt and increase the level of confidence associated with important decisions.  The same applies to your medical practice – if you’ve got a large decision underway, or you’re just not sure if you’re understanding your practice exactly as you should, a second opinion can be a great way to reduce doubt and improve your confidence that you’re trending in the right direction.

The important takeaway here is that medical practice consulting is not the answer to everything “business” that happens in your medical practice.  Just as medical care should be used discriminately and judiciously, so should medical practice consultants.  We are here to help, but want to be used wisely so that we can be most effective.  Follow the simple guidelines above to determine if you need a practice consultant and hopefully you’ll find your time and money well spent.

Tannus Quatre PT, MBA is a practice consultant and principal with Vantage Clinical Solutions, Inc., a national healthcare consulting and management firm with offices in Oregon and Colorado.  Tannus can be reached through the Vantage Clinical Solutions website by clicking here.