Updated: Mar 25, 2019
As a consultant, my job is to help my clients solve problems, increase productivity, decrease overhead, and improve their practice and overall quality of life.
A consultant should be your business and/or clinical coach. While you are working your practice, you are in the trenches. A consultant is able to see the practice from above; they can see the entire operation from an objective perspective. A consultant is your coach and expert, helping you achieve your professional and financial goals.
As a consultant, my job is to help clients solve business problem, teach and implement systems to maximize their productivity and to develop processes to achieve long term goals.
Some physicians are concerned with using consultants. They know that there is a need to get help with their practice, but are concerned about the added costs, the perceived disruption in their staff and how it would be perceived by their peers. Additionally, most physicians do not know how to engage a consultant.
Questions most physicians often ask:
1. Do I need a consultant?
Consultants can be utilized in two capacities:
Short-term consulting is ideal for a practice that needs expert guidance and implementation of insurance contract negotiations, practice transition / sales planning, practice start-ups, compliance audits, practice assessemnts and valuations, billing or finance audits, EHR/EMR selection and implementation of programs for regulatory compliance. Short-term consulting is for occasional, single-need projects. If you have specific, single-need projects, hiring an experienced consultant who knows how to do it right will be well worth the investment and will save you thousands of dollars long term.
Long-term consulting is ideal for a practice that needs expert guidance and system implementation and management in an on-going capacity. In many cases, a long-term consulting arrangement is implemented when a practice wants to create a well-run, self-managed group of professionals. Many times, I have seen long-term consulting arrangements eliminat the need for an in-office manager, thus reducing payroll overhead, increasing staff moral and increasing individual staff accountability. Long-term consulting is a way to create a hybrid system that combines the benefits of in-house management and eliminates outsourcing business functions such as billing, credentialing, day-to-day management, financial management, human resource management, work-flow management, and most other daily business activities.
2. Why is a consultant better than outsourcing?
Consultants are highly qualified to identify problems, develop solutions and implement systems to improve your business. Their work is usually focused on solution oriented systems implementation to help you increase productivity and reduce overhead. The solutions and systems are usually developed to obtain measurable results, in a set amount of time. If you engage a consultant, you are able to maximize the benefits of a day-to-day manager, at one-half of the price. In many instances, a long-term consulting agreement is paid through a monthly retainer fee to cover a set of continuous services.
If you outsource your daily management needs, such as billing, human resource management, patient retention, or internal marketing, you will typically sign an expensive contract for a set time period, usually one year or more. It could be much more expensive than a practice consultant and your office staff would not receive any training or skills to manage these systems on their own.
3. How do I find a consultant?
Ask your colleagues. A colleague who has worked with a consultant can attest to the quality of work they received. Another valuable resource is your medical or dental society. Regardless of how you search for a consultant, you want to make sure they specialize in medical and/or dental practice management. A business consultant will have wonderful skill sets, but they may not be up-to-date on specific regulatory or compliance issues that often impact medical and dental practices. Medical and dental consulting is a combination of business management, practice management and compliance oversight.
4. Do I need to sign a contract?
Most consulting firms will develop a service agreement. The service agreement will outline the services that will be performed. The agreement will identify the cost for the services performed, when or how payments are made, and how the scope of work will be performed.
For short-term specific consulting, your agreement will usually indicate a time-frame for completion and the final outcome. For long-term consulting, the service agreement will look more like an outline of systems and objectives – something to refer back to so you are able to ensure the process is on track, and performing as expected.
6. How do I work with a consultant?
In my experience, the best consulting engagements are those in which the physician views me as their guide. A physician who is willing to be involved and engaged in the implementation and oversight of systems will get the most out of consulting services. It is best when the physician collaborates with the consultant. Effectively developing and implementing systems that result in high productivity and financial success is the ultimate goal, but helping the physician and team learn how to evaluate and improve systems yields maximum, sustainable, long-term results.
Shanalee Ackerman, RDH, MBA, is founder and CEO of Ackerman Practice Management, a consulting firm that specializes in medical and dental practice management and compliance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting www.AckermanPracticeManagement.com.