For medical practices there are many different type of resource to employ and even more ways to deploy them. While a doctor can truly do everything in the practice, it is not very efficient to utilize their time for everything.
Can the doctor room a patient, prep them for their exam, and reprocess the room when they are done?
But, should they?
Typically not. Consider that if rooming takes 5 mins, prep takes 5 mins, and reprocessing takes another 5 mins that would mean the doctor (typically they highest paid resource in the practice) is spending 15 minutes extra on each appointment that does not require their clinical expertise. This will allow them to see fewer patients in a day, which will build a backlog and begins to make it more difficult to fit new patients in.
So who should room and prep the patient then reprocess the room for each appointment?
It could be the nurse or the mid level provider, each typically with a salary of $70K+ in the United States. Or it could be the medical assistant (MA) with typical earnings of ~$30K in the United States.
What about working the front desk, answering phones, scheduling and checking patients in?
Typically practices will rely on administrators for the front desk. They have similar earnings to a medical assistant so the cost savings is significant rather than having a doctor or nurse in this role. While there won’t be additional savings in utilizing an MA for the front desk there are other benefits.
Let’s take a closer look at the general capabilities of the administrator and the MA
With the right training and tools provided to them the MA is able to do everything the administrator can and more for relatively the same annual cost.
Consider a clinic with 3 physicians. Each physician sees 25 patients per day and has 1 medical assistant to guide their patients through the clinic, prepare them through the appointments, and reprocesses the exam rooms. The clinic has 2 administrators at the front desk who are checking patients in and out of the clinic and an additional 3 administrators answering phones for the doctors.
What if a front desk administrator calls out sick?
One of the administrators answering phones can sit at the front desk, still answer phones and help to check in some patients. Similarly if one of the administrators on the phones calls out, their phone can be split to the remaining two administrators or it could be routed to the front desk. However, if an MA calls out the administrators can not take vitals or prep patients for their exam, and thus the clinic needs a temp or will have a rough day.
What if the clinic was staffed with 8 cross-trained MAs instead of 3 MAs and 5 administrators?
If someone calls out, there is always someone who can backfill the role of rooming, prepping, and reprocessing. Of course it will still be a busy day for the support staff but at least there will be no compliance risks, less expenses needed for temps, and most importantly no losses of efficiency for the 3 doctors.
For some practices this utilizing MAs to a greater extent can add significant flexibility to the staff without adding any cost. As with any role in the practice hiring the right people, providing the right tools, and developing optimal processes is going to be critical for success. Simply hiring a more flexible resource will not achieve any gains if the system they come into is broken or if the employee themselves is not right for the job. Often times it will come down to organizational culture whether such a deployment will work for a practice.
Tom Ambrogio, Senior Consultant Tefen USA