Practice Tips: Connecting the dots—why benchmarking matters

Efficient practices not only run better, they offer better patient outcomes. Benchmarking is the first step in this process because it shows where to focus attention first.

Practices today, particularly small primary care practices, are so overwhelmed that most do not see the value of spending lots of time running reports and studying data. It's like bailing out a boat in the rain. The day-to-day problems just keep coming, and if you stop to study data, the work continues to pile up. However, effective benchmarking can help provide focus on what to tackle first.

Efficient operations affect a practice's quality of care and economic well-being. Ultimately, finances, productivity and quality of care are inextricably entwined and inter-related. A practice that is not doing a good job managing revenues, expenses, staff and productivity is more likely to be inefficient in other areas, such as reminding patients about preventive care, following up on outside orders and results and having systems in place to track specialist care. Practicing continuous quality improvement is a mindset that affects all aspects of care and management.

The process of looking at data and then benchmarking the practice against others can be valuable and enlightening. Benchmarking encourages the practice to focus on the most critical issues first, such as collections, coding or productivity. Then, any improvements will spill into other areas. For instance, if the billing process is honed, then the processes of collecting clinical data are also more likely to be finely tuned. Involving staff in the process gives the outcomes more depth and improves the chances of success.

However, getting reliable data against which to compare is difficult. That is why ACP is partnering with the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) to get those data. MGMA is well-known and well-respected for its annual cost and productivity surveys and reports. But data for the specialty of internal medicine, particularly financial and staffing data, have been lacking due to the length of MGMA's survey. ACP and MGMA together have created a much shorter survey focusing on what are generally considered the most critical and useful pieces of information to help internists understand which improvements can have the greatest impact.

From now until April 18, ACP members have an opportunity to contribute data allowing them to compare their practices' costs and personnel management with those of their peers. This is a chance to help practice leaders manage costs and finances, compare physician and staff compensation, and optimize clinician and office staffing. Participation and registration are free. Visit online to start now. ACP and MGMA have collaborated to provide many mutually beneficial resources for our respective members and their key staff. Access these resources online.