Yup, it’s true. I once took almost 8 years off from the healthcare industry when I ran much of a women’s clothing company. I started by designing their warehouse systems and was given one department at a time until I had 13 departments and 137 staff members report to me. I was involved in and improved every department except 3 and when I tried to help them improve those departments I found that despite the fact that I had reduced costs and improved performance in all my areas by 2 to 2,000 fold based on six-sigma techniques and plain old common sense, for these “Sacred Cow” departments I could not help. Every week or two I would come up with a new idea, research it, and present it to the owner and his executive team. Initially my idea implementation rate neared 100% but when it dropped to less than 5% and the company choose to stop innovating, I gave up. I retreated from the board room and waited for the inevitable while I planned my return to healthcare and looked forward to a Summer off with the kids.
I loved that company and the clothes they made. More specifically, my wife loved the clothes and she looks great in them to this day. The people on my team were world class and the real reason I stayed so long. Bo, Daniel, Chiney, Madaline, Johnny and over a hundred others made me believe in the American Dream in ways that I never truly understood until I saw them go for that brass ring and get it day after day.
Now, almost 4 years exactly after I gave up on convincing that CEO, his company has declared bankruptcy. His sacred cows were turned into hamburger by the debt holders. It is a sad day in my personal history and I tell this story not to crow, but to make a statement about self-disruption and innovation. Any company can make this mistake. Most famously, IBM turned down the opportunity to buy Xerox in the 50s, Digital in the 60s, and even thought the personal computer was a waste of time for several years, letting little upstart Apple own the market into the early 80s. My old company did the same thing, ignoring the upstarts and the change that was inevitable while new companies came in and had a field day. Even the best companies can make mistakes and the best companies can rebound as well. IBM did a few years later when they entered and came to dominate the PC market by 1984. I wish my old company luck and from what I hear, they finally got the memo – from their bankers. For the rest of us the message is clear – innovate or risk the meat grinder that comes with a loss of control.
This applies equally to medical practices. Every day I talk to Physicians that are struggling to make payroll or are considering accepting that offer from the hospital’s practice acquisition team or other consolidation play. Doctors are working harder all the time for less pay and more administrative headaches and paperwork. EMRs are great, but they are not really labor savers for doctors and the often disrupt the clinical exam with data entry. The offers from IDNs and health systems are attractive but we all know where that road leads and giving up control of one’s practice is not high on the list for most doctors. So what is a small practice to do?
Well, of course I would say “Innovate!” Innovate in your practice. Whether this means moving to electronic records, installing a Kiosk for check in, adding a patient portal, or moving to a membership model, there are myriad ways to get paid better and faster with less tedious administrative work than ever. You also can add services that make sense or focus on your “Centers of Excellence” that offer outstanding services for reasonable fees. Of course, increasing your number of patients that pay you Directly and Fairly through FairCareMD is never a bad thing either. Automation for your practice has arrived, addressing marketing, contracting, communications, making copies, collecting payments and all the non-medical work of running a practice – leaving the actual patient care experience intact or improved. It is a shiny brand new day for your practice if you want it to be.
So take a lesson from my former life in women’s clothing, Innovate or Give Up Control.
And to all my great staff from those days, you have my number.