Six Ways To Achieve Practice Excellence

By Brian McCurdy, Associate Editor

Do enough people know about your practice? Do enough primary care doctors know about your practice? Are you getting enough referrals or are most of them going to the DPM two blocks over? Several DPMs and a podiatric assistant say you have to be skilled in patient empathy, excel at staff relations and be a savvy marketer, among other things, if you want to build and sustain a thriving podiatric practice. 1. Emphasize empathy and pay close attention to patient needs. Jim Ritchlin, DPM, takes notes on his patients’ lives, not just on their foot conditions, which he keeps in their medical charts. Before patients visit his office, he reviews the personal information so he can chat about their lives with them. “They perk right up when I know who they are. They’re not just a number,” says Dr. Ritchlin, who has been in practice for 37 years. “I’m picking their brains. I like to know what makes them tick.” Dr. Ritchlin sees 40 to 50 patients a day. He sees five or six new patients a day and notes the number of patients he sees has increased by 15 percent in the last year. “I’m on stage all day. I love to schmooze people,” explains Dr. Ritchlin. “To me, practicing is fun.” Patients are first and foremost for William McCann, DPM, the President-Elect of the American Academy of Podiatric Practice Management. “They hire you, literally, and you’re working for them,” says Dr. McCann. “You really need to have their best interests at heart at all times.” Combine Honesty With Empathy Renee Silva, DPM, agrees. She has been in practice for five years, half of it as part of a group and now on her own. Dr. Silva says part of the secret to being successful is truly listening to your patients and presenting medical options to them as opposed to dictating courses of treatment. She says you should avoid giving patients a short-term fix to make them happy. Instead, Dr. Silva advises DPMs to tell patients what may happen as a result of certain treatment options and even suggest getting second opinions in certain cases. “Really be honest with them,” urges Dr. Silva. “Don’t sell them podiatry. Tell them what really works.” While seeing dozens of patients a day may foster a sense of tunnel vision, successful DPMs say it’s essential to be aware of the whole patient instead of just zeroing in on their feet. “We treat our patients well as people. I always try to remember there’s a person attached to that foot,” notes Peter Brieloff, DPM, who has been in practice for 15 years and runs the five offices of Brieloff Foot Centers in Cumberland, Md. “We have to treat the patient comprehensively,” agrees Hal Ornstein, the President of the American Academy of Podiatric Practice Management. “We, as podiatrists, have to do comprehensive care.” Recognize And Encourage Staff Excellence 2. Treat your staff like gold. Dr. McCann points out that your staff members need to be “real ambassadors” of the practice. “People are calling in with pain and it’s so important that the empathy factor is there,” notes Dr. McCann. That’s just one of many reasons why you should do everything you can to treat your staff well, especially when they are your right-hand men and women in the office. A longtime podiatric medical assistant says a good relationship between DPMs and their staff is vital. Lynn Homisak, PMAC, says the respect doctors have given her has kept her in the field for over 30 years. She adds that the experience of assistants can be a valuable asset for any podiatric practice. In her office, Homisak does all the padding and strapping of patients, takes their blood pressure, clips nails, gives foot massages, provides chairside and surgical assistance and does casting for orthotics, all of which she is trained to do. She says her doctor has given her “leeway from day one” to do such things. Homisak says letting staff do more for doctors increases practice revenue and reduces stress. While podiatrists may express reservations about paying trained assistants more to perform extra duties, Homisak counters that they can make up the increased costs with extra revenue, since doctors are able to see more patients when certified assistants take on some more work. Of course, if you want your staff to take on more responsibilities, it helps to be respectful and cognizant of their workloads. In dealing with his staff, Dr. Ornstein says he “treats everyone like gold.

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