Over the past five years, hospital acquisitions of medical offices have been steadily on the rise, increasing by 9 percent each year. Today, more than one in four doctors’ offices are owned by hospital groups, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.
While consolidation can provide additional resources and options for patient care in the long run, the nuts and bolts of combining businesses always bring with it operational challenges, particularly in the short term.
If the sign on the door is soon to be changing at your place of work, there are a few questions you should consider to ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible.
Are your phone numbers portable?
It may sound basic, but one of the first things an office being acquired needs to consider is how patients will contact them after the merger. Despite all our recent advances in technology and connectivity, many patients rely heavily on phone and voice communication for appointments, prescriptions and information. Not to mention the many partners, consultants and service providers your office has worked with over the years. The last thing you want to do with your longtime contacts is create confusion with new phone numbers, voicemails and hold systems.
However, when joining a larger entity, sometimes that is exactly what happens: Phone companies change, calls get handled differently, and relationships can suffer. That’s why it’s important to look for a provider who can seamlessly re-route and port your calls using the same number you’ve always had, even after you’ve become part of the new organization, with no service disruption. You’ll ensure everyone can reach you just as easily as before the merger, and even your marketing and communications channels won’t have to be updated.
How easily can your telephone systems integrate – and scale?
The patient communications system you had yesterday may need to be more for the organization you are part of tomorrow. Combining different processes, equipment, or offices is always a challenge. So it’s important to work with providers who can work with existing systems rather than being forced to rebuild your telephony solution from scratch.
This integration and flexibility should also include the ability to scale up quickly. Following the merger, you may now have a whole host of new patients, partners and vendors to reach out to, not to mention an increase in inbound inquiries. Throughout it all, you must ensure your communications systems are easily scalable to handle additional traffic.
RingRx’s solutions were developed with flexibility in mind and with the understanding that the more they could serve as a single-point solution, the more useful they would be to offices and hospitals. That’s why our solutions can not only connect with any phone in your office but also hospital room phones, overhead paging systems and even nurse call bell systems.
What’s your data and records-sharing strategy?
Another challenge you may face is integrating patient records, which involves a high volume of data and patient confidentiality regulations, all against the backdrop of potentially competing systems. Of course, it goes without saying that a HIPAA-approved vendor is a key consideration here, and finding partners who have privacy and security built into their solutions will save you a lot of headaches later.
Additionally, being able to anticipate some of the most common issues offices face with patient records – such as ensuring deadlines for sharing records with patients are always followed and having proper procedures for file handling, deleting and encryption – will be a crucial element in ensuring any newly-merged office starts off on the right foot. The most successful offices will be the ones who take the time to look at how any merger or acquisition will impact their ability to follow key HIPAA guidelines and then plan ahead.
How customizable is your setup?
One good thing about change is it can be an opportunity to start over. In your office’s case, maybe an acquisition will provide a chance to build the communications system your patients and team have always wanted. You can build around your devices and hardware, optimize workflow, centralize texting, arrange call groups, share voicemail and even upgrade your recorded messaging systems.
Rather than get overwhelmed by options, one way to approach this is to prioritize which features will make the biggest difference for your office and your patients. Then look for providers with a history of integrating these features in various settings, particularly the healthcare industry. Finally, be sure to build in future flexibility, so you can add additional features or reorganize your setup as your business changes and grows.
As the saying goes, the only constant in life is change. The acquisition trend will likely continue in our industry for some time to come, and with that will come new changes and challenges for many offices.
While the exact nature of change can be hard to predict, it’s helpful for any office, regardless of size, to look ahead and prepare as much as possible for its next phase of growth, whether that’s organic or through M&A. By understanding its options for expanding and integrating their patient communications systems, medical practices today can prepare themselves for whatever comes down the road.