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Medical Practices to Focus on Staff, Patient Retention, MGMA Finds

Staff and patient retention are major focal points for medical practices facing a shortage of qualified employees and patient demands for more convenient services.

Patient retention and healthcare employment

Source: Thinkstock

By Jacqueline LaPointe

- Medical practices are putting staff and patient retention efforts on the top of their priority lists, a new report from the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) showed.

MGMA’s “2018 MGMA DataDive Practice Operations” survey found that medical practices are working to retain staff in light of the competitive healthcare employment market. And the most popular method for staff retention is formal employee appreciation programs.

Over three-quarters of medical practices (77 percent) indicated that they have a formal employee appreciation program, the data from over 1,000 healthcare organizations revealed.

The staff retention initiatives are also working, according to the survey. Medical practices with appreciation programs reported lower employee turnover rates across almost every role in their practice, with clinical support staff seeing the greatest turnover improvement. Clinical support staff in surgical practices with appreciation programs reported a 12 percent lower median turnover rate.

“As the healthcare industry continues to experience clinical and nonclinical staff shortages, retaining the best possible team to power a medical practice is more important than ever,” Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, President and CEO of MGMA, stated in press release emailed to journalists.

READ MORE: Geisinger Lowers Turnover for Healthcare Revenue Cycle Success

Clinician shortages are getting worse, according to recent research. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recently projected the physician shortage to grow from a shortage of up to 104,000 doctors by 2030 to a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also listed registered nurse as one of the top occupations in terms of job growth through 2024. With the demand for nurses growing, the agency estimated the total number of job openings for nurses and replacements to reach 1.09 million by 2024.  

But clinicians are not the only medical practice position facing a shortage. Approximately 61 percent of healthcare organizations experienced a shortage of qualified applicants for non-clinical positions in the past year, a May 2018 MGMA Stat poll showed.

With demand for qualified medical practice staff high and supply low, practices are modifying their employment strategies to attract and retain employees. Appreciation programs are one solution. Practices are also increasing compensation to keep their employees.

The physician shortage drove a 19 percent boost in nursing compensation in 2018, MGMA reported in their “2018 DataDive Management and Staff Compensation” report. Salaries for 11 of 12 non-clinical positions also increased since 2015, the data uncovered.

READ MORE: Addressing Productivity, Labor to Bend the Healthcare Cost Curve

“We’ve seen this trend continue across medical practices for several years now: demand for qualified staff is growing, while supply is shrinking,” explained Ken Hertz, Principal Consultant at MGMA. “Aging staff across the healthcare industry are retiring at a higher rate than new ones are being trained to replace them. While medical practices of all sizes are struggling to keep up, many are trying to stay ahead of the curve by offering higher wages and more incentives to attract and retain the talent they need.”

In addition to retaining staff, medical practices are also looking to keep their patients, the most recent MGMA survey showed.

Practices are using technology to entice new and returning patients to get in the door. About 89 percent of primary care practices in the survey said they actively manage their organization’s online presence to attract patients to seek services at their practice.

The survey’s findings indicate that medical practices are leaning more on technological solutions to retain and attract patients. A recent MGMA Stat poll found that 90 percent of practices implemented some type of online patient portal to allow patients to manage their own health records, schedule appointments, pay their bills, and perform other healthcare services in a convenient manner.

Maintaining an online presence may be key to retaining patients. About 80 percent of patients in a recent Doctor.com survey said they use the internet to make decisions about their care, and 60 percent said they chose a provider over another doctor because of positive online reviews.

READ MORE: Hospitals Face Healthcare Employment Challenges, High Turnover

Another patient retention strategy is wait time reduction. Approximately 62 percent of primary care practices also reported that they actively try to reduce patient wait times. The median total wait time to see a provider at the surveyed practices was 24.5 minutes.

“For better or worse, we now live in a digital age where consumers expect convenience from every business they patronize. And medical practices are no different,” said Pamela Ballou-Nelson, RN, MSPH, CMPE, PhD, MGMA Consulting Principal.

“Our new data shows the steps practices are taking to keep up and bring their businesses into the 21st century,” she continued. “Implementing technological solutions like patient portals are a win-win: patients receive the convenience they demand while practices save time and money by giving patients more control over their medical records, scheduling, and billing.”

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