Office Staff Overworked?

Take the Load Off by Outsourcing Certain Tasks

With the passage of health care reform come many new rules and regulations that your clinical and office staff need to study and implement. And that’s on top of their regular work. If it’s obvious that they’re having some trouble getting all the work done — right and on time — perhaps your practice should consider outsourcing certain tasks to outside vendors.

Determining which tasks to outsource

Of course, you can’t make the decision to outsource willy-nilly. It requires performing a cost-benefit analysis.

For some tasks, the direct cost of outsourcing will be clearly less than that of performing the task in-house. But, for other tasks, the direct cost of outsourcing may be close to — or even exceed — that of performing the activity in-house. The question then is whether outsourcing those tasks will improve results that positively affect the practice’s bottom line, reduce indirect costs or provide other valuable benefits.

An effective outside billing service or professional management firm, for example, may help increase the practice’s cash receipts and reduce its accounts receivable. Any cash that your practice generates from more effective billing and follow-up may easily exceed the incremental direct cost increase of an outside billing service.

In other situations, factors such as tax consequences, savings in capital expenditures or other financial trade-offs may make a significant difference. For instance, the cost of an outside billing service may be expensed on your practice’s income statement, but the cost of a computerized billing system acquisition is generally a capital expense that the practice must depreciate over an extended period of time.

The 3-factor test

Regardless of the task your practice is considering outsourcing, there are certain factors that will help you determine the initial feasibility.

First, look at the size of your practice and the level of internal expertise that’s needed to effectively perform the task. Second, take into account your physicians’ interest and commitment to participating in management decisions and oversight of the task. And third, consider the availability of expert external sources that can perform the task well and at a competitive rate. Make sure you consider all three of these factors in relation to your practice.

How outsourcing can work for you

Outsourcing offers three primary benefits:

  1. Improved results from a company specializing in a particular activity,
  2. A potential for reduced costs, and
  3. The elimination of responsibilities and hassles for physicians and administrators.

Two tasks that can usually be outsourced so smoothly that it’s virtually seamless are payroll and billing. Most medical practices currently outsource these functions and agree that doing so is cost effective. However, don’t forget that the practice is responsible for reporting and paying payroll taxes, so choose a payroll provider carefully.

Many other functions can be outsourced, depending on the specialty of the practice. For example, hospital-based specialists, such as radiologists and pathologists, frequently outsource office and administrative functions to other organizations. Hospital-based groups often need only limited staff, which makes outsourcing attractive because it eliminates personnel administration responsibilities.

More important, outsourcing office functions can eliminate retirement plan contributions for employees that, in a practice composed mostly of physicians, can be expensive under today’s requirements of parity in contribution rates between physicians and employees.

Not just admin

But outsourcing doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to administrative tasks. Specialty group practices performing diagnostic and therapeutic services may outsource not only the administrative responsibility and equipment maintenance, but also the technical personnel or the entire technical component of those services to a niche company that specializes in them.

A cardiology group may, for instance, choose to outsource its cardiac stress tests. This type of outsourcing can provide expansion opportunities — often without the risk, capital expense and lead time required to develop comparable in-house capabilities.

It’s a win-win situation

As you can see, outsourcing certain tasks to an outside vendor can help lighten the load on your likely overworked staff. But outsourcing can also help make your practice more efficient and, therefore, get better results.

Of course, you’ll still need to do your due diligence to ensure the firm you’re outsourcing work to is top-notch. And make sure you bring in an attorney to ensure the service agreement is lock-tight. •

This material is generic in nature. Before relying on the material in any important matter, users should note date of publication and carefully evaluate its accuracy, currency, completeness, and relevance for their purposes, and should obtain any appropriate professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances.