Starting a business is tough. Starting a medical practice—with all its financial, regulatory and marketplace challenges—is really tough. And starting a rheumatology practice has unique challenges, says Laura Palmer, FACMPE, a senior fellow at the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).
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In her career, Ms. Palmer has helped start nearly 50 medical practices and is the author of Starting a Medical Practice. She says there are about 20 things rheumatologists need to be aware of, and in a recent interview with The Rheumatologist, she discussed what she says are the five most important considerations when starting a rheumatology practice.
- Location: An easy-to-find location—near landmarks, freeway exits or public transportation—eases access issues and aids in providing directions to new patients. It’s even more important for rheumatology practices in non-urban locales.
“Look at a location that is easily accessible for people from a wide geographic area,” Palmer says. “If you are in a medical office building, realize this group of patients has mobility issues. Make sure your facility has plenty of handicap parking spaces.”
- Staffing: The first person you should hire in your rheumatology practice is a skilled practice administrator.
“You want someone who knows the credentialing requirements [and] what the physical requirements are, and can help hire staff with the right skills and experience for your specialty,” Ms. Palmer says.
- Operations: Conduct a feasibility study to determine referral sources and assess the competition. Make sure to have three to six months’ worth of cash on hand for the initial startup phase, Ms. Palmer advises.
- Timing: You don’t want to open the doors on your shiny new office and have no customers, so plan ahead for such things as staffing and credentialing.
“It might take four to six months or longer to get credentialed and contracted on insurance plans,” Ms. Palmer says, adding that a consulting firm can help. She also warns those leaving a practice “not to assume you are credentialed. You have been through the process, but you will have to recontract with insurance plans.”
- Technology training: You may have purchased electronic health record software, but make sure you can get it installed and your staff trained. Be prepared for a delay of as much as 10–12 weeks from purchase.
“There is a pattern with software vendors,” Ms. Palmer explains. “They get very busy in August, September and October, and you might not get your training scheduled as quickly as you like.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey