Published: August 8, 2023

How to Keep Your Practice Profitable Despite Staff Shortages

While physicians are working hard to see many patients and keep their practices profitable, there’s an insidious underlying problem that saps/sabotages/drains their major efforts: staff shortages that prevent them from efficient work, and perhaps even from billing for the work they’ve done. Is there any way physicians can offset or successfully deal with this eroding problem?

The Michigan Institute of Urology (MIU), a practice with 46 urologists over 22 locations in the Detroit area, is a good example of how staff shortages are impeding many practices across the country.

“Before the pandemic, we didn’t have significant problems with staff shortages, but now they seem to have become permanent,” said Jason Hafron, MD, chief medical officer at MIU. “The number of filled positions fell by 20% during the pandemic and it has not recovered much since then.”

How Staff Shortages Impact Practices

First, what’s the impact of staff shortages on practices? While physicians are in short supply and hard to recruit, practices also have pressing shortages of administrative and ancillary staff, such as front desk staff, schedulers, and medical assistants (MAs). These staff shortages can impede growth and profits.

Basic staff members are hard to keep, said Teri Deabler, a practice management consultant with the Texas Medical Association. Unlike physicians, who are on a career path, “a person hired for the front desk often doesn’t see the work as a career,” she said. “They may leave and find some other kind of job.”

MAs and front-desk staff have the highest turnover rates at practices, according to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). In a 2022 MGMA poll, 40% of group practices said they had turnover of MAs in the prior year, while 26% cited front desk staff, 11% nurses, and 7% schedulers.

Sometimes even when new staff are hired, they may not show up for work and not be heard from again, Hafron said. “Staff shortages have impacted our ability to return patients’ phone calls, prep charts, and carry out prior authorizations,” he said. “It’s very frustrating. We can’t close our doors, and we can’t reduce our patient volumes.”

The Secret Behind Low Staff Turnover

One solution to the problem might be to give staff a raise, but significant raises are rarely an option for practices today, said Reed Tinsley, CPA, a practice management consultant in Houston, Texas.

“You’ve got to pay your staff well, but in an environment of declining reimbursement, it’s hard to pay them more,” he said. “Any pay raise would probably come out of the doctor’s own income.”

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