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4 Revenue Outlets to Help Your Derm Practice Thrive


By Darren Whittemore, DO

To increase revenue and expand your patient base, you may have tried engaging with people on social media, advertising special service packages, or even parking a dancing balloon guy on the curb by your derm practice to drum up business. Nothing seems to work. 

Serious change requires serious strategies. By tracking changes in billing and health insurance requirements and offering your resources and expertise to support pharmaceutical companies as they use technology to gather research data, you can uncover additional ways to help your practice grow. So give the dancing balloon guy the day off, and let’s explore four hidden revenue-building opportunities that can help point your derm practice in the right direction. 

Unless your accounts team has expertise in ever-changing CPT codes, AFA policies, and other Medicare, value-based care reimbursement guidelines, outsourcing medical billing is a popular and cost-effective option. Around 90 percent of healthcare leaders have considered outsourcing in both clinical and nonclinical functions to be more cost-efficient and better equipped to handle value-based care models. And here’s why: 

A recent survey by Harmony Healthcare found that 33 percent of hospital executives reported the average claims denial rate hovering around 10 percent. In fact, across the nation, hospitals face average denial rates between 6 and 13 percent. When rejections occur, you need an experienced team that can respond quickly and are better equipped to handle changing requirements for medical reimbursements.

For example, board-certified dermatologist Dina Strachan, M.D., at Aglow Dermatology in New York, notes that every step needed to collect money from both patients and insurance comes with a cost attached. There is a huge time factor involved in understanding the fine print of the myriad high-deductible plans, and a lot of time is tied up in collecting and processing bills. By outsourcing billing, and placing a link on her website where payments can be made, a lot of time is recaptured.

“We don’t have to spend time opening and sorting mail, punching in, and processing credit card payments—it’s a time savings,” she said.

Emerging cloud technologies are helping pharmaceutical companies tap into innovative alternatives for collecting rich, segmented research data. ClinicalTrials.gov currently lists 404,694 studies with locations in all 50 States and in 220 countries.

With in-person testing sites no longer being the only option for research, pharma can use both virtual and hybrid models to collect data.  

Depending on the length of the study and the interaction levels required by the clinical trial directors, pharmaceutical companies will often pay clinics willing to dedicate their time and resources to help facilitate a relevant clinical trial.

Along with the revenue potential, most healthcare providers enjoy the option to provide their patients with the most recent treatments available, particularly in skin cancer and other chronic cases. According to the Dermatology Learning Network, interviews with dermatologists that have participated in clinical research show they can be professionally, intellectually, and financially rewarding.

“It allows you to give your patients cutting-edge treatment at a severely discounted price or for free,” said Dr. Mitchel Goldman, medical director of La Jolla Spa MD, in La Jolla, California.

In addition to the excitement of being involved in the development of new products and offering patients new treatment options, Steven R. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, noted the potential financial benefit to practices as well.

“In an era where managed care is paying less for each office visit, you can charge your usual office rate,” Feldman said in reference to patients enrolled in trials.

Reexamine Health Insurance Partnerships 

Over the past 20 years, health insurance companies have consolidated to cut costs, meet higher demands, and, in some cases, move toward the government and individual health insurance markets under the Affordable Healthcare Act. This transition has given health insurance companies an advantage over physicians. 

“Most dermatology practices lack the scale to negotiate with large health insurance companies on an even playing field,” Todd Petersen, CEO of Vitalskin Dermatology, explains. “These terms set year-over-year reimbursement rates and allow the insurance company to set billing, coding and utilization management rules. Consequently, nominal year-over-year increases can be largely offset by increased denial rates and tighter billing and coding rules.”

Although dermatology costs aren’t a high price point for health insurance carriers (accounting for less than 2 percent of medical costs), Petersen points out that pharmaceutical spending for dermatology-related drugs, such as psoriasis-related treatments, accounts for 6.5 percent of total spending with signs of future increases.  

“For dermatology practices with market share and a large psoriasis patient population, using this strategy at the negotiating table may prove beneficial and provide the practice with improved revenues,” he says. 

Moving to digital-based technology, such as EMR or EHR, creates more efficient and profitable processes in a few ways: 

  1. Participates in the Medicare Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS)
    Values-based care and reimbursements are growing and allow for additional revenue streams. EMR technology is required for billing compliance and patient dashboard access and to collect data and submit electronic data to CMS. According to Petersen, the initial investment cost of EHR technology will pay itself off down the road. “When considering whether to make the investment of complying with MIPS, consider the following: value-based reimbursement is not going away, and many practices have found the implementation of EHRs has helped them improve their billing compliance,” he writes. 
  2. Enables faster turnaround times for lab test results
    For Allen-Taintor Dermatology, not only did partnering with a lab that specializes in digital dermatopathology provide a faster turnaround time for lab results (turnaround time is now 75 percent faster, with results often received within two days of submission), but it also enabled their dermatologists to use a digital slide to encourage a conversation about the patient’s biopsy results and possible cancer care. As faster turnaround time increases the speed of business, more patients can flow through the practice with increased revenue as a result. 
  3. Expands access to care
    Digital-based patient files mean doctors aren’t limited by location to reach out for expertise on a patient’s case. With digital technology, a specialist in Boston or Switzerland can securely review a patient file and discuss a diagnosis in real time with the dermatologist. That leads to quicker results and prompt patient care, which again improves revenue.

With the dermatology field expected to grow by almost 11.4 percent by 2026, dermatologists can leverage revenue-building strategies by reducing overhead costs through outsourced billing services, research reimbursement rates with health insurance and government health program partnerships, participate in clinical trials, and expand digital patient care services. By tapping into these revenue outlets, you can help to prepare your derm practice for a future of growth. 

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