Favorite questions about major issues you face

By Stephen W. Earnhart, MS
President & CEO
Earnhart & Associates
Austin, TX

One area of this column I really enjoy is the questions I receive from readers. Some months, I receive 80-120 e-mails. This month, I went back over the past six months and pulled up some of my favorites.

  • Issue: Suture cost climbing.

Question: Our suture cost over the past year has skyrocketed! We tried everything to find out what we were doing to cause the costs to go up so dramatically. It mostly was high-end sutures that were climbing. After umpteen hours and meetings trying to track it down, our janitor solved the problem. It seems the vendor was lifting the ceiling tiles in the suture room and shoving hundreds of packs there and then replacing them with new ones.

Answer: Check the ceiling as a cost-control measure! Also, in similar situations, obtain a rebate from your supplier for deceitful actions.

  • Issue: Poor customer service complaints.

Question: We try; we really do try to please the whole surgical staff, the nurses, patients, and the administrative staff of the hospital. But no matter what we do, nothing seems to help. Last month the patient satisfaction surveys said patients did not feel they had a chance to "bond" (give me a break!) with staff. You know our situation. What the heck can we do to bond with our patients better?

Answer: Have pictures taken of all your surgical staff and post them in the waiting rooms with the first name and title. See what happens.

Follow-up: The last two patient satisfaction surveys conducted showed significant improvement in bonding with staff. It’s hard to be critical of someone when you know who he or she is.

  • Issue: Investor relations.

Question: Our surgery center is owned by 12 surgeons who have nothing else going for them. They constantly are coming into my office and asking to see "stats" or wanting to know how much money they are making or how many cases they did and was it over the cases that were budgeted. They bug everyone on staff with questions all the time. What can we do to get them off our backs?

Answer: Hold monthly investor meetings after hours. Using presentation graphics software, present all the stats and numbers as compared to budget for every possible line item. (Do not use handouts; people will read while you are talking.) Put a bar graph outside your office of all other indicators you are now monitoring.

Follow-up: This advice worked! After a few months of investor meetings, most had had their fill of numbers and left staff alone. However, find ways to keep investors engaged at your center as a way of recognizing the role they play in your center’s success.

  • Issue: Storage space.

Question: We have no room in our surgery center to use the bathroom. Yesterday, we had to move boxes into stalls in the women’s locker room. (We couldn’t use the men’s!) We have to move boxes aside to use the toilet. This center is far too small with no room left for files or patient records. We cannot expand; we’re in a stand-alone building that’s maxed out. What can we do?

Answer: Consider renting a unit in one of the climate-controlled storage buildings. You could rent a 10’ x 30’ space for $200 per month.

Follow-up: The center moved nonsensitive material to storage unit to make room for patient records. Make sure anything you store off-site is in a climate-controlled space. Heat and humidity can rot paper and eat thru metal quickly.

(Editor’s note: Earnhart & Associates is an ambulatory surgery consulting firm specializing in all aspects of surgery center development and management. Do you have any questions? Contact Earnhart at 8303 MoPac, Suite C–146. Austin, TX 78759. E-mail: searnhart@earnhart.com. Web: www.earnhart.com.)