Adaptability: A New Must in Management and Practice Ownership

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By J. Patrick Kinzeler, MBA*

One of the silver linings to the COVID-19 pandemic has been time. Time to reflect on the important things in life, time to consider how we all move forward, and time to consider some of the lessons we have learned over the years.

The other morning, I was sitting in my relatively quiet office preparing a managers’ Zoom meeting. The burning questions since the beginning of COVID-19 have been “What are we going to do?”, “How do we get out of this?”, and “Are we going to be alright?” In pondering these questions, I took a moment and thought back through my past 22 years as a practice administrator in private practice. After a thoughtful trip down memory lane I realized my topic of focus for our managers meeting had to be adaptability.

COVID-19 has been painful and we are yet to fully understand its true impact, but it is not the first and certainly won’t be the last obstacle we will have to adapt to and overcome to keep moving forward. During my reflection time, memories of managing through other challenging times came up: Y2K, 9/11, the 2008 market crash, conversions from paper to EMRs (electronic medical records), reimbursement cuts, PQRS (Physician Quality Reporting System), FLR (Functional Limitation Reporting), ICD-10, MIPS (Merit Based Incentive Payment System), health care consolidation, and the list goes on. The fact of the matter is the world is changing at a faster pace now than it ever has and it is picking up speed. To manage in this environment, adaptability will be an extremely valuable and defining managerial asset.

Using adaptability as the focus point for the meeting, we would use short-term strategic planning as the topic to demonstrate this skill set. Typically, you can build a short-term strategic plan (6-12 months) with a certain degree of confidence and stability. We know our key operating metrics, we have an understanding of legislative and industry changes on the horizon, and, generally speaking, there is a certain rhythm we can lean on to support our plans. Our plan likely has a good chance of success, and variance doesn’t seem to play much into the game. Then comes along COVID-19 or some other unplanned massive disruption.

Now, your operating metrics are all blown out of proportion, legislation is changing multiple times weekly with little to no guidance, your team is in disarray and panicked, your budget has been reduced to survival expenditures only, and workload is dwindling to historic lows. Short-term strategic planning has just gone from a state of “set it and forget it” to a chess match that requires constant adaptations. Amidst this chess game, by adapting quickly and effectively on the operating level, we can realize long-term adaptations that will strengthen our practices and open up future opportunities.

Experience has taught us that situations like this highlight policy, procedures, and systems that are inefficient. If we adapt, we come out of this situation a stronger leaner practice. It forces us, as uncomfortable as it might be, to make decisions that will be good for the practice in both the short and long term. These events test our communication skills and ability to manage conflict. Events like this teach us resilience and appreciation for the simpler troubles of yesterday. It forces us and our teams to reconsider our commitment to our mission and purpose. But only if we can adapt.
As they say, this too shall pass, and 20 years from now someone else will be using COVID-19 as a reflection point on managing through difficult times. In the meantime, adapt. Make the changes needed to survive today, tomorrow, and next week. Recognize the opportunities this event is affording us so we are better in years to come.

J. Patrick Kinzeler

J. Patrick Kinzeler, MBA, is a Partner in Elite Therapy Solutions in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at patrickk@elitetherapysolutions.net.

*The author has a professional affiliation with this subject.