Peggy Martinez of Fire Starter Healthcare Consulting: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Private Practice
There comes a time when a physician or healthcare provider must realize that assistance is needed to help maintain the day-to-day operations of the practice. This is usually when they feel like they spend more time on the operational aspects of the practice rather than actually taking care of patients. Hiring the right team is paramount to any practice’s success. A thoughtful and calculated approach to hiring, training and developing clinical and administrative staff is an absolute top priority.
As a part of our interview series with prominent medical professionals called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Private Practice” I had the pleasure of interviewing Peggy Martinez.
Peggy Martinez is an experienced medical practice administrator and operational architect who specializes in helping physician practices, large or small, new or growth-challenged, to achieve optimal operational effectiveness.
In her 25+ years of healthcare, Peggy has organized and managed medical practice organizations ranging from small private practices to 20+ provider organizations to ambulatory hospital settings. This depth of experience combines with her keen ability to identify problems that she couples with strong solutions management experience.
With a focus on enhancing business operations, Peggy smooths operations, builds efficient infrastructure, and positions her client practices for growth while allowing the doctors to be clinicians unburdened with administrative problems.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?
My career in healthcare started after I volunteered at The Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado in 1984. I did not yet have a career path and I was drawn to a place that was focused on taking care of children and their families. They had a clear mission and vision and it ignited a passion for wanting to plant myself and grow in the industry. I was young and unexperienced. I started at the front desk of a small outpatient clinic and was quickly groomed and promoted to a leadership role. The rest is, as the saying goes, history.
I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?
Every step I have taken on my healthcare journey has provided me a mentor. These are physician leaders that have recognized my talents and were supportive in helping me succeed. Each of them took time to teach me what I needed to know, gave me opportunities to learn what I didn’t know and allowed me to grow exponentially while working with them. Dr. Deborah Hayes of the Audiology, Speech and Learning department told me she felt I was capable of running the department after only 6 months. Dr. James Shira of the Medical Surgical Specialties Clinic believed I could manage the largest outpatient clinic at The Children’s Hospital and gave me the opportunity to prove it. Dr. Stephen Ruyle of Colorado Urology Associates/The Urology Center of Colorado had faith that I could become their first Office Manager and then years later become the Chief Operating Officer. The most valuable lesson I learned was that they saw my potential. It taught me to see my own potential and to look for the potential in others.
What made you want to start your own practice? Can you tell us the story of how you started it?
I am not a physician owner but I have worked in private practice since 1995. I believe so strongly that physicians should have the option to be independent and have a private practice, if they so desire. In 2004 I had the privilege of being part of team of physicians and professionals that took the idea of opening the region’s only all-inclusive urology center from conception to reality in 2 years. It started so that we could provide a higher level of patient care and give patients a place to get as many services under one roof as possible. The physicians wanted to establish a better work-life balance for themselves and their staff.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting story that has happened to me was when I sat around a conference table with 18 physicians and the CEO to work together day in and day out to effectively operate a practice that had a 60,000 square foot building, over 100 employees, and ancillary services to rival a small medical center. Most times we had a common goal but needed to have difficult conversations. I was the only woman among this group. My opinion was respected and sought after, even if not popular. Obviously, it had many challenges and struggles but when focused on a common goal to succeed we persevered.
Because it is a “helping profession”, some healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization.” How do you address the business aspect of running a medical practice? Can you share a story or example?
I am not a physician or a physician owner of a practice so I cannot address this from that perspective. I support physician owners being active and involved in the financial side of the business. I think it is vitally important that they understand and are part of the financial decisions. I also think that when the time comes for them to need assistance in this area that they recruit highly ethical and experienced professionals to help them. If the practice is growing, as it should, they may not have the time needed for all the details. However, the details need attention and oversight.
Managing being a provider and a business owner is a constant balancing act. How do you manage both roles?
I’m working with a physician now who is facing this challenge and I strongly encourage him to hire staff that can support him in the day-to-day operations. This can then leave him the time to focus on patient care and the higher-level business matters.
From completing your degree to opening a practice and becoming a business owner, your path was most likely challenging. Can you share a story about one of your greatest struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?
This is not applicable to me in the context you’ve asked the question, however, all roles have struggles. My biggest struggle has been when there is a division between groups of people that are facing important decisions. Consensus cannot always be reached and sometime the majority may prevail but it may cause upset and dissension. Strong leadership and communication are vital during these times.
Ok, thank you. Here is the main question of our interview. What are the 5 things you need to know to create a thriving practice, and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I approach this topic from a non-clinical perspective. I have worked in healthcare operations and administration for 25+ years. In that time, I have learned how to execute key areas of successful medical practice operations for practices that range in size and scope.
I firmly believe that it is important for all physicians and healthcare providers to know the fundamental requirements of running a private practice because in the end it is their business. However, I also believe strongly that physicians and healthcare providers ultimately want to fulfill their desire to care for patients.
I have found that there are fundamental operational processes that need to be established and maintained for any size of healthcare organization to be successful and thrive.
A practice, whether new or established; small or large must have a strong operational foundation. The foundation must contain the cornerstones of staff, leadership, governance and processes. These cornerstones are what everything will be built upon.
First, there comes a time when a physician or healthcare provider must realize that assistance is needed to help maintain the day-to-day operations of the practice. This is usually when they feel like they spend more time on the operational aspects of the practice rather than actually taking care of patients. Hiring the right team is paramount to any practice’s success. A thoughtful and calculated approach to hiring, training and developing clinical and administrative staff is an absolute top priority.
Second, hiring, coaching, mentoring and supporting strong leaders will be the difference between having a mediocre practice and having a strong and wildly successful practice. I believe that it is important to know the difference between managers and leaders. Any organization needs both managers and leaders but ultimately your success will shine when you have strong leaders working at all levels and in all departments of your practice.
Third, running a medical practice can be daunting when you realize what is required from a financial, legal and regulatory standpoint. Having strong governance is imperative to the long-term viability of a practice. Having people in your organization that have expertise in compliance and regulatory is a must. These can be outsourced, third party or on your own staff. This includes everything from credentialing, contracting, HIPAA, OSHA, CLIA, Human Resources and many others. Running a private practice can be fraught with legal and regulatory requirements and lack of awareness as a reason for not complying never satisfies an auditor.
Fourth, thousands of articles, books, podcasts, etc. have been written on “how to” establish processes! This is true for any industry. This is especially important in private practice. Evaluating and analyzing operations and then developing standard operating procedures must be a high priority for any practice. This is especially important in the highlighted areas of financial, legal and regulatory mentioned in the previous paragraph. It is true for us when hiring and training staff. It is especially true if needing to do performance improvement with staff. It is difficult to hold staff accountable when they are not aware of the standards of behavior and expectations. The more standardized a practice’s operations can be developed, the less the physician or healthcare provider will need to worry about the day-to-day functions of their practice.
Fifth, it is so fundamental but often overlooked. You must build the foundation first. Once the foundation has been built you can start building the rest of the “house”. I use this analogy because it is easy to visualize. If the foundation is strong you can start to envision your growth. You can focus on business development or expansion. You can add new services. It might mean you can start spending more time with patients or start seeing more patients. You can start to really “practice” your calling as a physician or healthcare provider.
I am passionate about understanding operations of a private practice so that they are not overwhelming, overlooked or burdensome. I want to see private practice be an option for any physician or healthcare provider that wants to stay independent. I strive to have everyone working in the practice to be positive and have a culture of providing excellence.
I understand that the healthcare industry has unique stresses and hazards that other industries don’t have. What specific practices would you recommend to other healthcare leaders to improve their physical or mental wellness? Can you share a story or example?
I have found that staying connected and in touch with the people that work with you can lessen the stress of the healthcare workplace. You must care about the people that work with and for you. I believe that keeping everyone informed of what is happening will lessen their stress, thus lessening your stress.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
My own personal life lesson quote is “Know the difference between righteous and self-righteous — and always strive to be righteous.” This manifested itself in me as I learned what it truly meant to be a leader. All the cliches work here but in essence they are what this quote means to me. “Walk the talk.” “Act like someone is watching.” “Do the right thing even when it’s difficult.” I work to apply this in my life situations, both professional and personal.
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Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success and good health!