Can Small Businesses Benefit From Big Data?

Last week’s blog post about targeting your clients spoke a lot about using your data, but from where are you collecting this data to use when planning your marketing?  In a perfect world a multitude of data accumulated by other individuals would be at your fingertips. Your job would be to merely sift through the data choosing the marketing pieces with the highest return on investment, determine a budget and make a plan. How easy would that be? You could probably plan an entire years worth of marketing in under an hour.

Good News, Bad News

The bad news is that in most markets, even in the franchise realm data gathered far and wide is often too vague for anyone to rely on at the local level. This doesn’t mean that you should discount the data provided by these larger entities. Use their data to spot trends, but collect your own data to make decisions about your business.

Big Data

From Forbes

Large corporations regularly use big data to get insight on consumer behavior, target their marketing and to boost revenue. But small businesses typically do little with big data. Until now, most owners have considered it too difficult, too expensive and just plain intimidating.

That’s changing. These days an increasing number of small businesses are collecting and crunching volumes of data to lift their sales.

“Small businesses shouldn’t be scared off by big data,” says Steve King, partner at Emergent Research. The growth of the Internet, wireless networks, smartphones, social media, sensors and other digital technology is fueling a big data revolution. Big data was the exclusive domain of statisticians and large corporations but not anymore.”

What can a small business do with big data?

For a start, it can boost efficiency and sales.

King gives an example. The Spillers Group, a company that owns three restaurants in Dallas, uses a data application called Roambi that enables it to share among management all the business information it collects, including point-of-sale data, labor metrics and accounting numbers. With Roambi, Spillers can link managers’ pay to their restaurant’s performance. The app has also cut Spillers’ labor costs 10%, saving thousands of dollars every two weeks.

“Before their data was a hodgepodge,” King says. “They had sales data in one place, supply data in another place and staffing data in another—and they never looked at how to bring them all together. So they were inefficient when it came to scheduling and supplies. When they brought the data together they discovered quickly they could cut costs by making minor changes. That’s a huge win.”

Small businesses that use data intelligently can do business better.

They can improve pricing and just-in-time supply chains. They can find cheaper suppliers that are closer to their location and that offer more price transparency. Small businesses can also use data to tailor products and services to individual customers.

Businesses can identify key customers and treat them better.

They can understand customer patterns, know when they’re likely to come in and reward them for multiple visits. “All this big data is helping to level the playing field for small businesses,” King says. “Even though the field is still tilted in favor of big business, big data is a way for small business to fight back. A lot of this stuff is made easy for small business, like Google GOOG -2.3% Analytics. You don’t have to be a data scientist to use these tools and get good insights.”

Why Data is Important

The more you know about each of your leads, the faster you can zoom in on the strongest prospects, engaging them with content that’s personally meaningful to them.

  • Quickly identify and rectify problems
  • Data can be used to decide which products and services should be marketed and which should be eliminated.
  • Aids in assessing employee performance

Accumulating data is a necessary evil. The alternative is to run your practice on a wing and prayer, which is not a strategy we’d recommend.

Using Data in Your Marketing

Let’s start by deciding whose data you’re going to use when planning your marketing. In a perfect world a multitude of data accumulated by other individuals would be at your fingertips. Your job would be to merely sift through the data choosing the marketing pieces with the highest return on investment (ROI), determine a budget and make a plan. How easy would that be, heck you could probably plan an entire years worth of marketing in under an hour.

Good News, Bad News

The bad news is that in most markets, even in the franchise realm data gathered far and wide is often too vague for anyone to rely on at the local level. This doesn’t mean that you should discount the data provided by these larger entities. Use their data to spot trends, but collect your own data to make decisions about your business.

Big Data

From Forbes

Large corporations regularly use big data to get insight on consumer behavior, target their marketing and to boost revenue. But small businesses typically do little with big data. Until now, most owners have considered it too difficult, too expensive and just plain intimidating.

That’s changing. These days an increasing number of small businesses are collecting and crunching volumes of data to lift their sales.

“Small businesses shouldn’t be scared off by big data,” says Steve King, partner at Emergent Research. The growth of the Internet, wireless networks, smartphones, social media, sensors and other digital technology is fueling a big data revolution. Big data was the exclusive domain of statisticians and large corporations but not anymore.”

What can a small business do with big data?

For a start, it can boost efficiency and sales

King gives an example. The Spillers Group, a company that owns three restaurants in Dallas, uses a data application called Roambi that enables it to share among management all the business information it collects, including point-of-sale data, labor metrics and accounting numbers. With Roambi, Spillers can link managers’ pay to their restaurant’s performance. The app has also cut Spillers’ labor costs 10%, saving thousands of dollars every two weeks.

“Before their data was a hodgepodge,” King says. “They had sales data in one place, supply data in another place and staffing data in another—and they never looked at how to bring them all together. So they were inefficient when it came to scheduling and supplies. When they brought the data together they discovered quickly they could cut costs by making minor changes. That’s a huge win.”

Small businesses that use data intelligently can do business better

They can improve pricing and just-in-time supply chains. They can find cheaper suppliers that are closer to their location and that offer more price transparency. Small businesses can also use data to tailor products and services to individual customers.

Businesses can identify key customers and treat them better

They can understand customer patterns, know when they’re likely to come in and reward them for multiple visits. “All this big data is helping to level the playing field for small businesses,” King says. “Even though the field is still tilted in favor of big business, big data is a way for small business to fight back. A lot of this stuff is made easy for small business, like Google GOOG -2.3% Analytics. You don’t have to be a data scientist to use these tools and get good insights.”

Why Data is Important

    • The more you know about each of your leads, the faster you can zoom in on the strongest prospects, engaging them with content that’s personally meaningful to them.
    • Quickly identify and rectify problems
    • Data can be used to decide which products and services should be marketed and which should be eliminated.
    • Aids in assessing employee performance

Accumulating data is a necessary evil. The alternative is to run your practice on a wing and prayer, not a strategy we’d recommend.

 

 

 

Understanding Your P&L

The question, “What is a profit and loss statement, which we’ll call a P&L and why do I need to look at it?” comes up often enough that a brief explanation is in order. One thing that I’m always amazed by is the willingness of healthcare professionals to open a practice with very little formal business training. Your passion for helping others probably got you into this business, but your ability to run your businesses successfully is what keeps you in business.

Many owners may be in business for years before they see a P&Lt. Even if someone else is taking care of your bookkeeping or accounting, it is vital to understand this tool. It’s your gauge for knowing how successful the business is, and it provides great information for setting goals. It can show trends that warn when the business is failing. It can also give you clues about how your business can grow.

Understanding Your P&L

The most basic function of a P&L is to determine your gross profit and net profit. Gross profit is the difference between cost of goods sold and total sales. Net profit is the difference between your gross profit and total expenses. Net profit is the bottom-line dollar amount that the business earns at the end of the day.

A P&L can usually be generated electronically through accounting systems such as QuickBooks or Peachtree. Your accountant can also generate one based on the information you provide. Usually a P&L begins with your income. Details are helpful here. For example, you can break down each sales category separately to serve your needs. I suggest creating categories for hearing aids, hearing tests (sub categorized if your office provides specialty testing), ALDs, Ancillary Care Products, Repairs.

The next category is the cost of goods sold. This is how much you pay for your products for resale. The breakdown of your cost-of-goods-sold categories should mirror your sales categories. That way you can calculate individual gross margins for each category.

Again, subtracting the cost of goods sold from your total income will leave you with your gross profit. This is how much money you have made before expenses.

It is extremely important to list all of your expenses. Some of your basic fixed expenses will be utilities, rent and insurance. These are expenses that should remain consistent and that you have limited control over. It is also important to have your variable expenses listed. These are expenses that in many cases you can control. Some of these would be advertising costs, travel and entertainment, and charitable contributions. By tracking your variable expenses, you have the ability to help your company be more profitable. If the practice’s gross margin declines for some reason, these expenses can be reduced.

Some of the other standard expenses that will show up on a P&L are labor costs, professional fees and office supplies. These again are expenses that can be reduced when the practice’s profits are not in line with the owner’s goals.

Last but not least, don’t forget to create categories for any additional expenses that come through the business such as licenses, dues and subscriptions, and postage and shipping. Interest on loans that you pay, or bad debts you can’t collect, should also be added to your profit and loss statement.

When to Review Your P&L

Finally, get into the habit of viewing your P&L at the beginning of the month, mid-month and at the end of the month. Doing so will help you to use your P&L to accomplish three very important things.

  • Plan
  • Problem Solve
  • Analyze

Reading this was probably a painful process. There’s only so much humor you can inject into any article related to Accounting. I hope you made it all the way to the end and I hope if you haven’t looked at your P&L in a very long time (or ever) you do so now.

A List of Protected Health Information

So many people still find it confusing to determine what is and what isn’t “protected health information” or “PHI”, that this list bears repeating.

Protected health information (PHI) refers to individually identifiable health information. Individually identifiable health information is that which can be linked to a particular person. Specifically, this information can relate to:

  • The individual’s past, present or future physical or mental health or condition
  • The provision of health care to the individual
  • The past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to the individual
  • Common identifiers of health information include:
  • Names (first and last together)
  • Street number, street name, city, zip code (last 2 digits)
  • Dates that link to an individual i.e. date of birth
  • Phone or fax number
  • Email address
  • Social security number
  • Medical record number
  • Health insurance member number
  • Account numbers
  • Certificate or license numbers
  • Vehicle identifiers and serial numbers
  • Device identifiers and serial numbers i.e. Hearing aid serial numbers
  • URLs
  • IP addresses
  • Biometric indicators (Finger, retinal and voice prints)
  • Photos
  • Any unique identifying number, characteristic or code

The HIPAA Security Rule applies to individual identifiable health information in electronic form or electronic protected health information (ePHI). It is intended to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI when it is stored, maintained, or transmitted.

What Key Components Should You Measure in Your Practice?

The success or failure of a business is dependent on a variety of factors.  By monitoring several key components of your practice, you can gauge the overall health of your practice on a weekly and a monthly basis.

Often times, practices do not reach their full potential for reasons the practice owner cannot clearly explain.  The problem with this scenario is that when the practice suffers a downturn, not only does the owner not see the downturn coming, but they’re also unsure why or how to resolve the problem if they can even identify what the problem may be. The other side is equally important. If you are reaching your goals but do not understand how or why then how do you know if you will reach them in the future?

For example, it’s the middle of the month and your goal is to sell 20 hearing aids, currently you’ve sold 5. There are a total of 10 hearing tests scheduled through the end of the month.  You know that the audiologist has a 70% closure ratio and an 80% binaural ratio.  What does all that mean?  It means that you can anticipate that those ten people will result in 11 hearing aids.

Is this an exact science, no?  But let’s say you had 3 hearing tests scheduled through the end of the month.  Based on the numbers above you could anticipate only 3 hearing aids to be sold by months end.  At this point you could pray for a miracle or know that something will need to be done to get at least 7 more people into the office by the end of the month.

This is when all the other programs begin to make sense.  If your recall program is working, let the recall person know that you need 7 more people. Or view your marketing data and drop an ad that has, in the past garnered 7 patients (keeping in mind your budget and any timelines).  Or ideally initiate a combination of the two programs.  Either way you are being proactive.

Sitting on the sidelines crossing your fingers and hoping it all works out may have been your mantra in the past, but in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace that’s not really a very good idea.

 

 

 

What Belongs in a Patient’s Medical Record?

Proper documentation of a patient’s medical record is a boring topic.  However, before Medicare audits your practice, it might be a good time to review your protocol for clinical documentation. Below is the clinical documentation protocol recommended by the American Medical Association.

Clinical Documentation Guidelines

1. The medical record should be complete and legible.

2. The documentation of each patient encounter should include: the date; the reason for the encounter; appropriate history and physical exam; review of lab, x-ray data and other ancillary services, where appropriate; assessment; and plan for care (including discharge plan, if appropriate).

3. Past and present diagnoses should be accessible to the treating and/or consulting physician.

4. The reasons for and results of x-rays, lab tests, and other ancillary services should be documented or included in the medical record.

5. Relevant health risk factors should be identified.

6. The patient’s progress, including response to treatment, change in treatment, change in diagnosis, and patient non-compliance, should be documented.

7. The written plan for care should include, when appropriate: treatments and medications, specifying frequency and dosage; referrals and consultations; patient/family education; and specific instructions for follow-up.

8. The documentation should support the intensity of the patient evaluation and/or treatment, including thought processes and the complexity of medical decision-making.

9. All entries to the medical record should be dated and authenticated.

10. The CPT/ICD codes reported on the health insurance claim form or billing statement should reflect the documentation in the medical record.

Source: Principles of Medical Record Documentation, 1992, American Health Information Management Association, American Hospital Association, American Managed Care and Review Association, American Medical Association, American Medical Peer Review Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and Health Insurance Association of America.

 

10 Best Apps for Small Business Owners

Apps

Nowadays just about every business owner has a smart phone.  If you don’t own a smartphone stop reading right now.  If you do are you utilizing all the capabilities of your phone? With the use of these apps, your phone has the potential to become your office on the go.  For now, let’s narrow the focus of the enormous quantity of apps available for most platforms.

These apps are in no particular order. With the exception of Evernote, I personally use every single one of these apps (and I’m thinking about downloading Evernote as soon as I’m done with this article.

  1. Dropbox. This free, cloud-based, file-storing service lets you bring your photos, docs and videos anywhere and share them easily with your laptop or mobile device. Move all your files to the cloud so you can access them from any device, anywhere. You can also interface with your team to share files, which provides great version control and cuts down on e-mail.
  2. Skype.  Need to work remotely but want to stay in touch with your staff?  This app features not only video calls, but also voice and text. Rather than using a hotel’s business center and racking up the long-distance phone charges, more and more small business owners are finding Skype’s mobile app a cost-efficient alternative.
  3. Pandora.  Pandora is free personalized internet radio.  Simply enter a favorite artist, track, comedian or genre, and Pandora will create a personalized station that plays their music and more like it. Rate songs by giving thumbs-up and thumbs-down feedback and add variety to further refine your stations, discover new music and help Pandora play only music you love.  It’s scary smart. Ok, this isn’t really business, but more for when you need a little break.
  4. Documents To Go (iPhone users only and I love this). While the iPhone allows you to read and view Microsoft Office documents, it doesn’t allow you to create or edit them. However with the help of Documents To Go you can do everything from creating a Word document while you’re on the road, to tweaking your sales forecast in Excel.  There are several versions…The Premium version is the way to go (it’s $5 more than the Office Suite version…not a deal breaker).
  5. Evernote.  (Okay, I’ll admit it, I don’t use this one) Evernote is an easy-to-use, free app that helps you remember everything across all of the devices you use. Stay organized, save your ideas, and improve productivity. Evernote lets you take notes, capture photos, create to-do lists, record voice reminders–and makes these notes completely searchable, whether you are at work, or on the go.
  6. Remember the Milk.  Remember the Milk’s got a great name, and the app works like a regular to-do list — you add tasks and then you can mark them complete. You can even set priorities. There’s no leaving the list at the office or at home since you can check it on any device. The syncing of the list is almost instantaneous — add something on the web and it will appear on the iPhone or Android right away.
  7. CardMunch.  Take a picture of a business card and a contact is automatically created on your smartphone. Reduce the clutter and get organized.
  8. Pocket.  The app formerly known as “Read It Later,” let’s you drag any content to your Pocket where it’s automatically synched with the web and all your devices. It’s simply the best place to store and access content you want to read at a later time. You don’t have to be connected to read the content, so it’s great for long plane rides.
  9. Quickbooks.  Is now available on the cloud based accounting system.  It allows you to organize your business all in one place to handle a variety of financial tasks that can be accessed at home or on the go. You can record sales data in a very effective manner, create estimates for clients and send them invoices. QuickBooks is available for iPhones and Android devices.
  10. Scanner.  Scanner applications allow you to scan documents, receipts, whiteboards, business cards, notes, etc. and save them to your mobile device. This application allows you to adjust the file size and resolution, delete and reorder pages, preview the pdf version, and fax the documents to US numbers.

 

Time Management, What Does That Mean?

There is no such thing as “Time Management”, you get 24 hours every day, the same as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. We can’t change that. What’s more realistic or appropriate to say is “Task Management”. There’s a big difference between the two and if you view it that way you’ll utilize your day more effectively and efficiently.

Piles of information flow into your office on a daily basis. Clutter creates chaos and chaos drains time, money and energy. When we’re faced with chaos we’re more likely to waste time.  We waste time looking for information that should be at our fingertips, reading a few important e-mails along with a few jokes passed on by friends and colleagues, looking for a phone message that you know you saw on your desk and so on. It is a reality that everyday all of us are guilty of wasting time in some way. Lately, for me, it’s been the distraction of Pinterest!

It’s a reality that all of us could be more organized and more productive. Below are some ideas you can use to create a system for handling everything that crosses everyone’s desk. If necessary allot time each day to sort through information before it overwhelms you and your staff.

Mail Boxes/Letter Trays

Each staff member should have a clearly labeled place where key information can be disseminated.  Messages, information, etc. placed on a chair or desktop can easily be lost or misplaced.

Mail and Faxes

Staff should be trained to sort the incoming mail.  One person should be responsible on a daily basis.  (Cross-train an additional staff member as a back up.)  Accounts receivable information should go directly to the person in charge of receivables.  The same should apply to payables.  Technical data should go to one Audiologist who is responsible for cataloging the data, disbursing the information to others and disposing of dated technical information and software.

Voice Mail/Texts

Message books that allow for duplicate messages should be utilized.  Messages should be placed in the appropriate mailbox.  The ability of staff members to send and receive texts should be kept to a minimum.  It’ll keep the personal texting opportunities to a minimum.

E-Mail

Each employee is responsible for sorting his or her own e-mail.  E-mail should be reviewed daily a set amount of times a day depending on the amount your office receives.  Frequently checking and responding to e-mails, interrupts your ability to complete other, more important tasks. Checking e-mail once an hour for a very busy office (busy, meaning frequent e-mails, not lots of people coming and going.) to every two hours for the average business, down to once a day for a very slow office should be sufficient.  Folders should be established in the computer to sort and store e-mails that need to be saved.  The owner should have access to all employee e-mail and periodically review what their employees are sending and receiving.

Phone Messages

The staff should be trained to prioritize telephone messages by source and content.  There should then be a system in place that allows for the recipient of important messages to be notified.

Reports

Whenever a professional refers a patient; a report should be generated in a timely fashion, preferably within 48 hours.  A simplified “STAT” should be available which can be completed during the patient visit.

Social Media

If you have facebook, twitter, LinkedIn or any other number of social media avenues, do not ignore them.  One person from your office should be responsible for monitoring and responding to these channels once a day (no more).  The lure to “look around” for just a short time has probably become the number one way many people waste time on a daily basis.

Make sure you periodically review a few important areas to make sure nothing is slipping through the cracks.  For example…

  • Are the employees handling the correspondence that your office sends and receives efficiently?
  • Is outgoing correspondence sent out in timely fashion?
  • Does the staff know what correspondence should be considered urgent?
  • Do you periodically review how your office sends and receives information looking for opportunity costs?

Now, what happens to “Task Management” when Murphy’s Law rears its ugly head?  This is when the ability of you and your staff to prioritize and re-prioritize will be critically important.

One reason people fail in at managing their employees is because they’re not able to determine (and relay that information to their staff) what is the most important and what is the least important task.   Adding to the confusion is that the priority of tasks can change at any moment.  It’s imperative that whatever system you use be able to immediately adjust and that the changing information be relayed to your staff.

Develop a “flagging” method, or assign tasks numbers like 1, 2, and 3, or letters like A, B, C, to determine what is a priority and what is not. Train yourself to do the A’s before the B’s and so on.  A better idea is to use a software based system that is networkable.

Available software programs are limitless.  The folks at appstorm compiled a great chart comparing the top ten web based task managers . Personally I use “remember the milk”.  It allows me to keep track of a multitude of personal and professional tasks.  These lists can constantly evolve and be shared amongst staff members so that everyone is on the same page regarding the days “to do” list and the priority of everything on the list.

You would be surprised at the amount of things that can be accomplished in a day when the “to do” list is structured, flexible and corresponds to what actually needs to happen over the course of the day.  If you’re lucky you’ll free up a few minutes so you can join me on Pinterest!