Co-founder of Kansas Pain Management discusses AI, patient experience and physician burnout

Mahoua Ray, MD, is co-founder and executive director of Kansas Pain Management and Kansas Anesthesiology Professionals, as well as chief pain officer at Menorah Medical Center and treasurer of the Kansas Society of Interventional Pain Management.

Dr. Ray will serve on the panel “Budget Planning for 2023 and Beyond: Capital Investments, Staffing and More” at Becker’s annual ASC meeting. As part of the ongoing series, Becker’s is speaking with health care leaders who plan to speak at the conference 27-29. October in Chicago.

To learn more and register, click here.

Q: What’s the smartest thing you’ve done in the past year to start your organization up for success?

Mahoua Ray: I think the smartest thing was to start going out with the ASC admin and the nurse manager every week. Before that we only met maybe once a month and then we had quarterly meetings. With staff turnover, things changed quite quickly. At the beginning of last year it was kind of the end of COVID and then in December 2021 there was a big shortage of Omicron. So I got to be involved in those rounds, and that really helped meā€”just going through the ASCs, talking to them, looking at the policies and patient satisfaction surveys, talking about where staff will leave and how we’re going to anticipate any staff shortages.

Q: What are you most excited about right now and what makes you nervous?

MR: I’m really excited that we now have better staff after a long time; The understaffing seems to be getting better for us here in Kansas. After two years of COVID, I think we are finally getting up to speed.

The thing I’m really nervous about is the reduction in Medicare reimbursements. I’m also nervous about fewer young people going into healthcare; From front office to prior authorization, nurses to LPNs, my sense is that this population is approaching retirement. There aren’t as many younger people going, so I’m a little nervous about the future.

Q: How do you envision growth in the next 12 months?

MR: We want to open another outpatient workplace. That’s pretty much for everyone, but I think we’ve really tried to optimize our prior authorization department so that the patient can be scheduled quickly. If we are going to schedule patients out because of prior authorization, or if prior authorization is denied, we lose patient slots. So potentially there is a waste of space in the ASC – and that’s not a good thing. We’re really working on it, we’re trying to start the prior authorization process as soon as possible, so as soon as the doctor places an order at any of the locations, we’ll start working on it.

We have hired more nurse practitioners where they can get patients for office visits if prior authorization is denied. It is very difficult for us to do peer-to-peer; it’s hard to schedule, it’s hard for doctors to be free, so usually our strategy is to get them on their next office visit to look at the denial letter and then document everything they need to, line by line.

Obviously, like everyone else, we want to open more locations. But the thing that’s different from the last few years about the growth is that I feel like if we can accelerate and optimize our previous permits, that’s going to help a lot.

Q: What will healthcare managers and leaders need to be effective leaders in the next five years?

MR: There’s one thing I think medicine is way behind on: we’re not incorporating artificial intelligence. I think this one thing that healthcare leaders are going to have to use is used everywhere. For example, there are patients who were at the doctor’s office before COVID, and then COVID happened and they stopped going to the doctor’s office. Now they want to go back, but things have changed around telemedicine and they can’t just get back on track. For example, if we have an AI, it should be able to look at patients and contact them to see if those positions are available in those locations because so many offices were closed during COVID. For example, we had to close several offices in the Lansing area, and those patients didn’t know where to go. If we had artificial intelligence, we could do things differently.

I think we as healthcare leaders need to optimize AI algorithms. Of course it’s complicated, but as doctors or as health professionals, we’re very far in those ways with technology, and I think we’re going to have to incorporate a lot of artificial intelligence in the future.

Another thing is that we are always working on the patient experience. What I realized when I looked at the patient satisfaction surveys and watched our Google reviews, mostly it’s not the doctor experience, it’s the front office experience, it’s the nurse experience. All patients want to feel respected as much as the doctor. I think healthcare leaders really need to push this because we are ultimately here for the patients. Just one or two staff members who might not smile or say something inappropriate can ruin the entire experience for a patient.

Q: What is your strategy for recruiting and retaining great teams?

MR: As a healthcare leader, you must prevent physician burnout. One solution is EMR. You can train scribes, hire scribes, or have patients fill out their portal forms online. The best thing about the patient portal is that the patient fills it in their own language. The patient will write to the portal in his free time; they are much more detailed than what a doctor can get in a short visit. The second thing is that doctors have gone through long years of residency and friendship, so they work hard. But they also need a good amount of time off. We should be generous with medical leave. Sometimes the only way to take time off is to go to a conference, and that shouldn’t be the case. It’s really up to the doctor to decide what they want to do in that time off. After all, we all know that they are very few compared to the number of people they care for. Local and intermittent medical care are never the same; our patients need continuity of care.

Doctors have waited a very long time to get to where they are, that is something we should never forget. They missed many birthday parties, didn’t attend many weddings. Talk to the doctor, listen to him and connect the problems that arise in his career as soon as they start.

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