Views about external consultants tend to fall into two broad camps.
- First, they are “idea-spreaders” who often bring a number of creative thoughts to bear, but without any of them necessarily being very practical.
- Second, they are seen as “force-fitters,” implementing the shareholders’ wishes, usually cost cuts or crisis management.
These views are unfortunate stereotypes and the truth is that an external consultant’s value to a healthcare provider is likely to be proven in different ways. In general terms this is by being a conduit to best-practices in organizations everywhere, both within the healthcare industry and outside it.
When can this be a truly beneficial contribution is for a provider that is already trying to juggle many priorities and can only spare so much time to accept any kind of external input. In this regard, a simple framework to evaluate whether of not to engage a consultant and what to ask of them might be helpful:
When is it Time to Engage a Consultant?
- Are some patient needs not being met?
- Do we fully understand our patient population, both current and prospective?
- Are key processes inefficient or ineffective?
- Is our supply chain optimized?
- Are we struggling to cope with internal or external change?
- Are our employees as goal directed, well-aligned and motivated as they could be?
- Are costs rising, profits falling or cash flows negative?
- Does the business need more capital to change, innovate or grow?
What Should I Ask an External Consultant?
- What knowledge or expertise do you have in understanding customer needs?
- With which markets are you most familiar, and what projects in them have you done?
- What specific operational/process changes have you made and what tangible benefits did these achieve?
- Where do you see the greatest potential for greater efficiency and effectiveness in a business like ours?
- What are the best practices you’ve seen around people and teams
- How are people best motivated in your view?
- Where does scope to cost saving most tend to occur and why?
- If we could find 10% of our budget as additional cash flow where might we be best spending it, in your view?
These question are all designed to help the provider to assess whether a consultant can not only give credible answers to these questions but shows a real appreciation of how they might be practically applied in the environment in which it needs to work.
Dr. Jon Warner
CEO-RX4 Group-The Business of Healthcare
Jon is the CEO of RX4 Group based in Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at Jon@RX4Group.com