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Fam Pract Manag. 2002 Nov-Dec;9(10):78.

The cost of office equipment

Q

Office equipment – such as copiers, fax machines and printers – seems to be quite expensive, especially when you factor in maintenance and repair costs. How can I ensure that I purchase the most cost-effective office equipment?

You'll need to determine the total cost per page of the office equipment you're considering and then compare it with several models. You may find that the most expensive machine has the lowest cost per page, since the least expensive machines often have higher ongoing costs. You can find cost-per-page information by looking at the manufacturer's product specifications or by contacting the manufacturer or sales representative directly. The cost per page should include the purchase price (or total lease costs) of the equipment, maintenance costs, toner, supplies and major replacement parts, such as a drum. Product features (e.g., sorting and double-sided copying) add to the cost, so make sure these features are necessary for staff efficiency and practice operations. A reasonable cost per page for copiers is about 3 to 7 cents (digital copiers are usually less expensive). A reasonable cost per page for printers and fax machines is usually 5 to 9 cents per page.

Acceptable overhead

Q

In terms of practice overhead, what is considered acceptable and unacceptable? I'm about to start looking for a practice to join and would like to know how much of a practice's revenue should go toward overhead.

Knowing a practice's overhead can help you monitor trends in expenses, but there is no litmus test for deciding whether the number is reasonable. Before you sign a contract, it may be more useful to ask what the other physicians earn rather than what their overhead is. Would you prefer to work in a practice with 40 percent overhead and earn $100,000 or a practice with 60 percent overhead and earn $200,000? Obviously, the bottom line is more important.

That said, you may still be interested in some ballpark overhead figures. Practice overhead (which usually includes nonphysician employment costs, occupancy costs, supplies, professional liability insurance and phone and answering-service expenses) generally runs from 40 percent to 60 percent of the practice's total revenue. In terms of dollars, $80,000 of overhead per physician is pretty typical, but this number can vary greatly. For example, having a midlevel provider in the practice would increase the overhead, but the income generated by this provider would also increase the bottom line.

Patient satisfaction survey

Q

I'm looking for a brief patient satisfaction survey to use in my solo practice. Can you suggest one that has proven to be effective in another family practice?

In my solo practice, I have been using a shortened version of the Dartmouth COOP patient viewpoint tool, which was modified by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in the Idealized Design of Clinical Office Practices project. My version is a half-page long and asks four questions:

  • How would you rate the length of time you spent waiting in the office? (Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair or Poor),

  • How would you rate the amount of time you spent with the doctor? (Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair or Poor),

  • How would you rate your satisfaction with the length of time you waited to get your appointment today? (Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair or Poor),

  • Did you get the help that you expected from today's visit? (More than what I expected, What I expected, Less than what I expected, Not sure).

Every other month, I print out 10 copies of the survey, put them onto a clipboard with a pen and place them on one of the patient chairs in my exam room. At the conclusion of each of the next 10 visits, I ask the patient to take a moment to fill out the survey and put it into a large manila envelope. Then I tally the responses and put them into a spreadsheet program that allows me to graph the results over time. The tallying and graphing take about 10 minutes. No single data point says very much, but the trend over time is telling. This data is just enough to tell me how I'm doing in very general terms (think of it like taking a patient's temperature – if the measurement is off target, it is time to delve).


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Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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