Face to Face with Karen Zupko

BC Advantage (BC): Tell us about your career.
Karen Zupko (KZ):
 I joined the American Medical Association in 1973 and was named Director of The Department of Practice Management in 1979. I left my director position at the AMA after 12 years which took a great deal of courage on my part as it came (amongst other things) with a large corner office and 4 weeks of vacation. I left to start a business solo and founded Karen Zupko& Associates (KZA) in 1985. I was lucky to have a lot of encouragement from my best friends.

BC: How did you get your first Clients?
Within six weeks of leaving the AMA, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Indiana called me to train their trainers and speak at regional coding workshops. Then, shortly thereafter, I created the first specialty specific coding workshop for the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. 

Currently my firm's accomplishments span writing, consulting and speaking as well as program development. We have written over 450 articles; contributed to book chapters for Mosby and Clinics books for various specialties.  We created:  The Surgeon's Guide to Hiring Great Staff; Jobs on CD-Rom; Employee Policy Template; Handling Patient Objections; Successfully Talking with Patients About Money and numerous guides to building niche clinical practices in interventional radiology as an example.

BC: How do KZA set themselves apart from competitors?  
KZA is a brand with 22 years of reputation-we have staying power with a noted team of consultants and speakers.  Our team plays like a team-no weak links.  The group besides being very well educated and well-spoken, shares a deep and abiding respect for physicians and the work they do. 

An important thing to note is that we also don't claim to be great at everything.  We focus on particular specialties and excel at all aspects of managing those specialties.

BC: What's changed about the business over the last 20 years?
Amongst other things I would have to say the travel.  Why I remember when going to the airport was fun and even a little glamorous and you could keep your shoes on!   Planes were more on time too.   The skies were friendlier.

When I started my business, we had computers and used Word Perfect.  But, remember, there was no Internet!  No email!  Fast communications were accomplished by using the fax machine or Federal Express.  You had to have print brochures-now we seldom use our print collateral, you direct potential clients to your website.  Ours is constantly under revision and updating and it's a big job.  Visit us at www.karenzupko.com

BC: Have the physician attitudes changed?
Yes, in one way that will be of particular interest to your readers-many, many more now care about coding.  I can remember when only a handful of doctors appreciated the impact that coding could have on their practices income. Those were the days before CCI and other editing programs.  Doctors could list almost any sequence of codes and dollar amounts and be paid.  Times have changed.

BC: Anything else about physician work styles?
There is now wide recognition that the business side of medicine requires careful attention.  Failing to pay attention to personnel, automation, banking and finances results in significant losses.  More physicians than ever are aware of the importance of business know-how.

BC: How have the employee requirements for physician groups changed?
It used to be that there were positions that almost anyone with a high school degree could handle with little to no training. You now have jobs that require sophisticated computer know-how-especially if the practice has an EMR.  Also no one in a practice can be "spacey" about training in coding, billing practices, customer service, and scheduling.  Errors caused by ignorance are very expensive.  

BC: What have been the biggest obstacles in incorporating change with clients?
It has always been people who say, "This is the way we've always done it." When you visit with medical offices personnel about ledger cards and IBM select typewriters and talk about how offices functioned before computers, scanners, printers and high speed copiers, they generally come around.

BC: How do you stay up to date with everything in this business?
It's a challenge. It helps to have colleagues to help stay on top of and in front of the changes in coding, Medicare, computerization, and technology. I love to read so that is easy. 

BC: What the biggest lesson that you've learned?
What my parents told me was true. Be nice to everyone and always do your best work.  Both pieces of business came as a result of reputation and personal referrals.  Being trustworthy in the end-and for me at the beginning of my business has paid off.  

BC: You are on several editorial boards for publications outside of your company. Why the interest?
I graduated with a degree in magazine journalism, so an interest in publishing comes naturally to me. 

BC: What is your primary passion?
I enjoy all aspects of my work; if I didn't, I wouldn't do "it."  It's easier to be successful when you like what you are doing.

BC: What is it that you find rewarding?
It's rewarding when someone says, "I went to a course or you came to my practice and it inspired me to go back to school, learn more or to get to the next level."
That's very pleasurable.

BC: As a senior woman business owner, what advice can you give younger women just getting started?
My pet peeve lately is that business casual has evolved into business sloppy.  I would urge young women who aspire to be business owners and leaders or the staff member who is chosen to present in front of clients-to dress professionally.   The Germans had a saying, "The clothing makes the man."  The same goes for women. To view it from another perspective is that no one wants an "empty suit" as their consultant-that is someone who is dressed nicely but lacking the skills to answer questions. 

BC: So, what are you recommending?
Go the to the nicest store you can afford to shop at and buy a few good pieces that are suitable to wear to work or when you have an opportunity to meet with prospective clients or clients. It's a reality that everyone makes snap judgments about a person they've just met-don't let your appearance be a distraction. 

Also get a book on manners. Learn how to make introductions properly.  Consider rereading a few pointers about table manners. I was recently at a banquet and one of the men at my table began eating the minute he was served instead of waiting until the entire table had their plates. I found that very rude. And, he had on a nice suit.  It's almost like being an imposter. 

BC: Do you have anything to recommend to young career people?
Be aware that email can be a very dangerous communication technique.  Many young people forget that a casual remark when made in front of a person with tone of voice or body language-might not offend.  That same remark made in an email has the power to be very destructive.

If you are angry and write an email-don't send it. Save it and reread it in the morning.  You'll probably want to edit it or delete it entirely. Fighting or arguing via the Internet is not the right venue

BC: What advice do you have for business owners?
You'll know your business has matured when you learn to say "no" to work when it doesn't compliment your skill set.   Just because you are asked to bid, doesn't mean you should.

BC: Any last words?
Be thankful.  Express your gratitude for all of the right and nice things that people do.

On a lighter note
BC: What is something that someone who just met you would never guess about you?
I married for the first time at 45, bought my first car that same year and for our honeymoon we went bungy jumping off the Shotover Bridge in New Zealand.  It was a great year.

Karen Zupko events

For a full list of Must Attend events, please visit: http://www.karenzupko.com/workshops/index.html