The medical and healthcare industry in Australia is booming. It’s well-known that as our population ages and expands, there is increased demands placed on the country’s primary health care providers, be they GP practices, medical specialists, physiotherapists, psychologists and more.
What does this mean for the principal or practice manager of a clinic? It means growth, for example, where you are having to possibly turn patients away, because your doctors and nurses are simply that stretched. You need to get a doctors or practitioner to fill a vacancy in a consult room. You might be considering starting up a medical practice in a different area, targeting a newly created suburb.
You might be a:
- Principal or Director of a health care practice
- A first-time owner, perhaps you’re not a doctor yourself but are in partnership with one and manage the finance and HR of the operations
- Practice manager;
- Hiring manager for Specialist services or for Multiple medical centres;
- Owner of a dental or allied health clinic; or
- Hiring Management or admin staff for your clinic.
Imagine this scenario:
Scenario 1 – Newly established medical centres have to be wary not to commit certain mistakes, to ensure you’re building a business that will last the long-term and not wither away as the chief doctor retires. Busy practices can be a fantastic hive of activity, with doctors seeing a lot of patients, nurses supporting the doctors and their patients, while the admin staff ensure the paperwork runs like clockwork. A lovely, almost idyllic scene for a practice manager, isn’t it?
Now consider Scenario 2: Doctors coming into your office during their breaks and at the end of the day, with complaints of not being able to have a work-life balance, nurses congregating in the break room, run off their feet and admin staff drowning in excess “paperwork” (let’s be honest, it’s all digital now, but you get what I mean). The consequence of this scenario is a steady stream of resignations, which will take time and resources to fill, not to mention the time and cost it takes to onboard new employees, get them settled into the routine of your practice and into the community.
Compare the two scenarios. Same, same but different, right? The line that you need to cross to get from one to the other is actually quite thin. So how do you ensure your growing, busy practice doesn’t suffer the fate of Scenario 2 and you keep and maybe even replicate Scenario 1, for multiple practices?
In 2017, HealthcareLink ran the Best Employer Awards for GP practices and, in reviewing the entries, we discovered something interesting. We analysed the differences between the best, the winners of the three categories of medical practices and realised a similarity between these all. When we started looking anecdotally at other successful, well-run medical practices in our client base and found the same similarities amongst these too.
These similarities could be distilled down to four factors or principles of health care practice success:
- Professionalism and Presentation
Professionalism and Presentation
Standout clinics have a professional attitude and approach to all aspects of their business. Admin staff usually have a uniform shirt, representative of the business’ brand, or at the very least, are all neatly dressed, in similar colours. The practitioners are dressed in semi-formal or formal office attire, according to their profession. Nurses where a uniform, usually a blue medical pyjama suit. Physiotherapists might wear a pants with a blouse/shirt with a badge, to indicate their identity, as this allows them to move freely while maintaining their professionalism.
The ethos of professionalism and good presentation extends to the physical environment of the medical practice too. Carpets are always clean, seats and couches don’t have stains on them and magazines provided are not decades old and tattered. Lighting is bright, so sick patients are don’t feel any more despondent as they might under low lighting and the air is fresh.Some practices have screens where waiting patients and family or carers can pass the time by watching TV. The centre can also use these screens to inform patients of new treatments, check-ups for seniors or screenings for a particular chronic illness.
Reception staff are encouraged to smile and be welcoming to patients; reception is the first point of contact, as patients enter the door or call on the phone.
“Organize around business functions, not people. Build systems within each business function. Let systems run the business and people run the systems. People come and go but the systems remain constant” (Michael Gerber, E-Myth Revisited).
This quote from business guru Michael Gerber highlights the importance of systems and process to the functioning and success of a business. Healthcare and medicine is a service with a high level of human interaction, so people are essential to its function. Gerber’s point about systems and processes, however, still applies to the medical centre, especially the one that wants to rise above others, expand and grow.
Here is your task – take a notepad and pen and begin outside the medical centre. Imagine yourself to be a fly on the wall and go to each section of the centre and observe. Write down everything you see, absolutely everything, good and bad. This isn’t the time to judge, it’s the time to write. Your list might start looking a bit like this:
- Reception area:
- Staff are smiling in greeting patients in person.
- Phones are answered within 3 rings but quickly put on hold.
- Times when there are 2 out of 3 newer employees, so lines get longer as they learn systems ‘on the job’.
- There are two registered nurses (RN) or practice nurses all day, whereas there are times when 4-5 patients are waiting.
- Stock levels are in danger of getting low, and need to be managed in a more timely manner.
- There are 8 -10 doctors available in the clinic, each with his/her own room.
- Tasks include seeing patient, reviewing past history, examination and diagnosis, recording patient notes.
- Three out of the ten doctors are in their first year in the practice and the rest are varied, with two long-term permanent.
Review and reflect your notes. Assess accounts and your own procedures too. Objective reflection will bring up areas of strength that can be leveraged and potential gaps that can be filled.
An example is your hiring practice. When an employee turns in her notice, what is your first task? Is this written down somewhere? Do you have a regular recruitment agent you call or do you handle the hiring process yourself and have certain websites where you advertise? Do you request referrals? Do you have a database or spreadsheet of past applicants that you’ve shortlisted that you can go back to?
Success depends on systems and processes being in place, so that when everything else turns upside down, you can keep the wheels going.
A key trait common to all the practices we shortlisted while assessing for the Best Employers Awards was the focus on culture and retention. The approach of the more outstanding applications was an open and transparent one, avoiding the hierarchy commonly seen in large, unwieldy hospitals and institutions. Principal owners and practice managers embraced the fact that they had a small business to run, treating all staff as family, encouraging an open door policy where employees can talk to the practice manager or principal whenever they felt as though they needed to, with a formal careline available if ever needed.
Retention and keeping staff satisfied in their roles was the primary objective of the practice director. Staff are supported with training and encouraged to take up continuing professional development in appropriate areas. Practice managers hire to this same ethos, searching for like-minded individuals who are open and honest. Principals hold transparency as an important tenet, being upfront about what they can afford in remuneration and what the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are to be able to progress up. Progress could mean associateship or partnership where possible or even the opportunity to expand the clinic to pursue a special interest, in skin cancer or cosmetic treatments. Highly sought-after practitioners value this openness in their potential employers, seeing the long-term value in the practice and the principal, resulting in sometimes choosing roles that may not pay as much initially as another, but have a better culture, that makes it the winner.
The healthcare practices in the Best Employer Awards shortlist didn’t simply see themselves as a shop front providing a necessary service to the people in the locality, but saw themselves as an integral part of the local community, its overall health and productive function.
Activities that the medical practice may support are:
- Local school fetes, health talks to the students
- Local sporting groups via sponsorship
- Community festivals
- Indigenous health centres, providing free check-ups during dedicated volunteer hours
- Trivia nights and fun runs to help raise funds for charity
Employers can underestimate the importance of community engagement to a candidate’s when making a decision about a new role. A practice with active ties in the community will likely be a winner over one that is closed off.
To be a successful practice with steady growth takes time and strategy. Setting up a similar ethos as outlined here, with these four key principles, will set you on the track of other winning medical and health practices around the country.