By PAUL COPELAND

DIRECTOR, BUSINESS ADVISORY

Medical practitioners may soon find that upon entering private practice their respective medical colleges are providing hard hats and camouflage jackets as the “attacks” against the profession and its financial viability continue to mount.

While this may be an exaggerated point, the next price rise in health insurance premiums from 1 April is expected to see even more Australians cut or drop their private health insurance coverage. The estimated 5% rise in premiums will take top average family hospital cover to almost $4,500 a year and a price lift of around $1,250 for singles. It is likely there will be a flow on effect to specialist health practitioners. 

Speaking with specialist practitioners in the regions, they are concerned about the impact of the rise in private health premiums exacerbating the tough times they are already experiencing from sluggish local economies.

Then there is the under-reported issue of the growing number of doctors when compared to patients. While it is often reported there is still a shortage of doctors, the data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) does not support this. According to the ABS website, the numbers of General Practitioners rose from 32,000 in 2001 to 43,400 in 2011. This equates to a fall in the ratio of doctors to patients from 1:586 in 2001 to 1:495 in 2011. The number is predicted to fall even further when the 2016 census data is released. Specialists are also feeling the pinch with the ratio of specialists to patients dropping from 1:1182 in 2001 to 1:848 in 2011.

The Australian Medical Association and other medical bodies are actively lobbying the government to avoid increasing the number of medical places available in universities in a bid to manage the supply of doctors. This would seem to be at odds with the potential government policy of graduating more and more doctors to increase the supply and ultimately try to bring down the costs of healthcare.

The industry is also well aware of the Medicare rebate freeze and the anticipated impact this is likely to have on general practices over the coming years. Financial projections suggest that bulk billing general practitioners can expect to see an approximate reduction in the real value of their income by 9.63% over the next three years and a reduction of up to 50% in the profitability of their practices. This will be outside the revenue from subsidies such as the Practice Incentive Program and Practice Nurse Incentive Program.

While much attention is given within the medical industry to clinical success and training, there still remains a reluctance and in some cases, apathy, on behalf of doctors to consider and manage the business side of their practices. As it becomes increasingly harder and more competitive, this will need to change and doctors will need to focus on the business side of their practices to retain their profitability.

So what does this mean for your practice?

Whether you are just starting out, running a growing practice or looking to exit, developing a strategic plan, particularly in the current environment, can provide clarity and focus for what comes next. Strategic planning is the process of articulating your vision for your practice so that you can communicate it effectively to your team and advisors.

Effective strategic planning will identify where your organisation is currently positioned, where you would like to be and then set out the actions needed to move towards the vision. You can then develop reporting tools to measure and monitor progress towards your vision.

Strategic planning will also provide better clarity around your current and future resourcing needs when it comes to your employees and what is expected from them. For a medical centre to operate efficiently, everyone needs to know the role that they play and how they contribute to the practice. 

Consider this: if you asked your head receptionist to write down the top three things you as the practice owner want from them, and then you write down your answer to the same question – are you confident that the answers would be the same? If you answer ‘No’ like 93% of other respondents, how can your practice be operating at peak efficiency?

Most importantly, as the number of practitioners surges and competition for the health spend by patients increases, it is important to articulate your point of difference. Why should a patient come to your practice? 

Strategic planning will look at your strategies for growth and maintaining your patient base in addition to the services you are currently providing your patients. The patient experience with your practice starts well before a patient sees a practitioner and can continue after they have seen the doctor. If the patient’s experience with the practice is not optimal this can impact on your reputation and image. 

What is involved?

William Buck will facilitate a strategic planning day with the relevant stakeholders of the business from which a tangible action plan is developed. 

The journey commences with an alignment exercise. Within any organisation, owners and decision makers can have different ideas about staff, products, processes and direction. Prior to the strategic planning day, each participant completes an online questionnaire to about their thoughts on key elements of the business. This material is used to prompt and facilitate discussion about opportunities, issues and differences which may exist between the stakeholders.

The session commences with developing or redefining a meaningful and consistent vision for the business. This is the most important part of the day as it determines the direction the organisation will take and the relevant actions.

We introduce you to business planning tools to allow you to focus on and develop the key elements of the business (what we like to call the corporate platform), being:  

  • Staff
  • Processes
  • Financial
  • Customer/Client
  • Goods/Services

We then assist in developing a tangible action plan, including assignment of responsibilities and timeframes, in order for the organisation to move towards the vision. 

Following on from the session, we will prepare and issue a strategic planning report.

Implementing change and improving your practice is a process and not an event. In the face of an uncertain health industry future that needs to drive better long-term healthcare effectiveness, it’s more important than ever to be ahead of the curve. 

Change is possible with a plan, vision and clarity and the right strategic planning model will help you move your practice forward.

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