9 December 2015

When the partners at the Clare Medical Centre in South Australia decided to expand their practice, they knew they needed help.

“We had to upgrade the building, and it made sense to triple the floor space at the same time, but we didn’t have the resources to oversee that process,” says general practitioner (GP) and partner Dr Philip Gribble. “This was just over 10 years ago. We had been talking about employing a practice manager for some time, but the renovation was the deciding factor.”

They decided to headhunt someone known to them – DannyHaydon, who is now National President of the Australian Association of Practice Management (AAPM).

“At the time the job was 50 per cent driving the redevelopment, 50 per cent reviewing and updating the management and governance structures within the practice,” says Dr Gribble. “We believed Danny had the right skills and would also be a good cultural fit for the practice.”

Freeing up doctors

Clare Medical Centre had been the home of a family medical practice for almost a century when Dr Gribble joined as a partner 20 years ago. Today there are four partners, five associates and five registrars, some part time – the approximate equivalent of 12 full-time medical staff.

“Before we employed Danny we were operating a bit like a cottage industry,” says Dr Gribble. “We knew our business practices were outdated, and we didn’t even have a formalised budget, but we didn’t realise just how far we had fallen behind.

“Now we have an effective administrative process and governance structure in place. We clinicians can make decisions far more quickly and effectively, and we have more time to concentrate on the bigger picture, such as recruiting for the long term and taking advantage of opportunities in a proactive way. Like most doctors, we only earn money by seeing patients so now there’s less tension between finding time to run the business and generating income to make the practice viable.”

The partners find it easier to delegate and to provide more effective support for their staff. Their negotiations are also more efficient and timely.

“Doctors must have a degree of personal autonomy because that’s the nature of their day-to-day consulting,” Dr Gribble continues. “It’s easy to extrapolate that and assume you can make all of the decisions associated with the practice, but this is unlikely for the majority of doctors who don’t have any training in business or management. One of Danny’s great assets is his ability to ‘herd cats’ – to bring a group of individuals together as a team with a collaborative approach to the business.”

Investment rather than cost

A good practice manager understands the billing procedures for patients, regularly reviews the fee schedules, ensures that claims for Medicare are done correctly and knows what practice incentive payments the practice is eligible for.

“This can have a significant impact on the practice income,” says Gillian Leach, Chief Executive Officer of the AAPM. “We recently saw an instance where an experienced practice manager joined a general practice with a $2 million turnover and found an additional $600,000 that could have been billed.”

Dr Gribble describes a practice manager as an investment rather than a cost.

“Whatever you pay for a good person, you’re likely to get a lot more in return,” he says.

The right start

While it’s never too late to bring in a practice manager, it helps to start off on the right foot.

“A practice manager can set up all of the policies and procedures, develop a practice manual and ensure that all the systems are in place to make the practice safe, effective and efficient from day one,” says the AAPM’s Leach. “This will have a huge impact on patient outcomes as well as the success of the business.”

She recommends looking for both qualifications and experience.

“AAPM Certified Practice Managers have a management qualification, the Diploma of Practice Leadership or its equivalent, and have worked for at least three years in the role,” she says. “That means they’re familiar with every aspect of the job from compliance, risk management, and finance to planning and marketing.”

It’s also important to find someone with the right personality.

“The right practice manager will play a major role in the ongoing viability of the practice,” adds Dr Gribble. “Being able to communicate and engage with everyone who works there is fundamental to that.”

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