medical professionals in business meeting

21 Jun 2023

Building a future-ready medical practice

At the recent In conversation event for medical professionals, Steven Macarounas, an international specialist with 35 years of experience in the healthcare industry, discusses how to build a future-ready medical practice. 

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Effective medical practice management demands significant commitments from practitioners in terms of time, dedication and finances. As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, medical professionals need to consider, and discuss, the concept of a future-ready practice.  

By addressing the unmet needs of both patients and healthcare professionals, medical professionals can create a practice that is patient-centric, offers work-life balance and has the potential for long-term success. 

Work/life balance – the changing paradigm of success

After years of teaching and advising doctors, it has become evident that many retiring doctors share a common regret – not having spent enough time with their families. It is tragic that many medical professionals reach retirement only to realise that they did not prioritise their family life. 

This raises the question of why individuals enter the medical profession if they anticipate sacrificing valuable time with their loved ones?

The emerging generations of doctors and medical families no longer have the same tolerance for overwhelming workloads, excessive stress, and minimal work-life balance.

They do not want to sacrifice their personal lives for the sake of their medical careers. The reason many retiring doctors regret not spending enough time with their families is not due to the inherent nature of medicine itself but rather poor business and financial management. 

Effectiveness in medical practice alone does not guarantee success. A redefined definition of success includes aspects such as achieving work-life balance, financial stability, personal fulfilment and the ability to leave a lasting legacy. 

The transformation of healthcare

The healthcare industry is undergoing rapid transformation due to the convergence of advancing technologies and the empowerment of patients through access to information.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data-driven predictions are revolutionising medical practices. Patients now have access to unprecedented levels of information, leading to a more informed and engaged approach to healthcare.

The traditional model of ‘diagnose and treat’ is being replaced by a focus on prediction, prevention and management. Patients are increasingly interested in maintaining their well-being and seeking medical advice to prevent illness rather than merely seeking treatment when something goes wrong.

Setting up a saleable practice

To secure the future of doctor-owned private practices, it is crucial to adopt business models that address both the lifestyle crisis in medicine and the evolving patient experience.

The idea of selling a medical practice may initially seem far-fetched, but it is indeed possible with the right approach. The saleability of a medical practice is dependent on how it is set up and operated. A practice that follows fundamental principles of business and financial management is inherently saleable.

By treating the practice as a business and implementing effective management strategies, doctors can build value within their practice.

The doctor employer

To effectively manage the business side of the practice, a practice and business manager is essential. This role involves translating the vision of the practitioners into systems, policies, and procedures that support the practice's goals. A practice director, who may even be the spouse of a doctor, can take on this role, if they are properly qualified and committed to the practice's outcomes.

Successful practices also establish multiple locations, leveraging effective systems and procedures to replicate their services in different areas.

This scalability allows for a wider reach and the delivery of services to a larger population. By treating their practice like a business, practitioners can expand their impact and serve more patients.

Implementing robust systems, policies, and procedures is crucial for the future-ready practice. By systematising various aspects of patient care and practice management, practitioners can achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness.

These systems provide guidance to staff members and ensure consistent delivery of high-quality care.

Engaging and motivating staff members is vital to the success of the practice. Communicating the purpose of the practice beyond profit and involving employees in designing their roles fosters a sense of ownership and commitment.

Revenue and expense management

To ensure the future success of your practice, it is essential to have a firm grasp on revenue and expense management. Running your practice as a business means understanding your financial inflows and outflows, measuring key performance indicators and using data analysis to make informed decisions.

By gathering and reviewing relevant information, such as dollars per patient, patients per hour, patients per doctor and referrals per referrer, you can gain valuable insights into the efficiency and profitability of your practice.

Effective financial management helps pave the way for growth, expansion, and the ability to attract and retain the best staff and clinicians.

Profitability is a key aspect of a thriving practice. It goes beyond providing a decent income for practice owners - it enables the employment of the right people, facilitates growth, and enhances the quality of life for practitioners.

Building a profitable practice allows you to pursue your passions and live a fulfilling life beyond the daily grind. It is about creating a business that thrives independently of its owners, generating income from non-physical exertion, and incorporating characteristics that align with the evolving needs of patients and the industry.

The multi-disciplinary practice

The practice of the future is focused on patient-centre care. It’s multidisciplinary, bringing together medical specialties that complement each other to ensure optimal health outcomes for patients.

Orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, rheumatologists, pain medicine physicians, exercise physiologists, physiotherapists, rehabilitation physicians, and dietitians are just a few examples of specialists who can collaborate under one roof. This coordinated approach to care reduces fragmentation and improves patient outcomes.

Future-ready practices also embrace revenue-generating allied health and paraprofessionals. These professionals provide evidence-based and complementary services that contribute to patient outcomes and generate additional income for the practice.

By expanding beyond the physical exertion of the practitioners, the practice becomes a thriving business that can endure beyond the individual doctors' careers.

Collaboration and partnership with other medical professionals

One of the most important characteristics of the future-ready practice is its focus on collaboration and partnership.

Solo medical professionals could find it increasingly challenging to meet the evolving demands of patients and the medical profession. Future generations of doctors and medical families are less likely to tolerate the excessive workloads, stress, and lack of freedom associated with solo practice.

In contrast, a multi-partner group practice allows for the sharing of responsibilities, workloads and schedules, promoting a better work-life balance for practitioners.

The story of three young obstetricians who attended a Transition to Practice course exemplifies the power of a multi-partner group practice. These doctors recognised the value of collaboration and decided to establish the first all-female obstetrics practice in Sydney, Australia. Their practice prioritises the quality of life for both patients and practitioners.

By introducing patients to different doctors within the practice, they establish trust, community and flexibility, ensuring that patients receive the care they need even when their primary doctor is unavailable.

Economies of scale is another key advantage of the future-ready practice. By pooling resources and sharing overhead costs, practitioners in a group practice can achieve improved profitability.

Studies suggest that practitioners in multi-partner group practices experience a 30 to 40% increase in take-home pay compared to solo practitioners. Additionally, a group practice can support the integration of allied health services, which enhances patient care and satisfaction.

Risk management ensures sustainability

Managing risk plays a significant role in ensuring the sustainability of your practice. By identifying and quantifying risks, and seeking expert advice, you can implement effective risk mitigation measures.

From potential accidents, illnesses, or even death that can hinder your ability to work and earn income, to other risks such as malpractice issues, divorce, financial uncertainties, and political challenges, it is crucial to prepare for all eventualities.

By proactively addressing these risks, you can protect your practice and the livelihoods of those involved.

The doctor-patient relationship

To build a future-ready practice, it is essential to address the current demands of patients that are not being adequately met. Patients seek effective communication, access to information, education, a holistic approach to their care and the integration of allied health services.

They desire an integrated treatment plan, active involvement in decision-making, and a sense of engagement and belonging. The patient's experience should be considered from a customer service perspective, providing dignity, clear communication, reassurance, and a focus on their needs beyond the clinical aspect.

Healthcare professionals must recognise that patients expect excellence in clinical care while valuing a comprehensive and supportive experience.

Holistic health services

The practice of the future will incorporate a retail component and provide holistic services that address patients' deeper needs.

An example is Colin Dicks, an oncologist in Johannesburg, who authored a book called Death, Dying, and Donuts. This book aims to facilitate conversations among terminally ill patients and their loved ones and support families in better communicating with their dying family members.

Such initiatives may not be explicitly requested by patients, but they fulfil an essential part of the process and offer tremendous value.

Marketing is everything

In today's competitive business landscape, marketing has become an essential element for success. It is no longer limited to promoting products and services. Instead, it involves understanding customers' unmet and underserved needs and re-engineering offerings to fulfil those demands.

Marketing is about effectively communicating your promise and differentiating yourself from the competition, while also focusing on delivering on that promise. If you genuinely believe in what you have to offer and the positive impact you can make, there is no reason to hide it.

Embracing marketing strategies and initiatives is crucial for establishing your identity and connecting with your target market.

To embark on a successful marketing journey, several initiatives can greatly assist. Developing a compelling website, creating a distinctive brand, designing impactful logos, publishing informative blogs and providing educational content are all essential elements. These tools help you effectively communicate who you are, what you stand for, and how you can add value to your customers' lives.

Marketing, as entrepreneur Michael Gerber suggests, is all about conveying your promise and showcasing the unique way you deliver on it.

Engagement and loyalty programmes

By treating referrers as valued customers and maintaining strong relationships with them, practices can strengthen their referral networks. 

Patient engagement and loyalty programs are essential for building a strong patient base. 

Three essential steps

To transform your practice into a future-ready entity, there are three essential steps.

1. Continuously improve your knowledge and understanding of alternate business models, practice setup, operations, growth strategies and resilience in the face of disruption.   

2. Envision the future of your practice and ask yourself crucial questions that shape your goals and aspirations. Finally, build a team of specialists who can provide expert advice and guidance.

3. Knowledge plus good advice leads to informed decision making. Informed decision making plus vision and drive will get you to a point where you are free to choose to spend your time doing what you want to do, not what you have to do.  

Steven
About Steven Macarounas

Steven is an international specialist with 35 years of experience in the healthcare industry. He is the founder and director of the Business Money Life Institute. He is also the Program Director of the South African Health Business Academy of which Investec is a proud partner. The Academy is dedicated to delivering transformational education and state-of-the-art resources to the healthcare community.

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