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In a new series of practice management articles for Independent Practitioner Today, Jane Braithwaite covers all the aspects that you need to run a practice that is successful.

Managing your own practice is a huge challenge, with so many variables to control

Do you have an MBA? Perhaps a Diploma in Business Management? If not, you’re in the same boat as the vast majority of doctors who decide to start their own private medical practice, which is, in fact, a complex business like any other.
But don’t worry. In this series, I will be looking at managing complaints, business development, systems and processes and more.

How to run a practice

These are all important aspects of practice management, but the two areas you absolutely must get right at the very start are: planning and people.
So here is what you should start doing:

Strategic planning

Being clear on goals and ambitions for your practice will help you achieve them. Allowing regular time in the calendar to step back and look at the bigger picture will keep your business on the right track.

There are four steps to successful strategic planning:

  1. Manage performance;
  2. Determine your position;
  3. Develop a strategy;
  4. Build your plan.

1. Manage performance

Taking this approach means you won’t miss any gaps. Ideally, garner input from anyone who contributes to the success of the practice and ensure that all your stake-holders are aware of your plan.

2. Determine your position

Like any other business, the leader of a medical practice needs business intelligence to survive. As the one in charge, it’s critical that you have access to executive information which shows analytics, forecasting tools and reports.

I’ve written about this previously in this journal with some suggestions on how to create a dashboard which shows the ‘big view’ of your business. I would strongly suggest you allocate time to setting this up so that you will easily be able to access trends.

For example, you should be able to see at a glance the split between self-pay patients and those with insurance over the last six months and how it compares to the previous six months.

You should also look at what changes are coming in business or medicine. If your practice is dep­endent on international patients, is there a downwards drift for certain countries?

The more insight into strategic issues you can gather, the better your planning will be. Combine all the data you’ve pulled together and document it.

There are many business planning methods and tools that you can use, and each has its pros and cons. The format is that important; the key is to have a short statement that you can refer to and change over time.

3. Develop a strategy

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This is something you probably did when you first set up your practice, but you need to keep repeating the process to ensure your practice continues to grow in the direction you want it to grow.

We are often asked to have a five-year plan, and while it is difficult to have clearly defined goals for five years, it is possible and valuable to have goals and objectives for the coming two years.

When thinking about the longer term, a business mentor advised me to think of ‘the view from the beach’. Imagine yourself in five years’ time relaxing on the beach and envisage what you would like to have achieved by that point.

How will your practice look? How will the finances look? This becomes your longer-term goals and allows you to focus very clearly on the next two years and what you need to do now to ensure your reach ‘that view from the beach’.

You may already have a long-term plan, but when did you last review it? Does it need amending?

Can you distill your practice ambitions into four to six long-term objectives? Is your financial forecast still accurate? Try to add as much clarity as possible so your goals and priorities are accurate.

4. Build your plan

This is the nitty-gritty – an operational plan that ensures your practice achieves what you want it to. It’s important that you work with your team to come up with achievable goals and that they have an opportunity to feedback on plans.

Depending on the size of your practice, you might choose to allocate goals to specific areas; for example, the administration team answers 85% of calls each week. What does success mean? An increase in patients or a decrease in patient complaints?

No matter the goal(s), make it as easy as possible to measure progress and keep on track by defining what success looks like and sharing it with the team.

Manage performance

It’s essential to communicate your plans, objectives, decisions, and results to everyone working for the practice.

Not only will the team feel pride in being a part of the practice, they will feel as though they are working towards something meaningful. That’s an incredibly motivating factor.

Managing staff

The principles of managing a happy and productive team apply whether they number five or 50. Employees value an open and supportive culture with clear line management.

A Harvard Business Review article I read recently had some interesting things to say about what makes people happy at work. As a leader of a team of over 50, I have found much of this to be true.

Let people be themselves

Getting the best out of individuals means valuing them for their skills and embracing differences in perspective, dress and habits. This allows for diversity and shows another side to the much-vaunted flexible working which is so prevalent in business today.

I have found that the more flexible I am with my employees, the more commitment I have from them. Does one of your team harbour a secret talent with Excel? Can your medical secretary turn her hand to graphic design?

Snap up the opportunity to expand the practice knowledge-base at the same time as helping develop your employees’ careers.

Show how the work makes sense

This is when business intelligence and good systems can combine to energise your team. Patients are at the heart of any practice and sharing positive outcomes helps everyone in your team see that their efforts make a difference.

Not only will they feel pride in working for your practice, they will feel that their work is meaningful. Find a simple way to share patient reviews and feedback with everyone who helped make it happen.

Achieving (near) perfection in practice management takes an enormous amount of hard work. But all that hard work must be directed towards the right goals, or it’s pointless. With proper planning and dedicated staff, you will ensure that there are no gaps – just triumphs.


Jane Braithwaite is Managing Director at Designated Medical and regularly contributes to the Independent Practitioner Today publication.

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