This article was originally posted on Independent Practitioner Today
One of the most obvious steps for consultants looking to start a private practice is to gain practising privileges. Jane Braithwaite uses her insider knowledge to present an essential guide to help bring you success in this setting-up process.
The process of gaining practising privileges is often viewed as time-consuming and bureaucratic, but there is a lot more to think about than simply filling in a set of forms. Most consultants will need to choose which hospital or clinic they wish to work at and making this decision is complex. Having an application accepted is not guaranteed and consultants need to consider what they offer the hospital to ensure their application is successful.
For a consultant, practising privileges are a licence permitting them to work within a hospital, clinic or independently in private practice. The consultant will be able to make use of the facilities and services provided by the hospital. Most consultants will be granted practising privileges within a large organisation operating several locations, but an individual consultant will generally be given access to work from one specific location.
Gaining practising privileges enables a consultant to work in private practice, serving the general public and have the ability to potentially generate a substantial private practice income. For the healthcare service provider, offering practising privileges to a consultant is also an important decision. The granting of practising privileges is a formal and well-structured process requiring an applicant to pass certain checks and to demonstrate suitable indemnity cover.
A healthcare service provider invests enormously in its facilities, and also its reputation, so it needs to be certain it is granting privileges to consultants who will respect its facilities and uphold its reputation. Ultimately, though, the private service provider needs consultants to work successfully from its facilities to generate activity and income. So the relationship between the consultant and the service provider is mutually beneficial.
Choosing where to practise
When deciding where to practice there are several key factors to consider. Location is an obvious factor, as it needs to be convenient for the consultant and ideally close to home and their NHS base, if appropriate. The facilities provided by a service provider and also the reputation of the facilities with patients will be vital. The demographics of the local area may be relevant to some medical specialities and a consultant will need to research whether their ‘target audience’ is well represented in the immediate vicinity.
Less is more
Quite often, when a consultant is starting their private practice, they are tempted to apply for practising privileges with several different service providers. Their thinking is that they will run clinics at various locations initially, determine which location is most successful for them and then focus on that particular clinic. Most consultants starting private practices are already busy with demanding schedules and the requirement to manage clinics at several different locations is time-consuming and onerous, especially in terms of travel, and difficult to manage from an administrative perspective.
This approach often turns out to be a disappointing strategy. The consultant is spread too thinly and the experience of managing numerous clinics at different locations is stressful and ultimately not successful. This slightly scattered approach is also not welcomed by service providers. When a service provider grants privileges to a consultant, it will invest time and resources in assisting the new consultant and marketing its practice to its community of GPs and patients. A service provider will be more highly motivated to do this if they feel a consultant is committed to them, looking for a long-term partnership and demonstrating loyalty.
Research the competition
Decisions may also be affected by colleagues and potential competition at a particular hospital.If there are several very successful consultants in a given speciality at a particular location, it may be hard for a doctor of the same speciality to start a new private practice, unless the existing practices have long waiting lists. When private consultants first take the leap from solely practising with an NHS contract, they can find themselves in unknown territory when it comes to competitors and self-promotion. Never before have they had to look at themselves and their skills as a personal brand that they need to advertise like a business.
They will need to build up a network of contacts as well as consider their online reputation. New consultants would be wise to spend time searching online for their ‘competitors’ to find out the following information to help them plan their own strategy:
How easy are they for patients to find online?
Are their profiles active and up to date?
Do they have their own website?
What is the general sentiment of their online reviews?
Do they use social media and how often do they post online?
Do they use bespoke branding such as logo, brand colours, specific font?
How do they communicate their fees?
How does your own structure compare?
Colleagues not competitors
Though it is important for a new consultant to market their practice and to be aware of competitors in their field and local area, it is also worth them making the effort to network and connect with their peers. In less specialised areas, private consultants may not have the capacity to treat all patients and there may be a need to hand over cases that require rapid treatment or consultations. There could be more than one reason, that a practitioner has decided to consult privately. Perhaps it is financial or simply a needed respite from the bureaucracy of the NHS.
Whatever the reason, your patients, their care and treatment should always be at the heart of what you do. Keeping this in mind, makes it easier to promote, support and stay connected in the work that you do.
Every service provider will define their own procedures, incorporating the Care Quality Commission requirements (see box, right) but potentially involving other checks and potentially including interviews with key individuals within their organisation and approval by an advisory committee.
In the main, service providers are looking for consultants who are safe, reliable and appropriate to practice within their facilities.
They are ideally looking for consultants who are committed to them on a long-term basis, demonstrating loyalty and therefore a good investment for the service provider. My team has experience in all areas of practice management, so whether you are building your clinic from scratch or are consulting at a larger, more established location, we can aid in the areas of accountancy, marketing and medical PA services.