The role of a Medical PA in your private practice
Your Medical PA will have an enormous impact on the success of your private practice. The Medical PA role is considered an admin role, but I strongly argue that it is much more than that and I would encourage you to consider your Medical PA as the owner of patient experience for your practice with responsibility for the quality of patient service. Your Medical PA will work in partnership with you, caring for your patients, ensuring they feel safe and receive a good overall experience from your practice. We talk about enhancing the “patient experience” and your Medical PA makes a significant contribution to this, and it impacts your reputation as a doctor.
Your medical PA acts as an ambassador for your practice.
There are of course functional skills that your Medical PA needs to show competency in, for example, the experience of working with a practice management system (PMS), but the most significant impact your Medical PA will make is ensuring your patients are looked after and cared for. The ability to deliver this can be enhanced through appropriate training but is largely dependent on a strong desire to deliver an exceptional patient experience.
It is imperative that your Medical PA is fully engaged with your vision for your practice, which is your definition of where you want your practice to be. Your Medical PA should also understand your goals and objectives and be clear about how they contribute to achieving them.
We can break down your patient’s treatment journey into three distinct parts and consider the role of your Medical PA within each stage.
- Before treatment
- During treatment
- After treatment
Your Medical PA will handle your patient’s initial enquiry, responding to questions about your practice and starting to build a relationship with a new patient who is often anxious and needs reassurance. This relationship building is key and can determine whether your patient decides to book or not.
Booking an appointment by phone will often be the first human interaction with your practice, although with the increasing popularity of online booking, this step will become more automated.
Once your patient has booked their initial appointment, your Medical PA will follow up with booking details including the provision of pricing information to ensure your practice meets its regulatory obligations. You may also have forms regarding medical history that your patient needs to fill in prior to their appointment and your Medical PA will ensure these are completed.
For every interaction you have with a patient, either during a consultation or planned surgery, your Medical PA may have more than 6 interactions by phone and by email.
Communication is key throughout the patient journey, but in this initial stage there is an opportunity for your Medical PA to provide valuable information such as patient information leaflets and of course provide clarity about costs. If your patient has private medical insurance, your Medical PA will provide your patient with their expert advice on how to submit their request for cover.
Your Medical PA will contact your patient prior to their appointment to reconfirm the date, time and location. With most practice management systems these reminders can be automated which reduces time spent on simple admin tasks and allows your Medical PA to focus their efforts on patient care.
When your patient comes to see you face to face, the physical environment in which you meet will also impact the patient experience. To enhance this, it is important that your PA reconfirms the appointment the day before and ensures the patient has accurate details regarding your location, how to find you and other considerations such as parking. The aim of this communication is to ensure your patient is fully briefed, has clear expectations of what to expect and importantly, from your perspective, is more likely to arrive on time.
Following your initial consultation, you will have a list of follow up actions, which we refer to as “outcomes” and follow up communications to deliver. It is your Medical PAs role to ensure all the outcomes and communications are handled on your behalf in an accurate, secure, and timely manner. This requires enormous attention to detail and the creation of robust processes and systems to ensure mistakes are eliminated. For example, for every test your patient has, your Medical PA needs to ensure that results are received and communicated to you so you can dictate a letter to your patient articulating these results clearly. The dictation needs to be transcribed and sent in a secure manner to the patient and/ or GP. One missing result letter can be disastrous.
Your medical PA will handle the management of the outcomes, ensuring your patient is booked for the various tests that you have requested, follow up appointments or surgery, liaising with other clinics and hospitals as needed. Prescriptions must be completed and referrals to other health care professionals managed.
Whatever the treatment plan involves for the patient, each step of the process needs to be managed in a way that ensures your patient feels well informed, in control and well cared for. Good communication is key.
Your patients will also need to be billed for the treatment they receive. Some Medical PAs manage billing and credit control, but it is more commonly managed by a billing manager or bookkeeper. In my experience, doctors are better served by using a professional billing manager to fulfil this role for two reasons. Firstly, billing is a complex process requiring excellent knowledge of insurance company codes.
It also requires a different skillset to that of a Medical PA. Managing credit control is a skill and chasing patients and insurance companies for overdue invoices and shortfalls is both challenging and time consuming. In my opinion the Medical PA role is to provide your patients with a service such that they feel safe and secure in your care. It is very difficult for your Medical PA to maintain that relationship when they need to have discussions with patients about overdue invoices, insurance company shortfalls etc. These discussions are best handled by your billing manager.
Depending on the location of your practice you may also need to order your own medical supplies and your Medical PA will handle this. All your suppliers will need to be paid in a timely manner and your Medical PA can organise this.
Your Medical PA will keep track of expenses and receipts, ready for submission to the accountant, but you may be wise to engage a professional bookkeeper. Good bookkeeping ensures you have a robust handle on your finances throughout the year. Your bookkeeper will be able to provide you with monthly management accounts so you can assess the performance of your practice. Most Practice Management Systems integrate with Xero which is a brilliant finance management system and well worth considering. Managing your bookkeeping well throughout the year will also ensure that the production of your accounts at year end is relatively easy and quick and should also save you money on your annual bill from your accountant.
In most cases, patients will attend a follow up appointment with you which is normally face to face. Your Medical PA will ensure that all follow up appointments are booked in a timely manner. After the follow up appointment, your patient may be discharged from your care or you may require a longer term follow up, for example an annual check-up. Your Medical PA will set a “recall” task for your patient which will notify your Medical PA, at the right time, to contact your patient and arrange that check-up. This may also be the time when your Medical PA encourages your patient to leave a review on the platform of your choice, for example Google Reviews or Doctify.
I encourage all doctors to view all patients as long-term patients as they may need further treatment in the future, or they may have friends and family who have a need for your services. For these reasons I would encourage you to consider your patient experience to be long term and to look for opportunities for continued care.
You may choose to send a regular newsletter to keep your patients informed on the services you provide and potentially new treatments that are available. You might also include articles regarding preventative health. In your patient’s mind you are already a trusted expert and so your continued communication is likely to be welcomed. Your Medical PA can assist with this but may need help from a marketing specialist too.
In summary, I recommend choosing your Medical PA with great care, recognising that your Medical PA will represent your practice and have a significant impact on your reputation as a doctor.
If you need any advice or support helping to find the right Medical PA for your practice, please do get in touch with our team at Designated Medical.