You don’t need a diploma to run a practice
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.
Managing complaints, business development, systems and processes 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:
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
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 stakeholders 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 suggest that you create a dashboard which shows the ‘big view’ of your business and 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
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 distil 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.
Write down your plan including clear objectives. You might only need one piece of paper but record your plan and then book time in your diary to review it regularly, perhaps every three months.
Share the vision
Have you shared your long-term goals with the rest of your team? if they don’t know what you’re working towards, they can’t help you get there.
Consider your long-term vision: Take a quiet moment over a cup of coffee to contemplate your ‘view from the beach’.
Create a dashboard
Can you make use of the systems you already have in place to put together a dashboard? Excel combined with data from your practice management software might be more than enough.
No ‘key performance indicators’! You don’t have to use business language if it doesn’t fit with your practice. Reword internal documents and patient information if a more relaxed approach suits – e.g. ‘We will know we’re successful when…’
Look it up
The BMA provides a wealth of free information to support those working in private practice.
That will remind you to take a broader look at your practice and your longer-term goals.
Make a date
Put dates in the calendar to review progress so you keep on track.