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Opinion

Creating systems and processes for general practice


Todd Cameron


23/08/2022 2:57:04 PM

These essential building blocks support growth by empowering staff to work smarter, not harder, writes GP and business coach Dr Todd Cameron.

GPs looking over paperwork
Establishing systems and processes should make the practice more sustainable and less reliant on individuals.

Systems and processes have a significant role in building a business. If you don’t have them in place, it can feel like you’re constantly putting out spot fires and trying to fix things.
 
Without processes to rely on, problems are often met with a sense of dread and uncertainty, making you feel like a house of cards ready to collapse. It can also stop you from taking time off due to the fear that if you do, everything will fall apart and you won’t be able to recover.
 
Consequently, you begin to worry about the ‘revolving door’ and find yourself relying on team members you’d rather not rely on because you feel like you have no other option.
 
Even if someone is not a great fit for your practice and you no longer want them there, the idea of finding and training someone to take their place seems like a far more daunting task.
 
And when all of this is combined, fear sets in, and chaos ensues.
 
Conversely, establishing clear systems and processes can have the opposite effect.
 

  1. It creates space for you to focus
You start ‘working on the business’ and find yourself doing deliberate work and taking conscious steps to improve things for your end users, teams, and eventually yourself.
 
  1. Things are smooth
With the right systems in place, things work well and function smoothly. Everyone knows when to push and when to pull, and there’s an element of synchronicity.
 
  1. The business is less people-dependent
Systematising your practice makes the business more sustainable and less reliant on individuals. And your team will be freed up to focus on more crucial responsibilities that will benefit your practice.
 
  1. You can take a break whenever you want
This is the ultimate aspiration – to take some time away from the practice without worrying that everything will fall apart while you’re gone. With clear systems in place, you can take a step back, knowing the business will run smoothly without you there.
 
Key principles to creating effective systems
 
  1. Identify the key areas that need attention
To avoid becoming overwhelmed in this process, just begin by deciding on the main areas you’re going to concentrate on.
 
You can start by choosing the top three areas of your business or practice that will yield the biggest return. Systems can be mapped according to roles, clinic zones, purposes, and much more – just keep in mind that you must remain consistent, no matter how you decide to cluster the structures.
 
There has never been a better time to establish systems and processes because the online tools available for their creation are ubiquitous, and platforms like YouTube make it much simpler to learn how to develop your own systems.
 
If you want to run a successful business – which is much more akin to a team sport than a family, with defined roles and goals as opposed to unconditional love – you’re most certainly going to need to invest in structure and systems.
 
Structureless business is amateur business, especially in the general practice setting where there is a great deal of underlying complexity.
 
  1. Map the process with your team
When examining or rebuilding a system or process, the first step is to ‘get it all out’.
 
Conduct a strategic session with both someone who is most familiar with the current system and the newest user, and go over each step of the current process.
 
It’s important to involve employees who do the actual work because they know the detailed steps in each process and are also most familiar with the common roadblocks and bottlenecks.
 
The next step is to determine the expected outcomes of that specific process and bridge the gap between the current and ideal versions. It is crucial to clearly identify and map the start and end versions of each process.
 
A ‘pro tip’ is to have these strategic process-mapping sessions in the morning when everyone is more energetic and the flow is less likely to be disrupted.
 
  1. Make the systems accessible
Convenience is everything, and accessibility is a critical attribute of convenience.
 
All your systems should be directed towards this goal.
 
There is little value in great work that’s inaccessible. In fact, I would say that systems or procedures that are difficult to access have almost no value.
 
Our goal, therefore, is to create systems that offer real-time access in a meaningful way.
 
For instance, you may ask your team how they prefer to receive information. Naturally, you can end up receiving a wide range of responses – but the key is to concentrate on creating one system at a time, while ensuring that it is easily accessible and hassle-free.
 
  1. Focus on quality improvement
Quality improvement (QI) refers to the continuous refinement and improvement of systems and processes. It entails first evaluating performance and then taking feedback to improve it.
 
The updates or changes must be progressive in order to add up to great things over time, and an experimental mindset is required.
 
For QI to be truly effective, the QI role should ideally be separated from the design, mapping and documenting roles. I implore you to have a QI officer in each of your practice’s key structural divisions.
 
The QI officer’s role is to periodically bring back team suggestions and proposals for better processes and to proactively flag necessary changes if they become aware of a critical impending issue.
 
Conclusion
Having the right systems and processes in place can enhance your practice’s overall business performance while allowing you to provide high-quality service that not only meets but exceeds your patients’ expectations.
 
Effective systems and processes will enable you to cut costs, boost revenues, optimise resources, and achieve sustainable growth. However, the important thing to remember is that ‘consistency is key’.
 
This means consistently evaluating, modifying, testing, and implementing your systems and processes.
 
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