Is your practice thriving or just surviving?

Morgan Liotta

18/06/2024 4:29:18 PM

A new project is aiming to uncover the future viability of general practice by examining the current financial state of Australia’s clinics.

Graphs and stethoscope.
GPs and practice owners are being encouraged to fill out a survey to help paint a picture of the current viability of their practice.

A GP-led research project is hoping to lay bare the financial health of general practice in a post-pandemic landscape.
Headed up by Sydney GP Dr Michael Wright, the research will analyse data from an ongoing survey currently open until 1 July, and examine how the pandemic has impacted practices’ operations and longer-term financial viability. 
‘This will give us a snapshot of where general practices and GPs are currently at,’ Dr Wright, who is also Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Funding and Health System Reform (REC–FHSR), told newsGP.
‘We’ll use the data for advocacy to point out the ongoing challenges that general practices are having in maintaining quality patient care, while also maintaining the financial viability of practices – we know that many practices have had to shut their doors.
‘We are keen to provide some real-life data from across the country, to give us a feel for how practices are managing.’
Hundreds of general practices have closed their doors over the past year due to growing financial and workforce pressures, including payroll tax threats, GP shortages and underfunding. During the pandemic, many businesses also faced new challenges and were forced to adapt.
‘Early in the pandemic, we saw the major impact that Medicare-funded telehealth had on practices and the way we operated, and practices did an amazing job in adapting to that,’ Dr Wright said.
‘We know that telehealth has continued – it’s not as high as it was when the pandemic first started, but we know that practices have integrated telehealth services within their standard business.
‘And we know there are emerging innovations like artificial intelligence coming rapidly around the corner which could further impact how practices operate and their financial situation.’
Dr Wright and his colleagues conducted previous research supported by Central Eastern Sydney Primary Health Network looking at the early impact of the pandemic, including the vaccine rollout’s effect on practices and practice viability focusing on allied health.
While practices reported ‘early enthusiasm’ for the vaccine rollout and engaged in large-scale adaptations to manage workload, the study’s results reveal that it also resulted in increased stress, administrative workload, and reduced financial viability for many clinics.
Building on this data, the next stage of the practice viability research is the follow-up survey.
‘We now want to know … the ongoing, enduring legacy of what happened during the pandemic,’ Dr Wright said.
‘Back in 2021, we surveyed general practices as well as allied health practices, and showed where most practices felt they had responded well to the pandemic, the majority reported worsening practice profitability.
‘So we’re repeating our survey to try to understand how practices are faring now.
‘We know that many practices have been struggling with concerns around payroll tax. A lot of practices have changed their billing structures.
‘And what we want to understand now is, what’s the current financial state of general practices – are practices thriving or just surviving?’
A member of the research team with Deakin University, Roald Versteeg told newsGP the study aims to fill gaps in data on how practices are currently faring.
‘GPs and practices were hit hard during the pandemic, with constantly changing protocols and processes, increased costs, and increased stress for GPs and their teams,’ he said.
‘However, there isn’t a lot of research as to how GPs and practices are doing now.
‘Anecdotally we’ve heard it’s still a struggle, so we want to find out what’s happening on the ground. The results of this research will help build the evidence base we need to support primary healthcare.’

Dr Wright anticipates the project will provide valuable insights that inform advocacy work supporting the viability of general practice and the delivery of quality care.
‘General practices are under intense pressure at the moment and it’s really important to understand the financial situation they are in,’ Dr Wright said.
‘It would be great to have as many GPs, practice owners and practice managers as possible complete the survey so that we get a picture of what’s happening across the country.’
The survey and follow-up project is led by Dr Wright in his role at the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation at UTS, with collaborators including Professor Jane Hall and Professor Michael Kidd from UNSW, RACGP NSW&ACT Chair Dr Rebekah Hoffman, and Roald Versteeg from Deakin University.
GPs, private allied health providers, practice managers, practice nurses and/or practice owners are invited to complete the survey – of which the data will be anonymised – by 1 July.
The RACGP is also inviting members to submit an Expression of Interest by 24 June for the new RACGP Working Group – Business Viability, which will sit under the REC–FHSR.
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