Owning a general practice: Striking the right balance

Morgan Liotta

14/11/2018 2:49:52 PM

Many GPs are managing the ins and outs of running a business, in addition to providing patient care.

Dr Sean Stevens says that owning a practice presents challenges – but also rewards.
Dr Sean Stevens says that owning a practice presents challenges – but also rewards.

‘The buck stops with you. If someone calls in sick it’s up to you to find the replacement or do the shift yourself.’
That is Dr Sean Stevens, GP and Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Business of General Practice network, discussing some of the challenges of owning a practice.
‘Not only do you have to deal with your own patient load, you have a vicarious liability against the care that your GPs and ancillary staff provide,’ he told newsGP.
‘Then of course there’s all the usual issues associated with running any small business ­– cost containment, HR [human resources] issues, and increasing competition.’
The RACGP’s General Practice: Health of the Nation 2018 reports that 22% of GPs in Australia are currently practice owners, with 83% aged 45 years or older.
Health of the Nation reports that maintaining a work–life balance remains the most common challenge for GP–owners: 69% of practice owners and 70% of non-owners cited work–life balance as the main challenges faced as a GP.
GP–owners are also concerned about maintaining cash flow and sourcing and retaining quality staff, according to Health of the Nation data.
Dr Stevens told newsGP he agrees that maintaining work–life balance is one of the main issues for practice owners.
He also recognises changing competitive environments as another significant issue facing owners in the short term, and highlights the importance of business knowledge.
‘[It is important] to know our place in the market and do the best job of meeting that market that we can,’ he said.
‘It might be bulk billing with short appointments, in which case cost containment is critical. Or if you are operating at the more premium end of the market, then you need to have continuity of doctors, appointments available when people want them and better premises.’
In the long term, Dr Stevens anticipates that the reduced indexation of Medicare rebates and technology may be pitfalls, but also recognises the advantages of emerging technology.
‘Erosion of the role of the GP by allied health and the effects of technology are going to be challenges, albeit with some fantastic opportunities,’ he said.
Health of the Nation reports a number of barriers to adopting technology in general practice, including a lack of integration with current processes and systems, concerns relating to patient privacy, implementation cost and a lack of funding.
Currently, less than one-third (27%) of GPs report using telehealth services, despite the fact that 68% are satisfied with how often they integrated technology in to their practise, and half of GPs feel comfortable experimenting with new technology.
Health of the Nation states that ‘owning a general practice is often considered a natural career progression for many GPs’, and Dr Stevens says his own experience has been positive.
‘For me, owning a practice is the ability to shape an organisation to provide high clinical care, a great working environment and an enjoyable place to work.
‘The morale and culture of a practice are critical and the financial performance should then flow from that. It’s a great journey – there will be challenges but also fantastic rewards.’

Health of the Nation practice owner work life balance

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