There has been a lot of talk recently about the future of general practice. One of the recurring themes that continues to be discussed is that GPs need to become more business savvy – think and operate like business professionals – if their practices are to survive. 

It’s a sobering thought, especially with pandemic-related Medicare rebates about to cease. Many practices are running with tight margins. You may practice evidence-based medicine with pride yet not follow established best practice when it comes to running your clinic. 

It’s time to adapt and pivot if you still want to be around next year. So, we’re going to explore several ways in which GPs can learn to be more business savvy. We’re going to help you reconcile business considerations with clinical care and see them as mutually beneficial activities. But first, we’re going to look at why you became a GP in the first place. 

Why did you choose to be a GP? 

General Practice Registrars Australia and the RACGP list various reasons for medical students to choose a career in general practice, highlighting factors like:

  • Flexibility and variety
  • Having an ongoing role in a patient’s life
  • Providing holistic primary health care that treats the patient as a whole person 
  • Pursuing clinical interests as a sub-specialty 
  • Transferable skills that could take you all over the world
  • Earning a good income. 

These are all excellent reasons for choosing a career in general practice. But have you noticed what’s missing? 

‘Own your own business’ is not mentioned once! 

Maybe that’s because most general practice trainees are fearful of owning their own practice. And no wonder. While your medical education may be excellent, there’s little to no training offered on ownership and management. 

You’ve done well to overcome that fear and become a practice owner anyway. But your early training probably still affects how you see yourself and how you run your practice. 

So, how can you improve your business skills?  

How to Become a Business-Savvy GP

Here are 8 steps to becoming a business-savvy GP.

1. Change your mindset

How do you see yourself? As a GP who owns your practice? A doctor who runs a business? A clinician with a company? 

Or, to put it another way, a doctor first and business owner second?

That doesn’t always work. For your practice to thrive, you have to challenge this mindset. You have to think of yourself primarily as the owner of a medical business. It’s a subtle but important shift.

Of course, patient care remains central. But you’re more likely to do the work of a business owner if you actually see yourself as a business owner.

A business owner has to work on the business as well as in the business. You may still be seeing patients and providing clinical care and leadership. But you also need to set aside regular and significant time to manage your business.

Maybe you also need to stop thinking there’s an unavoidable tension between business considerations and patient care. Yes, there may be times when that’s true. In many cases though, running a successful business improves patient care. You’re more likely to be setting goals, monitoring progress, proactively recalling patients who need further care and providing more care plans or referrals.

Those are all good things that help your business and your patients. Simply keeping your doors open helps patients too whereas a closed-up practice can do absolutely nothing for them. 

2. Think big business, act small business

Blend the best of big and small business.

By that, I mean copy big business’s emphasis on business operations – strategic planning, automation, data analysis, financial management, marketing and providing the right service at the right price. And copy small business’s relational focus and place in the local community.

This blend enables you to achieve business success while placing a high value on patient care.

3. Evolving business plan

A good business plan helps you prioritise, gain control and get finance. Too often, though, people either don’t have any business plan or write one but never use it.

Your business plan should be a living document. It should evolve as your practice grows or faces new challenges (hello, COVID-19).

I encourage you to develop a business plan now that will help you create an environment for excellent patient care, adapt to changed times and embrace the future.

A business or strategic plan also enables you to meet the RACGP’s Standards for General Practice (5th Edition). Criterion C3.1 notes that, ‘A documented business plan (that is linked to your strategy and includes how it will be implemented) is an effective way of measuring your progress, and increases the likelihood of achieving your practice’s objectives.’

Your business plan now needs to factor in the COVID-19 pandemic. Important pandemic-related rebates are due to cease on 30 September. Yet social distancing, COVID screening and other precautions will remain part of your practice for a long time to come. And your busy, digitally engaged patients have now tasted telehealth and found it to be wonderfully easy and convenient in most cases.  

4. Understand your patients 

Knowing your clients is essential to any business strategy. So, think about the people you treat. What are they like? Are they older people, young families, city workers? What would they love to know more about? What could you make easier for them? How do they do other things in life? And what do they expect from their healthcare? 

Most patients are digital creatures. Google tells us that 77% of Australians used their smartphones to find health services in a 6-month period while the AIHW says 78% have looked up health information online

Your patients use their smartphones for most aspects of daily life – navigation, shopping, banking etc. Make sure your practice speaks their language by:

  • Having an active social media presence and a strong website
  • Letting them book online
  • Sending SMS reminders or recalls
  • Providing digital registration forms
  • Using digital check-ins.
  • You also need to understand what they value about your practice – and therefore what they’ll pay for. Options include:
  • Educational webinars on preventive healthcare or children’s development.
  • Cosmetic procedures.
  • Bypassing a queue or using telehealth for greater convenience. 

5. Understand your cash flow

You have to make money to stay in business. Work with your accountant (and use tools like Cubiko) to project your cash flow over the next 6-12 months. Plan for different scenarios or staffing levels. 

Make sure you know how much money you have to make just to break even. Then try to make more!

6. Improve your efficiency

You may be surprised at how much money you could save if your practice was more efficient. Tools like Cubiko and AutoMed help you improve your team’s efficiency.

Money, money, money – it’s not a dirty word, it’s necessary (cash flow projection for 6-12 months, scenario planning – work with your accountant, break-even expenses).

7. Develop your business skills 

You were smart enough to qualify as a doctor so you’re certainly smart enough to run a successful practice. There are many ways to do improve your business knowledge, including:

  • Engaging a medical business advisor
  • Learning from your peers by joining the RACGP’s special interest group on the Business of General Practice
  • Attending training courses offered by companies such as AGPAL or RACGP that focus on the business aspects of running a medical practice
  • Attending conferences like MEDD or other practice owners conferences.

8. Review and revise

You need to regularly review your progress against the goals in your business plan. What’s working well? What’s not?

There are 4 recognised stages of the business life cycle: start-up, growth, maturity, and decline or renewal. You need to know which stage your practice is at and what’s changing in your wider environment or client base so that you can adapt and survive. 

How Can Splice Marketing Help? 

We love helping our GP clients to build thriving practices that meet today’s clinical and societal challenges. 

We understand what makes a business succeed (we’re running one too!) and we know how to connect with your ideal patients through digital marketing strategies with proven results. 

Most of all, though, we’re great at listening to you and spotting what’s special about your practice. We’ve worked with many different health clients and no two practices are the same. You probably can’t see what makes your practice special because you’re in the thick of it – but we have a fresh perspective. 

Book your strategy session with Splice Marketing to start your business planning and marketing process.