medical practice setup, management and consulting - nicky jardine - your forever practice

Tips For General Practitioners Seeking Their “Forever Practice”

If I had a dollar for every time a medical centre asked me if I knew of any GPs looking for a job, well you know my answer! Yes, I would be a millionaire.

There is a shortage of General Practitioners in Australia, which makes the recruitment process a lot harder. General Practitioners know they are in demand. However, the big “bucks” are not everything. If a General Practitioner is serious about building a patient base, creating a good reputation in the community and are not interested in swapping clinics every few months, General Practitioners have to take the time to ensure that the medical centre they have chosen is the right one.

As a General Practitioner, you need to do your research. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Location, location, location

If you have a family, you need to think about schools, day centres and your social life and interests. You may want a “sea change”, “country change” or prefer to work in a large city.

If you have a location in mind, check out how many medical centres are in that postcode. The more medical centres in the area, the harder it will be to grow your patient base compared to medical centres and general practitioners who have been in that location for years (unless you are joining one of those centres).

Research the medical centre you have your eye on.

Google Reviews

Your research could be via Google but don’t always believe the Google reviews. These can be misleading. Sometimes people put bad Google reviews about centres simply because they have a grudge against the centre and some medical centre owners get their friends and family to add Google reviews.

So, either way, Google isn’t always a good representation of the centre.
Make sure the medical centre shows on Google Maps and your smartphone. This is a good indication for patients finding medical centres. If it does not appear on google, it may indicate that it is a new centre and hasn’t had time to go through the Google rankings.

Ask the local community and doctors

Speak to local pharmacies, café owners and local shops. Ask them if they have heard of the medical centre or which general practice they would recommend. You may get ten different answers, but then again you may get five people who give a rave review about a centre you haven’t considered or a bad review of the centre you have considered.

Contact the local General Practitioners group or join local General Practitioners social media pages. Most General Practitioners know a General Practitioner who has worked in the location.

On-line appointments

Check out on-line appointment sites like Health Engine and Hot Docs. Look a couple of days in advance and see how many appointments the medical centre has available that day and a couple of days in advance. If it is a six-doctor practice and they only have a handful of appointments left, then you know that it is a busy centre.

If there are a lot of spare appointments for many days in advance, this could indicate that it is a new medical centre, or they do not have an online presence. This would prompt me to look at the website and the history of the medical centre.

Contact the centre

Most medical centres prefer you to contact them directly than to go through a recruitment agency. A recruitment agency can cost a medical centre between $20,000-$ 30,000 for a full-time general practitioner. It is sometimes an expense a smaller centre cannot afford.

Ask for an interview with the owner of the centre. If it is a corporate-owned centre or non-doctor owned medical centre, ensure you speak to the Clinical Director or speak to the owners directly i.e. the person or people who can make the decisions. Check out the medical centre’s organisational structure and who you will be reporting to or who you need to contact if there are issues. Consider issues such as contractual, HR with staff, IT, telephones and most importantly clinical risk.

Questions to ask could include:

  • How long has the centre been open?
  • When was a doctor last recruited and how many patients does the doctor consult per day? This is a good question to ask because you don’t want to be one of two or three doctors scrambling for patients as it will take you longer for you to build up your patient base.
  • What interests do the other doctors have and will your special interests be supported i.e. skin cancer – has the practice got the instruments or equipment to support skin cancer clinics?
  • How often does the medical centre have meetings?
  • When did the practice go through accreditation and how did the process go?
  • What kind of marketing does the practice do? Have they got a good website with interesting blogs, interesting social media and is the website easy to follow?
  • What kind of technology or systems does the centre use? i.e. on-line appointments, up-to-date computers and software, a good telephone system, and the use of eHealth systems such as PRODA, Medical Objects, My Health record etc. It is no good joining a medical centre if you are going to spend half your time sorting out technology-related problems.
  • Now for the money part! Some practices offer general practitioners between $ 120-150 per hour for a private or mixed billing practice. This is usually for a three month period and sort of a settling in period. However, if you are thinking of working in a bulk billing practice, the dollar per hour could be a lot greater.

If you are moving into a DPA area, you may be eligible for a government incentive.

However, no matter what retainer you have, make sure the owner will consider a review at the end of the “retainer” period. It takes a general practitioner in a new centre approximately 6-12 months to build up a good patient base, sometimes longer. So, if you are still not seeing the expected number of patients, you may need to renegotiate your retainer.

Please note, it is not the total responsibility of the medical centre to ensure you are creating a patient base, you need to work hard as a general practitioner to retain the patients you are consulting. You also need to think of proper use of the MBS item numbers. Remember, you are building a small business yourself.

  • Check out what staff will be available to support you i.e. practice nurse, receptionist, business manager etc
  • If the practice is in a predominantly “top-heavy” general practitioner area or is a new medical centre, have they created a marketing plan for the centre? Look at their signage. This is important. If there is no solid marketing plan, it will be harder for you to build your patient base. It doesn’t matter how heavy the “traffic” area is, if the signage is bad or there is no marketing plan, patients will not know you are there.
  • Make sure you take your contract to a lawyer if you don’t understand some of the clauses. Look for restrictive clauses etc.

Try before you buy

Ask if you can work at the medical centre for a couple of weeks to “try before you buy”. During this time, you will soon be able to gauge the “feel” of the medical centre. Again, remember it’s not all about money. This is your life, so you need to ensure that the medical centre emanates a positive, warming environment and there are no underlying politics.

Most importantly, develop a good relationship with the Clinical Director or owner of the practice. This will be good for your own security but also the security of the centre. You could be working together for a long time. Relationship building is paramount.

There are some amazing medical centres out there with some great owners. I wish you luck in finding your “forever” practice.

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