It is not easy for independent practitioners to know how to navigate through these next few weeks, but Jane Braithwaite, of Designated Medical, puts forward some helpful suggestions.
To say this is a challenging time for doctors is a ridiculous understatement. For doctors in private practice, the situation can vary widely between closing your practice for a period of three months, moving all consultations to video consultations or carrying on as normal.
The appropriate way forward for you will be determined by the nature of the treatment you provide and how urgent it is that your patients receive your care.
Some doctors in private practice are deciding to focus all their working hours on supporting the NHS. Others, who left the NHS recently, are re-entering the NHS to help their ex colleagues.
In the short term, you have a responsibility to your patients to ensure you are still communicating with them and offering your support.
Many patients will have long-standing relationships with their doctors and need reassurance that this will continue throughout the next few months.
While the number of appointments scheduled may have reduced dramatically, our Designated Medical PAs have seen the number of phone calls and emails to our doctors from anxious patients increase in many cases. Therefore, we must ensure patients’ phone calls are answered and managed daily.
I would envisage that, for most doctors in private practice, there will be a significant reduction in workload and therefore income.
Like all business owners, doctors can apply for financial support for the Government-backed schemes. At the time of writing, these arrangements are still being finalised, but it is worth keeping abreast of the options available.
Having a tight grip on our finances is imperative right now. If you have good financial processes and systems in place, then you will be able to assess your cash flow over the coming weeks and months.
For those doctors who do not have a good financial system in place, such as Xero, now would be a good time to invest in one.
It doesn’t take long to set up, requires good financial housekeeping on a regular basis, but will pay dividends in terms of financial control and time spent sorting out the year end tax return.
In many practices, there will be staff issues to manage too, including setting up employees to work from home, understanding and managing statutory sick pay for those staff members who are unfortunate enough to suffer from this horrid virus.
In the worst cases, doctors may have to consider redundancy. The Government is encouraging all of us to stand by our employees and they have pledged to stand by us.
The Government has announced financial support for employees who will be laid off or ‘furloughed’ during this difficult time. To find out more, it is best to check the HMRC website. Call waiting times are currently around 3.5 hours.
Doctors, like everyone else, will need to maintain a positive focus both personally and professionally for their own mental well-being and this will be incredibly hard for those working in the NHS.
For those of us who do have some free time, while we are required to stay at home when not working, we are able to head outside to exercise daily so long as we do so on our own. The simpler activities such as reading and avoiding too much news may be appealing too.
When this time has passed, and our lives settle back into normal routine, we will want our practices to be in the best possible place to bounce back and manage our patients’ needs.
During these difficult times, we can set time aside to help ensure this is the case. As mentioned previously, many of our patients are feeling anxious and will appreciate regular communications from us. This proactive patient contact could be a regular email communication keeping them updated on your news.
This could also be a good time to assess your marketing strategy and implement new plans that will ensure you are well positioned at the right time.
Maybe your website needs a bit of an overhaul or your intentions to launch yourself on social media could finally become a reality.
It could also be the right time to create a catalogue of articles that can be used, either now or when your practice is at full capacity again, including:
- Collecting testimonials from happy patients’
- Consideration of promotional campaigns for later in the year;
- Something as straightforward as ensuring your Google business page is set up properly.
These actions will help to elevate your profile within the healthcare community, ensuring your reputation withstands this testing period and that you are at forefront of people’s mind when the time is right.
The pace of change currently means that each new day feels very different from the previous one.
There is no right or wrong answer or advice on how to navigate through these next few weeks, but I hope that our suggestions here resonate with many of you.
One of the most reassuring reactions to our current situation is the positivity with which many have stepped forward to support others and the random acts of kindness that have been offered.
As individuals and as a company, myself and my team at Designated Medical are keen to support you all in whatever way we can, in the private sector or within the NHS. I wish you all to stay happy and healthy.
Jane Braithwaite is managing director of Designated Medical, which offers business services for private consultants, including medical secretary support, book-keeping and digital marketing