Mediclinic brings quality care to life with practice development plan

Posted on 8 August 2018

For the past 15 years, Mediclinic has been focused on recruiting and retaining the best quality doctors, in order to provide the best quality care in even the most remote areas of South Africa.

This project is called practice development, says Sakkie du Plessis, National Referral Manager: Mediclinic Southern Africa, and its goal is to help specialists gain and maintain a foothold in the healthcare market – and ensure doctors are equipped to provide their patients with the best quality care at all times.

“We want our doctors to be able to focus on the clinical side of their practices,” says Du Plessis. “That is what they are trained to do, and what they are good at – serving their patients. However, a lot of them are less adept at running the business side of their practice, and that’s where we can help.”

A particular focus is doctors and patients in rural areas. “We find a lot of new doctors want to work in the metropolitan areas, and this can lead to a shortage of skills in outlying areas,” says Du Plessis. “Doctors are understandably reluctant to move or start their practices in outlying areas, where they can become isolated from other specialists and find it difficult to access medical schools – and these are vital supporting resources.”

When too many doctors take up residence in metropolitan areas, there is a risk that patients may be left behind. “Our patients must always come first,” emphasises Du Plessis. “Our practice development approach hinges on that requirement – we want to provide quality care to our patients all across South Africa, by bringing our doctors to where they live.”

Assistance in practice development can benefit a doctor in many ways and at many stages of his or her career. “New specialists who are starting out after studying often need help in establishing their practice in a challenging business environment,” Du Plessis says. “We also assist more experienced doctors who have been working in the public sector to make the move into private practice successfully, and even older doctors who have been practising for decades can benefit from an effective expansion or succession plan.”

To optimise the performance of a specialist’s practice, Du Plessis and his team will look at what he calls the life-cycle of a doctor. “We have a cradle-to-grave model where we plot out a doctor’s career path. This plan starts at the pre-recruitment stage, as the doctor is newly qualified, and carries right through to succession planning when the doctor is thinking of retiring.”

Mediclinic identifies suitable specialists just as they wrap up their years of studying. “We attend conferences and host information sessions where we advertise all the benefits of our facilities and our practice development assistance,” says Du Plessis.

Which specialists? “All of them,” Du Plessis laughs. “We aim to address a need: if there is a shortage of specialists in a given area, we focus on bringing the relevant expertise to provide for that. In general, we look for the Big 5 specialisations, and those disciplines that are most scarce in the country: general surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, gynaecologists, general physicians and paediatricians.”

In the recruitment process, Mediclinic presents these specialists with support packages, says Du Plessis. “So we encourage them to start their practices in these areas, by helping them with relocation costs and other expenses. We make practice opportunities as attractive as possible, especially in the rural areas, but our offers must always be market-related. The one exclusive service we offer is access to a doctor relationship manager – these professionals are there to help specialists to market and grow their businesses.”

It is important to remember that specialists affiliated with Mediclinic are not employed by the hospital group, says Du Plessis. “A specialist practices on his or her own. As a business, they are completely independent, and we do not interfere with their decisions – we don’t tell them to use branded or generic prescription medication, for example, or what tariffs to charge their patients.”

Mediclinic’s practice development strategy resembles a comprehensive business plan. “This is the A-Z of how to start a specialist practice in the best, most effective way,” says Du Plessis. “A big part of that is market positioning: we want our doctors to understand where they fit in within their local healthcare environment, and how they can provide the best service to their patients.”

Growth strategies are critical to any business, and specialists are no exception. Mediclinic does regular research into the nature of the healthcare market and makes that information available to specialists. “We help doctors with their market penetration,” says Du Plessis, “and the doctor relationship managers assist with market development as well. What this means is, we play a role in communicating to the healthcare market that our doctors are specialists in their fields and the best referral choice for general practitioners.”

Doctors can also benefit towards the end of their careers. With the benefit of research and innovative recruitment strategies, Mediclinic can draw up succession or practice development plans that ensure a specialist’s practice remains effective and relevant even after a founding doctor retires. “We might be able to bring in a younger colleague to take on the older doctor’s workload, for instance,” says Du Plessis. “By doing this we are securing access to quality care for our patients in the years to come.”

At the heart of all of these strategies is loyalty: retaining specialists is key to providing better care. “We want our doctors to be happy and successful in their practices, of course. But that is because we want them to be in the best position to deliver quality care to their patients, at all stages of their career.”

Published in Business