It has become increasingly clear that balancing the various aspects of our work is key to making the whole truly greater than the sum of its parts. Dr Stefaan Vossen, clinical director and founder of Core Clinics explains how to manage this balancing act while providing excellent care for all patients.
How did you start your career in healthcare? What encouraged you to pursue a role in primary care?
I come from a family of physicians, including GPs, nurses, consultants, chiropractors etc. There was already a preponderance towards healthcare running in the family, and I had a number of conversations with various members. I ended settling on rehabilitative care as I found it very interesting and could see the logic behind it. I fell in love with chiropractic after a conversation with several of my uncles over the years, and went from there.
There was not just a lot of variation of care providers within the family, but also a variation in philosophy going from emergency hospitalisation all the way across to more holistic preventative care. What really drew me in was that this one thing could be so wide and broad.
Given your experience of setting up your own clinical business, what advice could you give to those private practitioners who are thinking of launching their own practice?
This is an interesting question because it very much depends on what your background is. If you are coming from the public sector like the NHS, and you are then ‘going it alone’ within the private sector, it’s going to be a very different experience than what it would be if you were starting out in the private sector. It really depends on who we are talking to.
In the case of an NHS physician, they have to understand that all of a sudden, they’re no longer a provider. It’s that transition from being a service provider and the deliverer of a process to a representative of a service that must, to use a ‘dirty’ word, sell itself. These people must realise that even though they might not like the fact that they’re having to sell themselves, any person or service provider of any sort sells themselves no matter what. They just have to choose whether they sell themselves well or badly.
My advice is to quickly come to terms with the fact that people will decide whether they want to purchase services from you or from somebody else. That is the critical difference between the NHS and the private sector.
For a person who is moving into the private sector afresh, there is going to be a process where they have to see that the best option is to think of things long-term. Care provision is a people business more than anything else. Yes, we are providers of a service and our colleagues can replace us in doing so, however the real ‘fairy dust’ of healthcare occurs when relationships are built between patients and clinicians.
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It’s an exercise of nurturing the relationship, making sure that the patient takes home the advice and executes that advice the clinician has been giving. As with any relationship over time, there’s a trust and a bond that develops where people will not want to let each other down. It makes the patient a better patient and the doctor a better doctor.
By making sure we think in the long-term, we are focused on the community and the people that we aim to work for.
How do you balance your various roles within Core Health and Wellness? Do you have any advice for doctors and practice managers who are struggling to run their clinic as a business while also practising medicine?
You have to hire the best people you can afford. A lot of people think they can run a business because they think it’s just a matter of accounting and balancing the books. Actually, running a business is a very intricate thing, and to do it well, you have to hire really good people who all manage their part of the process. It might be accounting, providing reports or making a cup of tea, business developers must make sure they can hire the best people they can afford as soon as they can do so.
If you are running a lifestyle business, and you’re committing to a situation whereby what you earn is what you take home, then that’s fine. However, I would not call it a business, but a lifestyle. If things are specifically being run in a way that you can adequately use your skill set, things will inevitably because a lot better because of your focus.
There needs to be a focus on processes and protocols, and refining those to match customer care and service. If you do end up re-investing, then you’re in a situation where you can attract some very good people and look after them well.
I often find that when I’m speaking to colleagues about this, I see that they are stretching themselves too thin. They are doing the accounting and paperwork left, right and centre. The result is they really do lose the love for what they are there to do, which is clinical work. I would advise people to focus on the clinical work and delegate the other functionalities to other people.
Plenty of private practices seem not to be doing much to retain their new patients. In your view, what is the most effective approach to attracting and retaining patients?
It’s really a case of creating a patient- or customer-centred pathway. What’s important is to understand that when you have a multitude of services, it’s about making sure that patients know about what’s offered within the practice. They will inevitably end up purchasing a number of services, and even when they don’t require the services of one individual practitioner, they’ll remember that there’s a service available that they might require at another time.
This point has a very big impact on people as they remember there are various services being provided by the clinic, and they will recommend people accordingly. That’s a really important aspect of attraction, but in terms of retention you need to make sure that the advice given out by clinicians to patients is then followed up the front-of-house team.
In our practice, we have a team that is dedicated to the patient experience and one that is for the practice management side of things, such as clinical provisions etc. It’s vital to pay attention to equipment, technology and services, but it’s also down to things like checking that the cleanliness of the toilets and the quality of the cup of tea that everyone drinks are constantly on point.
It’s a matter of generating a loyalty that comes from people never feeling like they are being taken for granted. A lot of healthcare practices overly focus on clinical provision itself that they actually forget that there are other parts to the experience. There’s a patient pathway, but there’s also a customer pathway, and they should be divided. The two are slightly different, but they should dovetail really nicely.
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