The number of active South African internet users grew by 1.9 million, from 24.9 million in January 2015 to 26.8 million in January 2016*. How are medical practices using this as an opportunity to create thriving practices?
Healthbridge sits down with tech-savvy; Johannesburg based medical practice owner & GP, Dr Israel, to unpack how technology is helping him thrive not only as a GP, but as a successful business owner too.
Please describe your practice
“Getting patient volumes right is a balancing game – it’s difficult, but vital for business sustainability” – Dr Israel
I am the General Practitioner (GP) and business owner of a busy practice in the heart of Sandton, Johannesburg. I employ a few staff members to manage the admin side of the practice, and I have a few locums who assist when the practice gets too busy.
From day one, my medical practice has charged medical aid rates. Embracing medically-insured patients has helped my medical practice with patient volumes but, the hard part is that it becomes very time consuming, and time is scarce. Although I have my locums who can help with the load, they don’t know my patients as well as I do, and maintaining patient relationships is really important to me.
How has technology empowered your doctor/patient relationship?
“Technology has deepened my relationships with my patients” – Dr Israel
The most mportant thing for me and my practice is staying in touch with the patient care side of the business.
Using Healthbridge’s Dr App I can access patients’ history easily. This means that during a patient visit, I can view any captured notes from past appointments with easy access to their electronic pathology reports. I can also create sick notes and referral letters for the patient, in a few simple taps.
Besides medical practice technology, I make use of social media. I have a Facebook page where I make announcements, so that my patients have relevant information easily available.
I also use WhatsApp. It is a difficult technology to embrace as a GP, as it impacts my time greatly. However, the benefits for my patients are priceless.
For example, there was a woman who sent me an image of her bruise, and I told her that it was not necessary for her to come in unless it worsened or didn’t go away. Before WhatsApp, she would have had to take the time to come into the treating rooms and pay for a full consult.
How have you embraced technology to run the business side of your practice?
“My whole practice runs on technology. I don’t have any notes, I am paperless.” – Dr Israel
From the very beginning, I was determined to do everything electronically. Using Healthbridge’s technology has made running the business side of my practice much easier.
Patient benefits are automatically checked ahead of appointments and shown in the integrated online patient calendar. This means that my staff know if there will be a shortfall in payment for a patient, even before they see me. This is important because patients will often say ‘I’ve definitely got funds’, and then you let them walk out of your practice, only to find out later that they don’t.
This is a problem due to the sheer volume of patients. It is both time intensive and costly to contact each patient that owes you money. Explaining the shortfall of funds while they are still at the practice helps us collect more patient liable amounts, without the extra admin burden.
Another feature which really helps is Healthbridge’s easy to create invoices, which we can email to patients. Keeping things digital means we can track if and when invoices have been sent to patients.
How do you balance running your business and providing healthcare services?
It is very difficult. It’s hard to find the time to run the business side of my practice. We try to do it ourselves. My wife works in the practice and helps a lot with the bigger financial stuff and a bit of social media. But I do the rest.
I realise that I am not an expert when it comes to running the business side of my practice. This is why I rely strongly on the people around me, and the relationships with business partners I have built over the years.
For example, when structuring my business and tax, I know this is not my area of expertise, so I consult with an accountant who gives me business advice.
Similarly, in terms of the technology I use to run the business side of my practice, I am able to consult with Healthbridge. In fact, the Dr App has evolved from our consultations.
For example, when the Dr App first came out, there was no grouping of patients by family; it just looked for individual patients. However, people come in here with their 4 kids and expect you to know their names. Therefore, through my consultations with Healthbridge revealed an opportunity to group individuals into family.
Working with Healthbridge, we were able to collaboratively, come up with a way to build in a family tab, which has saved precious time; and has also enabled me to have better patient relationships.
What advice can you give other medical practice owners?
There isn’t one ingredient to creating a successful practice. However, using technology will help you manage your time more efficiently; so that you can invest in relationships and stay in touch with the patient care side of your business.
An average South African spends just under five hours a day online*. Like, Dr Israel, using technology is an opportunity for healthcare professionals to connect to their patients conveniently, create better patient experiences and streamline admin processes.
htxt.africa. 2017. SA’s 26.8 million internet users spend almost three hours a day on social media – htxt.africa. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.htxt.co.za/2016/04/29/the-stuff-south-africa-26-8-mil-internet-users-spend-most-their-time-doing-online/. [Accessed 30 October 2017].