Recently I was reading an article in a business management magazine. The article highlighted some of the challenges faced by small business owners when they start their business. But it could just have easily been written about a consultant surgeon starting a private medical practice.
The article illustrated how many, many small business owners attempted to start their business on their own and without assistance from outside sources. It was therefore common subsequently for the business to struggle with, for example, a lack of customers, a lack of cash and a subsequent disillusionment with the very idea of running a business. This is very normal for a consultant surgeon starting a private practice too. It is by any means an easy to do so. There is a huge amount to be considered. The basic rule is that if it can go wrong it will go wrong.
It actually happened to me too when I formed MHM. Despite the odd 35 years worth of managerial experience in running a business for various employers, I was used to, for example, ringing IT and having them install a new computer or re-sync mobile phone settings. As a small business ALL of that had to be done by myself. I soon realised that , even though it cost money, it was much better to go out and find someone who DID know how to install an IT system.
The first item in the article stated the number one challenge facing a new small business is a lack of clients. Precisely the same situation that a newly established private medical practice faces too. The second item was a lack of cash. Certainly, when I go meet a prospective client both are mentioned. More specifically as regards the second point, the amount of cash actually generated by the small number of patients is not anywhere near what was expected.
Yet I re-collect when speaking to a colleague who specialised in marketing for consultant surgeons, most practices do not have a process in place to utilise the positive experience enjoyed by existing patients to encourage new patient referrals. Their lack of new patients could be helped by using testimonials from current patients in other words. The new practice does not have the right marketing strategies (both online and offline) to attract patients consistently.
Instead, marketing is left to drift unattended. My colleague is a real superstar at medical practice marketing yet she suffers from consultants believing she is far too expensive to engage.
Alternatively, the new private consultant surgeon has a conversation with a colleague who does has an established practise. Hopefully, this pays dividends but it does suppose the established surgeon is maximising his marketing efforts in the first place.
Precisely the same happens when the subject turns to medical invoicing and payment of outstanding accounts. Many newly established private medical practices assume the invoicing – the “accounts bit” – is just as easy as marketing. It will sort itself out in the end. If it doesn’t they ask a colleague how they do it. Once again it assumes the colleague is managing his billing correctly.
Sadly he may not be..
The paradox is that many consultant surgeons when they first start a private practice make the same mistake as I did with my IT requirements when I started – a vain attempt to sort it out myself followed by frantic phone calls to experts. After two weeks and a few hundred YouTube videos later, I bit the bullet and called someone who DID know. It cost me £150 but within ONE day I had all the systems up, running and working very, very efficiently.
The old adage of “if you think hiring a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur” springs to mind.
Yet many private surgeons, by attempting to manage their own medical invoicing or asking their medical secretary to do the billing and collections to an expert standard, make precisely the same mistake.