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Business planning - an awayday may be the answer

This month is the end of the financial year for many practices and now is the time to formulate business strategy. An awayday can be very helpful in doing this, says accountant Mike Gilbert

This month is the end of the financial year for many practices and now is the time to formulate business strategy. An awayday can be very helpful in doing this, says accountant Mike Gilbert

Many GPs find it difficult to get started when it comes to planning the next stage of their practice's business strategy. An awayday, possibly led by a specialist medical accountant, can be extremely useful.

You will need to draw up an agenda for the awayday. This should be in written form, brief and to the point.

The agenda for an "away day" should include the following questions:

Points to include in the agenda

The future What are the personal aspirations of the partners regarding healthcare, earnings, general goals and the environment.

The past Do a critical analysis of your current and past performance.

What is needed to succeed? What are the key success factors?

What could you do? What are your main strengths and weaknesses in terms of skills, staffing, space, finance etc.

What might you do? What are the opportunities and threats in your changing environment?

What should you do? How to use the above answers

Key features to discuss in the above are:-

The future?

• Your balance between money and the quality of life.

• How much do you want to earn? How many hours per week do you want to work?

• Organisation chart and lines of authority.

• Partner roles.

• Partnership succession.

• Outside appointments versus NHS.

• What specialities can you offer?

The past?

• How well are you organised?

• What hours do you currently spend on professional activities?

• How do your earnings compare with national averages?

What is needed to succeed?

• What are the factors needed for you to succeed as a high earning practice?

• Do you need new premises?

• Do you need to structuring the practice more effectively?

• Can there be more delegation of routine tasks.

• Is everyone doing the right jobs for their skills?

• Are you providing the correct services to meet the needs of your patients?

What could you do?

• What are your strengths and weaknesses?

• Do the partners have all the necessary skills?

• Have you got the right staff?

• Are your premises suitable to face the future provision of primary care?

• Do you have the appropriate clinical support in your staffing?

• Are your finances well organised?

• Do you have a good reputation with patients?

• Do you deal appropriately with training needs?

• Do you get on well as a team, meet regularly, and work on the practice's development?

• Do you provide the right services?

• Do you have appropriate prescribing and referral patterns?

• Are you happy with your practice profile, quality of healthcare, and list size?

What might you do?

• What is currently happening to your profession in terms of NHS direction, government intervention and the provision of healthcare generally?

• Who is your competition and what threats do they pose?

• Could you recruit other healthcare professionals to provide new or improved services?

• Could you train to obtain a specialisation (such as dermatology) which can be sold to the PCT in the form of enhanced services or to your PBC consortium by way of provisioning?

• Could you delegate better to free up your time to take on lucrative outside appointments?

• Could you find land to build a health centre providing a full range of services as owners with selected tenants?

• Are you ready and participating fully with Practice Based Commissioning and Provisioning?

• Have you the resources to "bid" for other practices?

• Does dispensing provide an opportunity?

• Are there opportunities to obtain income from outside activities?

• Can you achieve more quality points?

• Are there opportunities to reduce costs?

What should you do?

Having spent most of the day discussing the above (making sure that honesty in considering the practice's strengths and weaknesses is absolute) it is now time to summarise the practice objectives and philosophy and list down all the issues the practice is going to address. It is decision time - and all agreed decisions will form your plan for the future. Every decision must state who is responsible for carrying out the task and what the timescale is. There should be follow up meetings to discuss progress, perhaps on a quarterly basis.

During the course of your awayday:-

• Use your practice manager – he or she is an integral part of the team.

• Keep a note of all major points discussed and decisions made.

• Make sure everyone contributes. Be totally honest and outspoken throughout without being hurtful or unnecessarily aggressive. Having a go at your colleagues does not help at all

• Don't get hung up on what used to be – look forward.

• Have plenty of refreshments (but keep the alcoholic ones for after the meeting).

Today GPs must accept from the outset that a medical practice is a business, and success will not be achieved without ensuring you have the right structures, services, technology, staff and premises.

Mike Gilbert is a partner at RMT Accountants and Business Advisors

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