This site is intended for health professionals only

Getting the best out of your practice manager

Practice managers can help practices thrive and expand if they are given enough freedom, says Dr David Clarke

A good practice manager can free up GP time and save money if they are given the right working conditions.

Our practice in West Sussex cares for over 12,200 patients and we have developed innovative ways for our practice manager to be more involved in improving what we do.

Here are some tips from our experience.

1. Recruit carefully

Take extra care when recruiting for a practice manager; they are one of the most important people in the practice and it is essential that they are right for the job. We spend more time recruiting a new practice manager than for a new partner.

Good verbal, written and presentational skills are essential, as are skills in strategic management and planning, financial management and human resources. The RCGP has produced a good sample job specifications document that you could use [1].

2. Take a step back

As the boss of a small business, it can be easy for a GP to become intimately involved in the minutia of running the practice. Don't.

For the practice manager to be innovative and an asset to your practice, they need to have some free rein.

Practice Managers thrive best with new responsibilities and will work hard to provide the facilities and services your practice needs. It can be difficult to take a step back, but remember that they are well qualified to do the job and need your trust to succeed.

3. Encourage them to implement new schemes

We have a high proportion of elderly patients and to meet their specific needs our practice manager, Jo has implemented a ‘Unique Care' scheme.

This involves organising a weekly meeting between the practice, social workers and the Community Partnership, to discuss how to best help the elderly community.

This has enabled us to provide the best possible services and an integrated system of care for this vulnerable group of patients, addressing their needs on both medical and social levels to ultimately help them stay out of hospital.

Practice managers are excellent helping with the coordination of low level health interventions, for example ensuring patients know what help is available to them and where they can access it. Encourage them to explore new ways of doing this.

4. Use their project management skills

Our surgery in Worthing, West Sussex, has had to quickly adapt to an increasing demand for new services, such as an onsite pharmacy, and our practice manager has been instrumental in developing larger premises.

Thanks to her leadership, the surgery is now close to completing a £1million extension this summer. She project managed the expansion from start to finish and the results have been fantastic.

The surgery didn't need to employ an external project manager because she was more than capable of handling this piece of work within her role. She got both staff and patients fully involved and onboard with the change by regularly consulting with them, and documenting their needs.

Our Patient Participation Group (PPG) held a competition with the local college to design the surgery's new waiting area, ensuring that it suits patient needs; providing a welcome environment with the new ‘beach' theme.

5. Train them

With such a diverse role, your practice manager will undoubtedly have some development needs. Ask them what training they would like to have and research suitable courses.

There are free NHS resources out there that you can use, for example the Department of Health in May this year, brought out a DVD called Improving the Patient Experience. This is designed for GP receptionists [2], but is also a useful tool for practice managers to use to improve their skills on how best to deal with different patient needs ranging from disabilities to language barriers.

6. Use their patient knowledge

Practice managers interact with patients daily and are very much ‘at the coal face' of GP surgery operations. Alongside receptionists, they are face, voice and ears of practices across the country.

They should play a vital role in understanding patient needs, concerns and opinions within the practice. Encourage them to interact more with patients and perhaps, have specific times when they run an ‘open surgery' for patient concerns.

Their insight and patient relationships are invaluable to improving service level standards. Involve them in meetings about how to improve the practice and consult them early on about any plans you have for new services.

We have found through PBC in our practice it is often the practice manager who has the best view when deciding which services are needed.

7. Have an ‘open door' policy

Although it seems obvious, you need to make sure your practice manager feels they can come to you with any problems that arise.

They shouldn't be left to work independently, and should have a good network of staff to help them in their role. They should also feel able to communicate and consult with GPs.

8. Allow them to develop their role

Our practice manager is keen to champion innovation through our practice. As a result, we often participate in pilots of new ways of providing care and educating patients. Our new extension has provided a ‘Patient Education' room where we can offer support groups and information sessions for everyone in the Practice.

This is a great way of both developing the skills and capabilities of your practice manager, whilst also keeping your practice up-to-date.

9. Recognise success

It is important to recognise and reward the work undertaken by your practice manager. They are integral to the success of the business so make sure they feel valued by praising successes and regularly feeding back in appraisals.

10. Encourage them to join networks

Your practice manager can learn a lot from others in a similar position. Encourage them to join the NHS Practice Management Network and make use of their resources.

Dr David Clarke is a GP in Worthing, West Sussex

Getting the best out of your practice manager Seminar - Advanced Practice Management

A seminar to help secure your practice's future prosperity through a period of huge change

25 November & 2 December 2010 | London & Manchester


Find out more