Growing a practice against the ever-changing backdrop of COVID-19 requires more than just great practice management, but the right frameworks, systems and tools to support the needs of the practice and the patient.
We speak with specialist Dr Joseph Sgroi and practice manager Elise Stapleton to find out what they have done to adapt and strengthen their practice, optimising patient outcomes through the pandemic and beyond.
Supporting practice growth against the backdrop of COVID-19
Dr Joseph Sgroi is an obstetrician, gynecologist, IVF and infertility specialist working out of Epworth Freemasons, St Vincent’s Private, Frances Perry House, and Melbourne IVF. Elise Stapleton is both Dr Sgroi’s practice manager and personal assistant, having overseen Dr Sgroi’s initial practice expansion. She is passionate about women’s issues and supporting women as they prepare for birth.
When Dr Joseph Sgroi first set up his practice, he brought Elise Stapleton on as his only assistant. At that time, Elise had time to concentrate on administrative tasks, as the patient load had not yet grown. Dr Sgroi and Elise then implemented Clinic to Cloud, a cloud-based medical software, which facilitated the expansion of the practice.
Elise says being cloud-based set them up perfectly to operate during COVID and helped ease the burden on both staff and patients.
“We’ve adapted quite well, I think, because we were already on the cloud,” she says. “Our workflow, as an example, used to be that patients would fill out forms on paper and we’d have to enter that into our system manually. Now, via the online Patient Portal, patients can provide all that detail, including Medicare numbers, before they even attend the practice. They can upload documents, histories or results and it all comes through to us. It’s seamless and so efficient, and we are saving on all those tasks, so we have more time to spend with patients and attend to the business.”
Dr Sgroi says the practice was also quick to implement the use of masks and has automated messaging around the rules of attending the clinic during the pandemic.
“Patients will receive notices from our platform that they are to attend on their own without partners or children, how to make a mask or purchase one, and if the waiting room is full, we can send an SMS asking patients to wait in the car park before coming up,” Dr Sgroi says. “It is hard, the social isolation and deprivation of social contact does weigh heavily on some, but everyone is conscious we are doing the right thing.”
Elise explains the ability to automate systems has not only helped during COVID but also made the way the practice works together far more efficient.
“Our cloud-based position saves us a considerable amount of time,” she adds. “For example, with letters, Joe would dictate and I would manually type the letters. Now that we use voice recognition on Clinic to Cloud, dictations automatically come into our letters - it’s essentially done for me. I just format and edit them slightly and they’re done, the letters can go straight away. It probably saves me about a day each week in time.”
Evolving the patient-practice relationship
Dr Sgroi adds that the biggest challenge in managing his practice during the pandemic has been people’s mental health and the switch to telehealth, but he feels the practice was on the front foot to deal with COVID as it was already cloud-based.
“We were very fortunate and already had the ability to manage patient care in the cloud, so we felt well prepared to meet patients’ requirements remotely,” he says. “It makes a massive difference when a patient has already uploaded all their details, so staff are able to spend more time taking care of our patients’ needs and less time on administration.”
“I’m also able to be more responsive, particularly say, in the middle of the night when a patient pages me, I’m able to get on my smart phone and access that patient’s full history and due date, and I can respond wherever I am,” he says.
“What's increasingly important as we've been faced with the challenges of COVID with some of our staff isolated from the practice, or doctors who have been away from the practice, is the need to have an ongoing collaborative approach with our entire team. That's integral in terms of supporting our patient/practice relationship.”