Managing administrative burden and burnout in private practice

Practitioners and practice managers in private practice are time-poor, stressed out and burnt out due to the immense pressure COVID-19 has placed on them.

According to the Australian Journal of General Practice, Australian doctors have higher rates of stress and more attempts at suicide than the general Australian population, and burnout has been recognised as a causative factor for depression and suicide in the medical profession.

In the recent Clinic to Cloud 2020 Survey: Building a Better Practice Beyond COVID-19 respondents cited the biggest challenge experienced over the past six months was time management 43% and 31% said they experienced more stress and burnout.

As CEO Rafic Habib points out, the challenges of balancing quality versus efficiency in cost and time management are even more prevalent now than in previous years.

“Doctors and practices face the usual pressures, with the additional burden of needing to create a contactless environment and minimally staffed waiting rooms,” he says. “Systems have had to change, for example, the heightened screening and hygiene at reception in the aim to avoid exposure for patients and staff equally.”

"These changes are driving costs and salaries upwards and in turn causing the income to decrease. The balance of all that is a challenge for anyone in business healthcare or otherwise.

“To me, it is obvious that stress and burnout is now exaggerated and enhanced by these external forces that are out of our control which begs the need to focus on the things that are within our control as business owners," he adds.

Administrative burden and the pandemic

Over the past six months, healthcare professionals have reported administrative burden has been one of the biggest challenges they have faced (41%). Practices have seen an increase in administration, paperwork and document management (69%) and an increase in credit card payment processing over the phone (54%).

Also adding to the stress of this, nearly 40% of practices have revenue/cash flow concerns.

The report noted that the increase in credit card payments over the phone is of particular concern, due to inherent security risks, and an increasing number of debtors on practice books at a time when they can least afford it.

“The risk is obviously both from a debt perspective and a security perspective,” Rafic explains. “Practices having to get on the phone and chase outstanding debt for services rendered with less earnings and exhausted staff. Throwing more people at the problem is not often the answer, what is needed is more efficiency and better patient engagement.”

Telehealth causing an increase in workload

Practice manager of a top ENT practice in Newcastle, Kenna Jefferson, says while her staff thought switching to telehealth consults would involve less admin, it ended up involving more.
And when the doctor wasn't in the operating theatre, he was in their rooms five days a week and seeing twice as many patients as they normally would, she adds.

“We had just never done telehealth before. We hadn't anticipated that every one of those telehealth appointments was now going to need a face-to-face follow-up, and they're going to need a physical exam, which is going to take longer than a normal review appointment, and all those kinds of things. We did learn a lot of lessons very quickly,” Kenna explains.

“There was a lot more admin involved. Just sending out scripts to people sending out testing referrals to them, taking payments over the phone, we also let people do bank transfers, I was checking the bank account 10 times a day to see if anybody had transferred money in.”

Quick tips from Practice Manager Kenna Jefferson to help save time and reduce burnout:

- Set aside time with your team regularly to check in and ask how you can support them.
- A stressed team makes a stressed practice manager. Make sure they know that their health and safety is a priority.
- Always look for ways to increase efficiency and streamline productivity
- Ask your team for time-saving and stress-reducing ideas, they have them but may not offer them up unless asked.

Read more insights in Clinic to Cloud’s recent survey, 2020 Survey: Building a better practice beyond COVID-19. Download your free copy here.

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Tony Tibben
Tony Tibben is the State Lead for NSW/ACT at Clinic to Cloud. Tony has spent close to a decade in the healthcare industry; working closely with practitioners, health professionals and practice managers. More recently Tony has studied change management as part of his MBA, igniting a passion and drive to help overcome the multitude of challenges faced by people working in healthcare and a rapidly changing world.
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