Medical Practices: How to Sustain Your Business through COVID-19 and Thrive Beyond

How to manage costs and look forward to future growth.

COVID-19 has impacted myriad businesses worldwide, medical practices included. While general practitioners strive to care for patients at the frontlines, safety concerns and tighter safety regulations have placed a strain on family physicians.

In Singapore, for example, doctors can now only practice in maximum three clinics to minimise the spread of COVID-19 infections. Since the locum market is essential to Singapore’s private healthcare sector, the new rule has resulted in a manpower crunch, pressuring some clinics to cut their operating hours. The stricter regulation has also impacted locums’ salaries; one locum doctor shared with TODAY news that his earnings had dropped by a third following the revised guidelines from Singapore’s Ministry of Health. Meanwhile, other doctors have turned to teleconsultation services such as PlatoConnect, so they can remain accessible to patients and caregivers during lockdown, while improving triaging, resource allocation, and social distancing.

But it’s not just GPs who have been feeling the crunch. Private practices that aren’t backed by the deep pockets of larger organisations and those located in marginalised areas have been hit particularly hard. Many are facing similar hurdles such as significant drops in patient volume, complete halts in medical tourism, and deferred outpatient follow-ups.

The common outcome? Ballooning costs, shrinking profits.

Private practices are voicing their struggles to remain in business through COVID-19, where sharp drops in revenue are burdening clinics with tough choices like retaining employees and managing expenses. Sustaining the business has now become one of the top priorities for medical practitioners, including dentists, specialists, psychologists, and allied health professionals. For clinics to survive through COVID-19, they need to plan ahead and devise a sustainable strategy to minimise overhead costs and seize opportunities.

 

Look for the Silver Lining

In every challenge lies opportunity. Medical practices have been quick to take up technological innovations to solve ongoing challenges brought forth by COVID-19. For example, telehealth has experienced a surge in demand due to the added protection it offers healthcare providers, patients, and caregivers against COVID-19, while freeing up medical resources and improving triaging. GPs have been one of the fastest to transition to teleconsultations since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and even doctors who had been sceptical about video consultations were won over after they realised how well the technology worked, reports The British Medical Journal.

Since technology has become part and parcel of daily life—from ride-sharing and delivery service apps to digital retail platforms—people are expecting no different from medical providers. Healthcare businesses without digital tech as part of their core business strategy are more likely to fall behind competitors and lose market share. Practices that automate administrative tasks reportedly give patients a greater sense of relief, confidence, and comfort. Technological solutions free up the time of medical staff and empowers them to focus on complex, value-adding aspects of the business. A powerful clinic management software (CMS), for example, can execute routine operations to a T and more precisely than any human resource.

An automation-driven clinic management platform picks up the slack in operations by managing daily time-consuming tasks, streamlining workflows, and keeping medical practitioners accessible, even when patients can’t physically visit them.

Medical practices can thus adapt more quickly to changing business landscapes, save hours of work for their medical teams, and empower them to focus on what matters: patients.

 

Aside from improving cost management, clinics should utilise any government aid available during this trying time. Schemes and grants can support practitioners in areas such as rent and payroll, thereby helping them maintain headcount to avoid any layoffs or prolonged no-pay leave as best as possible.

Experts foresee that the impact of COVID-19 could last through 2020. Medical practices should prepare for such a scenario and start laying the groundwork for solutions to tide through this period.

 

How to Sustain and Grow Your Medical Practice

Remain accessible to patients. Doctors and psychologists can remain accessible to patients during lockdowns, or due to safe distancing concerns, by teleconsulting and providing virtual care using PlatoConnect. Thanks to PlatoConnect’s ease of use and security, doctors can easily offer telehealth to their patientsboth local and foreignand address any concerns or questions posed by caregivers, no matter where they are.

While larger practices have been able to turn the tables on their types of patient visits, from 90% in-person and 10% virtual to 10% in-person and 90% virtual, a common concern among smaller practices with fewer resources is how they could bill for these teleconsultations. With PlatoPay, clinics and patients need not worry about teleconsultation billing and payment. PlatoPay is a secure PCI-DSS compliant service that lets doctors remotely charge patients’ credit card for services rendered—the same way Grab or Uber charges for delivery or a car ride. If you opt for this billing mode, your patient will have to register their credit card details online, prior to the teleconsult, and it will be automatically saved into the patient’s record on Plato.

Instead of having patients wait on busy telephone lines, Plato’s online appointment booking offers 24/7 access from anywhere. Those who need digital MCs can get verifiable, government-backed DigiMCs sent to them via SMS/email directly from Plato. Patients can forward this softcopy to their employer and other relevant parties, or print it as and when needed. Doctors can also send prescriptions directly to patients via G-MEDS Home Rx Delivery service that’s available as a Plato integration.

With numerous automations in place, small or startup virtual clinics that are cost-sensitive to stay on track with break-even or growth targets, will find that it’s possible to operate their business without a front desk using Plato.

Use grants and schemes. The Singapore government has set aside over S$60 billion to support citizens and businesses through COVID-19, including the Jobs Support Scheme to discourage employers from layoffs and prolonged no-pay leave. Under this scheme, the government will bear 75% of the first S$4,600 of gross monthly wages per local employee across all sectors for April and May 2020. Other support measures include enhanced property tax rebates and rental cost aid. During Singapore’s circuit breaker, mandatory business closures can lead to temporary cash flow hurdles. Interim relief from contractual obligations like rental payment is provided for a specific relief period under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill. Rent accrual through this relief period will remain payable once it is over. Under this Bill, leases for commercial property, on the basis of non-payment of rent, cannot be terminated. On the regular, the Enterprise Development Grant (previously known as the Capability Development Grant) is available to support Singapore clinics in business upgrading projects, which can involve the adoption of automation and technologies to make everyday tasks more efficient.

Automate affordably. Plato gives clinics the power of one more staff member without breaking the bank. The CMS handles all automatable clinic management tasks from pre- to post-consultation or teleconsultation. Imagine having your CMS manage everything from online appointment management, patient pre-registration and e-consent form processing, even before your patient has their consultation. Automating front desk work enables small or startup clinics to function with a low or zero headcount so that break-even and growth remain achievable targets.

Streamline workflows. Doctors can configure Plato’s flexible EMR based on their preferred workflow and benefit from EMR automations that save up to six hours, thereby freeing time for them to see a higher volume of patients. Data entry for billing and inventory management can consume large pockets of time for clinic staff, but with Plato’s automation-driven EMR, direct corporate billings and direct CHAS submissions, as well as direct lab and radiology results, employees find their administrative burden significantly reduced. While it remains unclear how long COVID-19 can survive on surfaces like paper—one study by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that this could be up to 24 hours on cardboard—medical practices should take extra precautionary measures by going paperless with Plato.

All you need in one place. In addition to being a CMS, Plato is a platformit goes beyond handling day-to-day operations by enabling clinics to send and receive key information from other systems. Plato has everything you need in one place, so when it comes to managing online appointment bookings, retrieving lab or radiology results, and making direct CHAS submissions, doctors don’t have to wrestle with multiple windows and logins, which only fuels business costs and work fatigue. Beyond work automations and a flexible EMR that doctors love, Plato offers key integrations with other important applications.

Think of Plato as being in the centre of all of the apps that clinics and their service providers use to run the business and engage patients. For instance, clinics can send data directly to their accountant’s software like Xero or Quickbooks, deliver medicine to patients via G-MEDS Home Rx Delivery service and send customised surveys to patients using applications Delighted or Typeform to improve engagement. Plato’s integration with ecommerce platform Shopify will have your online store up and running in minutes, should you wish to diversify your revenue stream. Go above and beyond a regular CMS with Plato’s powerful platform integrations, so you have everything you need in one place.

Poise for growth. Notable advice from a clinic that has endured tough economic challenges to subsequently scale operations into a group practice is to never underrate how improved internal processes can keep costs low, thereby allowing you to expand while remaining lean. Plato is equipped with growth tools to set your clinic up for success. Clinics that have scaled from solo to group practices regularly evaluate their performance and identify opportunities to make data-driven decisions, including a comprehensive business strategy. Plato’s integrations with business intelligence applications like PowerBI, Tableau, and Mode let clinics build custom reports that measure metrics aligned with specific business targets, so progress is on track and never out of reach.

Learn how Plato can help your practice by booking a free demo today.

 

– Wong Yoon Sann