Case Study: East Corrimal Medical Centre

22 May 2024

East Corrimal Medical Centre is a family-owned practice that has serviced the local community for over 75 years. Current owners, Dr Puja Mehrotra and Dr Rahul Mehan joined in 2013 and have worked hard to build it into a steady practice of five doctors, supported by a team of nurses and administrative staff. 

As advocates for holistic and quality patient care, they have continually expanded the services the practice offers to meet demand. That now includes women and children’s health, to men’s health and aged care support, as well as skin checks, pathology and allied health services. As a dedicated teaching and training centre, its doctors also mentor GP registrars and University of Wollongong medical students.

In addition to its metropolitan practice, the business operates a regional clinic with 22 GPs and staff known as the Kruger Medical Centre in the Murrumburrah – Harden township in New South Wales. That practice provided medical and allied health consultations and smaller branch clinics that deliver localised services in Boorowa and Cootamundra.

Rising costs and staffing challenges are a constant

Despite operating a stable business, Rahul says that challenges are persistent, particularly steadily rising operational and wage costs, the latter escalating at a faster rate than the Medicare schedule fee. More recently, IT costs, particularly cyber security, have also weighed more heavily on the practice’s budget.

Rahul explains that building East Corrimal Medical Centre into a five-doctor practice has taken hard work over many years. Like many practices, attracting and retaining staff is difficult, especially given the workloads and stress during Covid led to some doctor turnover.

According to Rahul, the difficulty keeping GPs tends to be heightened in Harden and regional branch clinics because, “most applicants for rural and regional positions are registrars and international medical graduates who stay for three to four years then leave, whereas city doctors typically settle for the longer term”.

Cultivating a team-based, inclusive culture

Puja says that offering above average wages for nurses and admin staff, as well as lower facility fee rates for doctors, has proven successful in attracting and retaining talent to the practices. She points out that this also ensures continuity of care for patients.

“Fostering an inclusive and team-based culture has enhanced staff satisfaction,” Puja notes, adding that weekly practice meetings strengthen connection and inclusion. “Creating a safe space where voices are heard builds rapport and addresses issues before they escalate. A zero tolerance for aggressive or inappropriate patient behaviour has also engendered a supportive practice culture.” 

Puja and Rahul are also passionate about supporting the future of general practice by encouraging younger doctors to join privately-owned GP practices where they can have a say in not only their future but also the future of the community they support.

Leveraging digital tools optimises the workplace

Rahul says that investment in digital tools has been a long-held strategy for the practice. Technology is applied to help streamline the administrative workload, and subsequently reduce administration and wage costs while increasing practice efficiencies.

For East Corrimal Medical Centre, self-check-in at reception, online bookings, and automated recalls and appointment reminders are just some of the digital options that help improve the patient experience and practice operations. 

More recently, Telehealth and e-scripts have delivered efficiency gains for the practice and convenience for patients. Multiple other electronic platforms deliver time and cost savings, including secure booking and appointment management apps, software for patient video conferences and solutions that make claiming Medicare rebates easier for patients. Of course, investment in high-speed internet and cloud-based servers supports these digital technologies.

Puja adds that while digital tools afford significant benefits, training staff to use them must be a focus for the practice. She says this can be time-consuming and challenging given little training is offered by technology providers, but worthwhile to maximise its usage.

Focusing on practice growth continues

Retaining and building patient numbers is an ongoing work in progress. Puja and Rahul suggest the key to their growth has been continuity of patient care with regular doctors who build long-term relationships. Another factor is offering extended practice hours to cater to patient needs without putting too much strain on doctor and staff workloads.

In addition, finding the right approach to billing has been critical in offsetting higher costs and ensuring ongoing access for lower-income patients, as has offering service diversity to match the needs of patients and doctors’ specialties.

Having managed the business for over 10 years, Rahul says there are certain attributes of independent practices that can aid sustainable growth.  According to Rahul, the first is moving to mixed billing, which East Corrimal Medical Centre introduced in 2021, to ensure ongoing viability.

The second is running a multi-doctor practice with around five supporting GPs to enjoy the economies of scale across a larger patient book. And finally, owning the practice premises to help reduce rental costs and build equity in the asset for the longer term.

The 2024 Patient Experience Insights Report identifies opportunities to improve non-clinical aspects of patient care.

Things you should know

  • About CommBank GP Insights Report 2024

    The report is based on a quantitative survey of 204 decision-makers and senior influencers at general practices across Australia. This included 100 business owners and 104 practising physicians.

    Fifth Quadrant conducted the general practice and patient surveys on behalf of CommBank Health between January and February 2024. All references to patients and general practices in the report refer to those participating in the surveys unless stated otherwise.

    The report has been published for general information purposes only. As this information has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs, you should, before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness to your circumstances, if necessary, seek professional advice. The Bank believes that the information in the report is correct and any opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made, based on the information available at the time of its compilation, but no representation or warranty, either expressed or implied, is made or provided as to accuracy, reliability or completeness of any statement made in the report. Any projections and forecasts are based on a number of assumptions and estimates and are subject to contingencies and uncertainties. Different assumptions and estimates could result in materially different results. All analysis and views of future market conditions are solely those of the Commonwealth Bank.

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