Case Study: Eastbound Medical Clinic

22 May 2024

Eastbound Medical Clinic (Eastbound) is a GP-owned and operated association of independent doctors and allied health professionals in Bentleigh East, Victoria. Owned and run by Dr Justine Birchall and Dr Owen Latimer since 2016, its 13 doctors, along with allied health, nursing, and administration staff, conduct over 50,000 patient interactions per year.

According to Owen, the clinic has steadily grown in line with the community it serves. For Justine and Owen, the greatest challenge, as both clinicians and business owners, is finding the right balance between attending to patient care and running the practice efficiently and sustainably. 

Navigating a challenging recruitment landscape

Owen readily acknowledges the challenges to finding and keeping GPs, given high rates of burnout and fatigue in the industry. While this is more evident in rural and remote practices, Owen says it’s becoming increasingly widespread in metropolitan areas. 

While being a teaching and training clinic is helpful in new GP recruitment, Owen says Eastbound genuinely enjoys supervising GP registrars and medical students. “We provide an environment that’s well supported, collegial, optimistic and positive about the nature of our profession, so hopefully we show young GPs this is a great career choice, and a great career for them.”

For Eastbound, carefully monitoring GP work capacity by tracking patient numbers, both quarterly and month-to-month, also aids recruitment decisions and optimises GP work satisfaction, while maintaining high standards of patient care.

Eastbound Medical Centre

The forces shifting practice economics

According to Owen, accelerating costs have seen the economics of running a practice significantly change. Expenses for consumables, labour, compliance, and insurance are among those that have increased the most.

Given the impact of steadily rising costs on all general practices, Owen is surprised that “the fall in bulk billing appointment volumes across the industry didn’t happen sooner”. While Eastbound predominantly uses private billing, it bulk bills some services and patients with the greatest need, typically older adults, and pensioners with chronic medical conditions. 

Eastbound scrutinises quarterly expenditure now more than ever, with payroll, rent, IT and consumables comprising its top four costs. To better manage payroll expenses, Eastbound recently outsourced some back office tasks to an offshore team member, including outbound calls, digital appointments, and email management. Owen now plans to expand the offshore team, given the customer service quality and cost benefits it provides.

Owen also notes that a lack of clarity around the potential payroll tax rulings is one of Eastbound’s greatest hurdles. Owen explains that if implemented in Victoria, Eastbound “would have to completely change how the practice operates”, leading to higher patient fees and no bulk billing. Owen says the practice has taken steps to prepare by changing its billing model so patients pay GPs directly, but it’s not enough to quell concern.

Eastbound Medical Centre

Harnessing data to track and enhance performance

Eastbound cultivates a knowledge-empowered environment, identifying efficiencies and driving performance using data analytics software. According to Owen, accessing practice data and gaining performance insights, both retrospectively and forward-looking, has “been a game changer”.

Working seamlessly with clinical software, the practice’s analytics platform tracks the nature and type of consultations, operations, staffing and revenue. A dashboard for each clinician monitors performance by patient numbers and wait times, aiding recruitment decisions and optimising patient and practice experience.

A central focus for the past 12 months has been helping GPs to optimise use of the Medicare Benefits Schedule. Principally to understand it better and use item numbers to provide higher value services and more affordable patient care.

Data analytics tools help assess the patients coming in each day, identifying those who would benefit from services such as health assessments, heart health checks, and care plans for patients with chronic conditions. As a result, Eastbound can provide more bulk billing services, making healthcare more affordable for the community.

Advancing social and environmental sustainability

Eastbound proudly reflects the community and patients it serves, recognising strength in diversity. It welcomes people of all backgrounds and celebrates staff’s different cultural and religious heritage. Gaining a greater understanding of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander cultures and needs is also a key priority, with plans to organise an awareness event with the Bunurong Land Council.

A focus on social sustainability extends to environmental areas too. While Owen believes the healthcare sector lags behind others in adopting sustainable practices, Eastbound implements a variety of initiatives. 

For instance, installing solar panels making it more self-sufficient in its energy generation, purchasing reusable surgical equipment rather than single-use plastics, using recycled paper, recycling batteries and cartridges, and providing end-of-trip facilities for staff to encourage environmentally friendly transportation.

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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