What do you do if you or a member of your admin team suddenly need to take an urgent leave of absence from clinic life?
Life has a funny habit of throwing us curve balls, and if a parent dies or your med sec suddenly falls ill, and one of you needs to be gone for a while, how do you ensure that the personal or health crisis doesn’t become a practice crisis too?
The vast majority of us in Private Practice will be self-employed, so whatever the reason you need to take time off, it’s made all the more scary because it means you won’t be earning during that time. If you’re mostly seeing insured patients, there will be a lag before you see the consequences of this, as sometimes it’s several weeks before those invoices get settled, but the ‘trough’ in your earnings will hit you at some point.
In addition to this, many of us fear that if we leave people in the lurch (and leave them too long in the lurch), this might lead to our patients deserting us for others.
What if you’re OK, but suddenly your beloved med sec or practice manager falls seriously ill, and has to take time off for surgery and chemo?
Perhaps you are a clinician + admin spouse combination, and you’re both forced to take off at the same time, how can you possibly galvanise yourself from the financial and business consequences?
You might think that you can ‘bus conduct’ from your sick-bed, but a head-injury or feeling grief-stricken may mean it’s pretty impossible.
The trick is to have literally thought this all through in the first place.
So, how do you plan?
There are some practical things to consider, both in terms of the running of your practice, but also in terms of your personal and business finance.
Being broken whilst potentially heading towards being broke is a very scary place to find yourself in. If we’re not enjoying the perks of accruing an NHS pension, getting a pension in place is hugely important, but so is insuring your income and your health. I’m going to seriously recommend getting independent financial advice to mull over the following:
Some form of income protection that activates at a level that can pick up where your financial buffer ends (if you have a buffer – and you should have a buffer).
Private health insurance, because there’s nothing worse than sitting and waiting for news/an opinion/an operation whilst school fees are still mounting up.
Critical illness cover – because if the sh*t really hits the fan, it might be nice to know that that mortgage is paid off.
Keyman Insurance. If you have an ‘employed’ team member who is absolutely critical to the running of your practice, then it’s possible to take out insurance which would cough up a lump sum to help fill the crater if that person died or became critically ill.
Now, this may seem obvious, but sometimes we just don’t get around to it, or we discover that our cover is out of date or inadequate. Get it sorted.
Ok… the financials aside, what else can we do?
The moment we know we have to bolt is the moment our ‘action stations’ plan needs to be put into action.
Decide on what really constitutes an emergency.
If you’re handing over the handling of the situation (e.g. to a med sec/colleague/temp/business buddy), you need to lay out what will be expected of them and who’s going to be in charge etc.
As soon as is feasibly possible, you need to signal to patients who may be immediately impacted upon that ‘shop’s shut’.
This may mean asking all-hands-on-deck to phone patients who are journeying into clinic that you’re not going to be there.
Equally important is to ring the clinic or venue where patients will be seen, so that patients are not then told to take a seat and wait and wait and wait and wait.
Do you know the direct line number to the nurses’ station on your out-patient floor? I thought not! Find out these numbers and pop them into your phone – it’s so much better than experiencing being shunted around by switchboard.
Try to make a reasonable guesstimate of how long you’re likely to be out of the loop.
It’s far better to move patients too far ahead (and then to be able to tell that you’re back earlier than expected etc. jubilantly) than to have to keep shifting them later and later into the diary.
If you’re ‘proper busted’, plan out in advance who could babysit your patients.
It’s really comforting to have a reciprocal relationship with another physio/surgeon (who you know isn’t going to try to shaft you by stealing all your patients. Only joking).
Tell patients who is going to be their contact point going forward.
If they normally liaise with you, can their questions be ‘held’ by an answering service with advice to call ‘an-other' person/GP/go-to A and E if they are really struggling?
Consider who needs to step in to help out.
If your medsec is poorly, can you get some emergency temp cover/a secretarial share with a colleague, or outsource typing swiftly (e.g. to a company like WeType), so that there’s not a backlog occurring, with clinic letters failing to get out.
Set up your emergency cover contract with these providers in advance of trouble happening.
Finally, remember that patients are human and they respect that we are human too.
If you can share a little about what has happened, and reassure them that you’ll be back in action, they will completely respect your need for time off and remain loyal to their favourite clinician.
Plan well, and the impact and stress will be much less.
Do you need help to build and set up your emergency plan? I have tried and tested many solutions so that I can guide you to protect your private practice from those curve balls.
Together we can grow your Private Practice.
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