Implementing accreditation in a new clinic

When Dr Elaine Sung established Doctors of South Melbourne in early 2017, she suffered from a condition to which few are immune: Imposter Syndrome. For years, family and friends urged her to go out on her own, and while deep-down she knew she could do it, there was a little voice of doubt in the back of her mind asking ‘will patients want what you’re offering?’, ‘will you attract the right GPs?’ or ‘will your systems and procedures pass accreditation?’

After a few months of operation, it was clear both GPs and patients liked what they saw, but the next step was accreditation. Enlisting the help of Marly, a tech-savvy practice manager, Dr Sung began the process of accreditation with AGPAL against the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) Standards for general practices 5th edition.

Doctors of South Melbourne Team in 2019

Marly took the initiative of handling the vital digital components of accreditation, among many other aspects. Being a modern clinic, there was a great appreciation of how digital and web-based operations and communications can benefit the business and patients alike.

In the following case study, Doctors of South Melbourne share how they applied information technology to their business, what their staff gained from the accreditation experience, and why they use both online and traditional approaches to market the clinic.

Applying Information Technology to Industry Standards

Below are examples of the practical application of digital components that helped the Doctors of South Melbourne team meet accreditation and as they put it ‘get the highly sought after AGPAL sticker on our front door’.

Website

They specifically designed the website for patients. It provides easy access to up-to-date practice information. Acting as dynamic Practice Information Sheet, staff refer patients to the website for:

  • Contact details
  • Consulting hours
  • Pricing and billing practices
  • List and bios of practitioners
  • Policies – privacy, patient health info, communication and social media, and
  • After-hours care access.

Essential information is deliberately duplicated across their website and their online appointment booking portal to ensure patients are adequately informed across multiple digital touch points. Online content is updated immediately as information changes, such as extended opening hours or newly contracted practitioners to ensure all patients are kept as up-to-date as possible.

Information security

Protecting patients’ information and health records is paramount for the Doctors of South Melbourne team. With social media and email policies in place, their Privacy Policy, which is required under Criterion C6.3 – Confidentiality and privacy of health and other information in the 5th edition, is readily available to the public via their website and details the following:

  • How the practice keeps personal information as electronic files, including visual records (e.g. X-rays, CT scans, videos and photos)
  • How electronic records are secured stored in protected information systems, duplicated and backed-up regularly, and
  • How patients can access and correct their personal information and records.

Doctors of South Melbourne also employ a vetted, external IT company who built and installed data security systems in the clinic. These systems include password-protected clinical software, cyber-security and anti-virus systems, as well as information recovery plans.

Electronic communications

Meeting Criterion C1.2 – Telephone and electronic communications of the RACGP Standards 5th edition was taken to technologically savvy heights when it came to Doctors of South Melbourne’s new clinic. Patients are primarily contacted via a secure SMS messaging, including appointment confirmations, advising if test results are all OK and patient recalls. This is secured through a third-party appointment booking provider, and patients are required to verify their date of birth to view messages.

The process to manage telephone messages from patients to GPs is completed via a secure internal cloud-based messaging system. GPs can then call the patients directly to address their query without the patient needing to relay possibly confidential information to additional parties. Should the GP be unavailable, an administrative team member will advise the patient of when the message will likely be reviewed.

Doctors of South Melbourne team has found that their patients appreciate this personal touch and value communication with their GP outside of appointments.

Accreditation Experience

Practice founder, Dr Elaine Sung, discovered that as a new clinic, the Doctors of South Melbourne team benefited greatly from the process of gaining accreditation.

“It compelled us to look closely at our processes and procedures across the three modules of the Standards – Core, Quality Improvement and General Practice Standards. This allowed us to hone our operations throughout the course of accreditation preparation – especially beneficial as it all occurred during our first year of business” Dr Sung said.

“Meeting accreditation also gave us confidence that we’re doing things right. Adhering to the high standards set by the RACGP is good for the practice and good for patient privacy.”

‘Dr Sung also shared another great benefit of the accreditation process. “We feel secure in knowing we’re working at the safest level against potential cyber-attacks – a growing threat to all small businesses” she said.

Marketing a new general practice

“We focus more on communicating than selling because the latter simply doesn’t work. We’ve realised that patients negatively view any association that marketing has with the intimate nature of their primary healthcare” Dr Sung said.

“We found this out the hard way after undertaking a large letterbox drop campaign around South Melbourne. Besides the campaign only resulting in a couple of new patients, we had a few letters unceremoniously handed back to us by junk mail hating locals” she continued.

Some examples of digital and traditional marketing tactics that have worked for the practice so far include:

  • Web presence – the practice found that around 50 per cent of new patients indicated finding them online.
  • Branding – the Doctors of South Melbourne recognise that their branding involves much more than name, colours and logo. They manage their brand by consistently aligning elements. The practice focuses on everything from patient service, their style of written word, staff dress code to the look and feel of the patient waiting area.
  • Word of mouth – Patient referrals to family or friends are by far the most effective form of marketing that the practice has found so far. The team of GPs at Doctors of South Melbourne aim to form a rapport with patients.

The AGPAL team congratulates Doctors of South Melbourne for successfully meeting accreditation requirements based on RACGP’s Standards for general practice 5th edition and wish them a happy first year of accreditation, coming up in October! To learn more about Doctors of South Melbourne, visit their website.