Like countless businesses across the country and indeed across the globe, general practice has not been immune to the far-reaching impact of COVID-19.
While it’s been a stressful time from an occupational health and safety viewpoint for all GPs, for practice owners it’s been especially difficult. After an initial drop in patient numbers by as much as 50% during the first lockdown, anecdotal reports suggest bookings remain down by 15-20% in some practices, significantly impacting their bottom line.
In Melbourne, the situation is far more serious, with the ABC reporting that “hundreds of medical practices are on the verge of collapse” due to a dramatic fall in the number of visits, which is only predicted to get worse as the current lockdown continues.
Data collected by the RACGP shows that nearly half of the 1,000 practices surveyed are not sure whether they will still be operating in six months’ time, even with the buffer of government subsidies, an uptick in influenza vaccinations and the roll out of COVID-19 MBS telehealth services.
With less demand for patient care and cashflow issues now the new normal in general practice, job vacancies have also plummeted and while this may be bad news for GPs looking for work, it could present a golden opportunity for some practice owners.
Australian Doctor Group’s online medical jobs platform, AusDoc.JOBS, experienced an initial 60% reduction in jobs advertised in March, according to website’s sales manager, Ellie Mannix.
“Even though we have seen a rebound in the number of jobs being advertised, it’s an employer’s market for sure,” she says, adding that “now is the time to recruit the best candidate for job”.
Ms Mannix says there has been a 50% increase in the average views per job ad, with some reaching more than 1,000 views.
“We’ve never seen those figures consistently across so many different jobs before. Demand for primary care positions is at an all-time high.”
But she concedes it’s an uncertain future for many GP job candidates who will find their options limited.
“What I will say is that those practices currently recruiting are probably robust businesses that have adapted to weather the storm and that is giving them the choice of the best candidates.”
One such business is GP corporate, Osana founded by Dr Kevin Cheng. He claims that ditching the “fee-for-service treadmill” for salaries has helped his business escape financial ruin.
"I’ve heard some practices are down 30-40%, while some practices are up,” the GP and former senior manager at Medibank Private told Australian Doctor.
“We fall into the latter category. We’ve been busy.”
Patients at Dr Cheng’s three clinics in Sydney pay annual membership fees of $400 (or $500 for families) in return for what he calls “slow medicine”.
He says together with the pooled MBS revenue from GP consults, the subscriptions allow the corporate to pay it’s 10 GPs salaries of between $200,000 and $300,000.
With further waves of COVID-19 predicted, the future looks uncertain across almost all business sectors. However, as one GP notes in a Medical Observer opinion piece, “practices that embrace change will survive and thrive”.
“We live in a world of heightened VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity,” writes Dr John Deery. “The world has changed. General practice has changed. We must continue to adapt.”