With a model that keeps medical leadership at the center of the patient experience, Sonic Clinical Services is keeping Australians healthy and happy.
“Gee, I hope my new doctor is an ace bean counter,” is probably not a thought that will ever cross your mind, and that’s for the best. But for many general practitioners whose life’s work is to heal others, the burden of running an efficient and profitable business can cast a very wide shadow over that sacred mission.
“Clinicians are not necessarily the hardest-nosed business people in the world and quite rightly, their priority is not to deliver the absolute best financial results,” said Dr. Ged Foley, CEO of Sonic Clinical Services, one of the country’s premier healthcare organizations. What doctors can and do deliver is what their patients need: attentive, high-quality care. And, for about 2,200 physicians throughout the country, Sonic Clinical Services takes the weight of running an organization off their shoulders so they can do the work of their hearts and provide the best possible medical care.
“What Sonic Clinical Services brings is a concentration on the patient experience and the quality of the medicine that is practiced, and how that can be best supported,” Foley added.
Headquartered in Sydney, Sonic Clinical Services is a subsidiary of publicly traded Australian healthcare pioneer Sonic Healthcare, ranked by the ASX as one of Australia's “Top 50” companies.
Sonic Clinical Services offers general practitioners an alternative to establishing their own shops, providing the critical business infrastructure necessary to focus on patient care while providing ample financial security.
“We provide everything they need to provide their clinical services,” Foley told VENTURE. “We provide the bricks and mortar, we provide the nursing staff, the reception staff, IT support, and the medical supplies. Everything they need to practice medicine.”
Sonic Clinical Services unites a variety of business to bring top-shelf healthcare to every corner of the nation. Their IPN Medical Centre network supports quality healthcare services for independent practitioners; their pioneering DoctorDoctor segment provides coordinated after-hours care; and Sonic Nurse Connect delivers a full complement of clinically designed, evidence-based interventions in both the home and community setting.
Precedence Health Care improves quality, safety, and efficiency through the use of leading-edge broadband, mobile, and information technologies; Additionally their core product, cdmNet is used ins a number of major Commonwealth initiatives aimed at improving patient outcomes across the country. With over 70% of the Australian population living within 10km of one of its clinics, Sonic Clinical Services is well positioned to drive quality patient centric care at scale across Australian communities.
A New Vision of Clinical and Business Excellence
According to Dr. Amit Vohra, General Manager Strategy & Health solutions, roughly 80 per cent of Australia’s primary care practices are privately owned and operated by either individual doctors or small groups. “Ours is very much amore evolved approach where we have invested heavily in systems and processes to support the work of our doctors, whilst ensuring that the patients get the best possible experience.,” he reported. The corporate business model employed by Sonic Clinical Services is gaining acceptance; Vohra estimates that nearly nine per cent of primary care doctor consultations in Australia now take place under the Sonic Clinical umbrella.
The popularity of this approach is fuelled to a great degree by financial concerns, but that’s not the only market mover for today’s GPs. “There's less funding for GPs, so it's more difficult to make a living, but also medicine itself is much more complex than it was 30 or 40 years ago.
There's increasing paperwork, particularly around patients with chronic disease,” Foley noted. “There are increasingly high standards for what's acceptable in the general practice, accreditation standards that GPs need to acquire, education standards that need to be passed, business standards, and much greater bureaucracy.
“These factors present a real impediment and complication to running a business. You've actually got to be really good at it to get to that place where you are a good clinician and a good businessperson. Increasingly, what GPs have looked for is assistance in running their own practices, which is why for practice owners (it’s) often a huge relief for them to give up running their own practice and joining a group such as ours.”
Clinical Sovereignty with Network Benefits
“One of our most important underlying values is clinical sovereignty. We don't tell doctors how to treat patients. We intentionally have no control over that,” Foley said. “We don't try to control which pathology or radiology services they use, or who they refer to, or what they prescribe.”
The benefits of joining a national clinical network extend to the breadth of medical knowledge and agility that clinicians can build and nurture – a growing necessity as patient needs change.
“Our doctors can provide far greater innovations in the style of medicine than they can in a private practice,” Vohra affirmed. “Through the technology we provide, GPs have better access to their own data, their patient data, and their clinical data. This enables them to be more proactive, to use their consultations to not just treat the current conditions but to proactively manage the health of the local community as well. The historical model of getting primary healthcare – making an appointment to see a doctor and going for a visit, is what Vohra calls a very reactive model of care. “As the population is aging, as people are getting sicker, living longer, there's a definite need to have a more proactive clinician-led model of care,” he asserted.
“Over the last 10 or so years the Australian population has increased by 17 per cent. Within that, a lot of those are baby boomers, so you have around about a 33 per cent increase in the over-65 age group,” Foley said. “We have a population with increasingly complex medical needs. We're living longer, people die quite slowly, unfortunately, and develop chronic disease in old age. So, what you have within the fee-for-service Australian system is a reactive model. We have a population that actually needs and is moving toward proactive requirements in care. You can provide that more easily through a network than you can through individual practices.”
As Vohra put it, “If you look at the disease patterns — cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, diabetes, mental health — these disease types will probably account for 70 per cent of the prevalent diseases in the aging population. Not all doctors have deep expertise in every single disease domain. General practitioners, by definition, are really good at a broad bunch of things: Many have special interests in particular areas. … As you maintain larger and more sophisticated medical centres, you are actually able to draw different skill sets to that clinical team within these practices. This means better care for the entire community, which will inevitably need all of those skills.”
Being part of a patient-centered medical practice that enables increased patient engagement and a greater degree of anticipatory coordination across communities results in better care, more positive outcomes, and more professional and financial satisfaction for clinicians.
“Having that group practice model allows you to say, ‘What other patients are in this community? Is it an older or younger community? Is it a practice closer to the city or in the suburbs?’ All of those little things come into the mix in deciding what sort of practitioners and services the community needs. Then, having a larger nexus of practices, we can leverage the learnings in other similar communities and leverage learnings from other practitioners.’’ That’s the kind of insightful, quality care we can all count on – and that Sonic Clinical Services delivers.