Is business planning the secret ingredient for primary health care success?

Australian primary health care is at the forefront of keeping Australians healthy, out of hospital and able to contribute to the workforce. Unlike the acute sector which is predominantly owned by state governments or large private health care providers, primary care is a network of predominantly small businesses. Together they create the engine room of the Australian primary health care system including general practice, locum services, pathology and radiology services, medical specialists, community nursing, allied health providers and community pharmacists.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, our primary health care services are successful small businesses with health care and community assistance services showing the lowest small business exit rates when reviewed between 2011 to 2015. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017) Not entirely surprising, as Medicare reimbursement, although underfunded, provides a ready financial avenue for basic business viability.

The Australian primary health care system relies on health professionals that have taken the plunge to create and maintain a small business. Wow! No wonder we have problems with a lack of interconnections between primary care services.  As independent, entrepreneurial small business owners we focus on our own service delivery and business survival not how to create a system that delivers effective and integrated primary healthcare.

Clinicians spending the majority of their time providing a clinical service, don’t have much time left to focus on the running of their business. A lack of formal business training for undergraduate and postgraduate health professionals is compounded by the employment of practice managers without formal business training in many instances. Some clinicians may have participated in a short business course or education session here and there but few would have completed, for example, a commerce degree.

We have a primary health care system that survives but does not thrive … maybe in part to the old adage – “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

Every small business needs a business plan to guide and evolve the way the business functions. Business planning relies on time being put aside to take a step back and focus on the needs of the business. Goals, priorities and the direction of the business are identified and mapped. Business threats and strategies to prevent or address them should they occur are also identified, as are opportunities and ways to capitalise on them for an improved bottom line. Businesses without a current and effective business plan are trying to run their business like a rudderless boat trying to move up-stream.

Has the time come for investment in stronger business skills within the primary health care sector?

The strengthening of business skills would enable primary care business to proactively manage business risks against new opportunities. The journey of the customer (patient) would be front and centre of planning (oh, like patient centred care!) instead of the current tendency to focus on health professionals and the way they want to deliver their services. For example, general practices with significant numbers of working age people would provide a care planning service out of normal work hours. New processes would be designed to run the business more efficiently by, for example, reviewing the practice database to identify individuals with diabetes with a glycosylated haemoglobin above 7% who could be targeted for greater input from a Credentialled Diabetes Educator. While there will be some individuals identified for whom the 7% target is appropriate, these can easily be removed from the list when the data is reviewed or an adaptation made to the system to eliminate them from future data-scans.

Small businesses with strong business planning display an air of optimism that emanates from the face-to-face contact people have with the business and its staff as well as their on-line websites and social media channels. Strong positive communication flows from the service and feedback is received with a commitment to improve the customer (patient) experience.  Not a bad model for a network of small businesses committed to addressing the needs of the people who seek their help.

free_296312       Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Do I have a current business plan for my business?
  2. If I have a business plan, has it been reviewed in the last six months?
  3. Do I use the business planning process to proactively manage my business?

If you answered no to any of the questions, then time spent on improving your business planning skills is likely to deliver a stronger primary care sector that addresses the needs of the clinician and customers (patients) alike. Is a future role for the Primary Health Networks supporting quality business planning for quality primary care delivery and sustainable business models?


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017, Accessed 1/3/2017). 8165.0 – Counts of Australian Businesses, including Entries and Exits, Jun 2012 to Jun 2016. Retrieved from Australian Bureau of Statistics:

What do you think?

Is business planning a strength in your business … maybe you aren’t sure where to start? … leave your comment below so we can explore the issues further!

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Check out the other blogs on the site and join the monthly newsletter list on grassroots diabetes care and education. The newsletter sign-on is at the top of the right hand column on this page. Keep in touch!    Jayne

Author: Edhealth Australia

I have written and produced the Diabetes Care in the Community Course for Support Workers. I am also the administrator of the course.

1 thought on “Is business planning the secret ingredient for primary health care success?”

  1. It would be irrational to expect Primary Health as a small business isn’t exposed to the same challenges as other small businesses. In my experience profit or income, maximisation is rarely a strong motivator for people operating as small businesses. That said there are simple actions that can make a big difference.

    For example, its always amazed me that my GP hasn’t realised that appointment times are not all worth the same. differential pricing of appointments by the time of day is a very simple way to increase profit and patient satisfaction. Many patients would willingly pay more to get an early (or late) appointment because this doesn’t disrupt their day.

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