Is your Practice Manager really a Practice Manager?

Practice Manager is an regularly overused title that is applied to the most senior person on the administrative staff. But is your Practice Manager really a Practice Manager? Recognising what type of manager your practice needs, based on its size and complexity, will help you hire the person with the correct skillset and pay them appropriately.

Senior Medical Receptionist/Administrator – A task-oriented secretary can be an excellent alternative for a small practice. They should have strong people skills for interacting with patients, be efficient and well organised, have an eye for detail, and demonstrate good initiative. They will ensure billing, banking, and appointments run smoothly. They will order supplies, coordinate theatre lists and work schedules for the doctor and staff, arrange meetings, and implement front desk procedures, but also answer phones and perform general front desk tasks. This role would typically have a certificate or diploma in Medical Administration and two to three years of full time experience in a busy practice. The formal education might be omitted if they were trained on the job by an experienced practice manager.

Office Manager – Depending on the size and requirements of the practice, you may utilise an office manager to work in conjunction with a senior medical receptionist. As an experienced administrator, an office manager does not generally work directly with patients but focusses on the back-room business tasks that keep the practice running. This would include hiring staff, HR and performance management, bookkeeping, budgeting and financial reporting, marketing and public relations, and creating office policies and procedures. An office manager should be a critical thinker with an eye for detail and strong problem-solving skills. They may not have a background in the medical industry but instead have come from HR or Finance and will ideally be qualified in the area in which they will be deployed.

Practice Manager – Both experienced and educated, a practice manager will have a background in medical reception, medical administration and office management. They will be intimately acquainted with every aspect of the practice as both a healthcare service and as a business. They will hire, onboard, supervise, train and manage staff. They will monitor and be accountable for the day-to-day billing transactions, manage aged debts and report on the financial position, preparing monthly reports that summarise the business activities. They will understand and implement processes to meet legal obligations for OH&S, Workcover, and FairWork Australia and keep the doctor’s registration, accreditation and insurance current. They will be involved with detailed practice reporting that informs and drives the strategic direction of the practice as a business. They will, as the AAPM defines it, be involved with the “financial management, human resource management, planning and marketing, information management, risk management, governance and organisational dynamics, business and clinical operations, and professional responsibility” of your practice. To do these things, they need to be excellent communicators, have a strong eye for detail, and high levels of initiative. They need an eye for numbers, as well as the ability to manage and train people. This role would typically have a Diploma or Bachelor in Practice Management, a strong background in medical administration from the ground up, and five or more years of full time experience in a busy practice in a senior role. The formal education might be omitted if they were mentored on the job by an experienced senior practice manager over several years.

Your Practice Manager is a highly skilled person who is a valuable asset to your business. They make it possible for you to focus on your clinical responsibilities while they keep your business growing and on track. An experienced and well-trained Practice Manager can be the key to a well run profitable practice. Don’t be fooled into thinking that good people skills and good organisation skills are all it takes. Practice Managers take years to master their skills and their hard-earned experience is invaluable.