Feature, Management

Preparing for the worst

It doesn’t take too much for a healthcare practice to have its service disrupted. KAREN CROUCH explains how business continuity planning can mitigate the potential for damage.

Here’s wishing all readers a happy, safe and ‘cool’ new year. Unfortunately, 2020 is not shaping up too well as bush, homes, businesses and peoples’ lives are threatened by the impact of climate change. However, it doesn’t take a bushfire or lightning strike to render a health practice unable to provide services to its patients, so it is wise to plan for potential disruptions before they occur.

Karen Crouch.

Sadly, the world has become an unpredictable place to live in and do business. That’s not to say we must live in a constant state of fear. However, it is wise to be prepared to cope with business disruptions.

Natural disasters and accidents are generally viewed as the main sources of business disruption. However, recent incidents, triggered by human misbehaviour or fault, have put a spotlight on the need for Business Continuity Planning (BCP).

In other words, an attitude of complacency and the assumption that business-crippling events are rare and addressable could be fraught with danger. The worst possible situation a practice can face is a disabling event that was not anticipated for with no basic plan in place on how to handle the crisis.

BCP is a process by which most foreseeable, disabling events may be effectively managed. Of course, there will be severe incidents which are more challenging to manage by pre-planning, such as damage to practice premises by an external force.

BCP incorporates most aspects of business operations/management and is distinctly different from typical ‘risk management’ which focuses on specifics, such as succession planning.

BCP is commonly viewed as ‘disaster recovery’. This is partly true as recovery and post recovery actions are the final steps in ensuring ongoing continuity of patient servicing. 

BCP is a back-up version of day-to-day operations, performed under abnormal or supernormal conditions. 

Here is a simple, non-life-threatening example: A new service is launched and back-up plans are in place for various essential support services, such as loss of power. All goes well, but the practice cannot cope with unpredicted demand from patients! Consequently, perception of the new service is poor, not because of service quality, but for the inadequate manner in which potential patient demand was planned for.

BCP should cater not only for adverse (abnormal) events but also for better than expected (supernormal) demands. Several potential circumstances may be addressed with specific solutions (abbreviated) for each. 

The table below includes some examples.

Table 1 – Examples of business continuity planning measures for specific adverse events.

Effective planning requires prioritisation of events that may be rated higher in terms of business impact than others. For example, alternative arrangements may be more easily invoked for a loss of communications as opposed to a loss of premises.

Regardless of an unsettling event’s severity, impact on patients must be minimised as much as possible. 

Important elements of sound BCP are:

• Availability of BCP document: While the document should be easily accessible for reference, review and updating, a copy of the very latest, up-to-date BCP should be stored offsite, perhaps in the home of the owner or practice manager, both of whom should be familiar with its contents and actions required to oversee recovery procedures;

• Patient/client management: Under abnormal or supernormal circumstances, it is vital to explain to patients that service quality may be slower or certain services may not be available at all, depending on situation intensity

• Internal staff: Staff/practitioners must be prepared to act calmly, managing servicing levels at potentially lesser than normal levels, never deficient in quality;

• Periodical testing: Too many well documented plans do not work when invoked as they may not have been tested in a simulated environment, and finally;

• Post Recovery: If it has been necessary to close the practice temporarily or more, patients may seek services from other providers. Consequently, in order to retrieve lost patients, small scale ‘marketing’ efforts may be worthwhile, such as a “Re-Opening For Service” banner across the shopfront and/or an advertisement in the local paper/s announcing resumption of normal services. 

A practical approach may be to commence plans on a smaller scale and progressively expand, initially focusing on most serious disabling events. For example, a single premises loss and, gradually, expanding to include, say, loss of multiple sites (lesser likelihood).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Crouch is Managing Director of Health Practice Creations Group, a company that assists with practice set ups, administrative, legal, business and financial management. Contact Karen on Email kcrouch@hpcnsw.com.au or visit www.hpcgroup.com.au