On 10 October 2007, Management in Practice Events returned to the Birmingham NEC, where the very first one-day event was launched last year.
More than 500 delegates attended this year, which consisted of expert presentations on some of the leading issues in general practice, as well as an array of leading primary care exhibitors, opportunities for group discussions and networking, and a panel session that focused on changes to healthcare policy and its impact upon practice management. Indeed, the over-riding theme of the event was the self-examination of general practice management in an increasingly fluid primary care environment.
This idea of change was kickstarted by the keynote address from Helena Jordan from the NHS Working in Partnership Programme, who looked at how practices can apply self-care pathways for patients with long-term conditions in response to the government's increased desire for such patients to have a greater role in managing their illnesses.
Ensuring this necessitates a strategic approach for the practice, and Ms Jordan highlighted the importance of maintaining synergy between the practice staff and the different healthcare professionals who may attend to one patient – which of course presents an operational challenge for the practice manager.
Such synergy necessitates the need for consistent, accessible patient data, and it's precisely this requirement that has led to the introduction of the electronic Summary Care Record (SCR). Richard Mills, Business Development Manager at Frome Medical Practice – one of the largest practices in the UK, with a patient list of 35,000 – made a case for the SCR, which, as he acknowledged, has been a source of concern over confidentiality, consent and content.
Mr Mills actively encouraged an open debate on the issue of electronic records, arguing that while concerns should of course be considered, the rapid transfer of patient data is a necessity in the modern world, and that people must challenge their intuitive opposition to change and consider the benefits. He urged delegates to engage with the issue, since "as practice managers, you will be in the thick of it".
Continuing IT developments are just one aspect that practice managers need to keep up-to-date with, but finding time for continuing professional development (CPD) can be a challenge, as Elaine Guy, President of AMSPAR, recognised in her presentation on this subject, in which she spoke of the importance of overcoming the barriers to CPD in order to realise its benefits.
One of the highlights of the day was regular Management in Practice contributor Patricia Gray's presentation, entitled: "Herding cats – managing partners". This looked at how best to work with the practice partners and ensure a harmonious and conducive relationship, where conflict is minimised and differences resolved. Mrs Gray, who proved a popular speaker, also discussed how the manager can define their role and areas of authority with their partners.
Defining the practice manager's role was one of the key topics in the afternoon Question Time-style panel session. Delegates were invited to submit questions to a panel of experts, including Patricia Gray, Elaine Guy, and primary care training specialist Jill Burke.
One delegate asked: "The practice manager's role is constantly changing as a reflection of changes in primary care, and many practice managers also have different roles than those of their counterparts. Will there ever be a standardised job description for a practice manager?"
The question stimulated a self-reflective debate on the profession – Mrs Burke argued that it is extremely difficult to define a standardised role for the practice manager, since each individual practice has its own expectations of a manager's responsibilities. "It's the responsibility of practice managers themselves to identify what their role should be," she argued.
Panel session chair Wendy Garcarz echoed this thought, but argued that changes to general practice – in particular, the encroaching influence of the private sector – meant that it is now more vital than ever to define the practice manager's position. Otherwise, she said, "we're looking at the future of practice management arriving on our doorsteps without being prepared for it."
A prize of a bottle of champagne for the most incisive question was awarded to the manager who asked: "Government policy is rolled out, it seems, without any consultation with practice managers. Does the panel think it would be possible to arrange involvement in the policy process? We need our voice – common sense – to be heard."
This was a popular point, and the principle was warmly welcomed. Yet some insisted that, although worthwhile, achieving a unified political voice for practice managers – akin to other healthcare professionals' representative bodies – was practically difficult. One delegate summed up the problem by saying: "Managers just don't have the time to get involved in policy because they're simply too busy frantically getting their job done everyday."
This was an extremely interesting debate, and one that will continue in Management in Practice – on the following pages, chair Wendy Garcarz reflects on whether practice management has changed sufficiently to adapt to the new demands placed on general practice.
This debate will no doubt also continue at next year's Management in Practice Events – the first of which is to be held at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall on 10 June 2008.
So make sure you don't miss out on these further opportunities for thought-provoking discussion and professional development – call our conference hotline on 020 7214 0543 or visit www.ManagementInPractice.com/events for more details.