The idea of having a Personal Assistant (PA) to help you can seem a bit unusual for a GP although they are commonplace in other industries. Will they really help? Are they worth their salary? But valuing yourself and looking for ways to maximise the time available for what only you can do is often better for your surgery and for your work life than hiring other professionals to see your patients. So how do you make the most of having a PA?
Why not hire Physician Associates or General Practice Assistants?
The idea of offloading easy clinical problems to less well-trained clinicians can seem like a way to reduce workload. However, it only really helps if the cost and need for supervision of the alternative clinicians is low enough that they would treat more patients than the equivalent spend on a GP. A PA on the other hand is someone to whom you can hand over administrative tasks while you concentrate on seeing patients and so they do not need clinical training or accreditation. GPs excel at diagnosing and treating medical conditions – we should play to our strengths.
Recruit from your secretarial team
Because there are no specific clinical skills or qualifications needed, you can recruit your PA directly from your current secretaries. What you are doing is extending the role of your secretaries and allowing them to support you better. In some surgeries it makes sense to have a specific PA for each clinician, but in others, having a team of PAs allows them to cover for each other more easily.
Keep your purpose central
The point of having a PA is not that tasks are beneath you, but that your team performs better if you concentrate on things only a Doctor can do. Practice Managers and Lead Nurses may also do more for the team with PA support. You are all here to help patients live longer and enjoy better health – your PA needs to know that their job is an important part of the work.
Spend time and be available
Your PA needs to know they can check queries with you and that you will invest time in them when they need it. They need to learn how you want them to do things so they can do a good job. You are working in partnership with them to get the work done and they need to know they have your backing. It may seem like you could do the job faster yourself, but the effort you put into training your PA will save you much more time in the long run.
Create an interesting job
Although some of the work you delegate will be boring and repetitive, you need to think about how your PA can make it interesting and fulfilling. There will be clinical areas which you will definitely need to keep ownership and responsibility for, but they will do a better job and enjoy it more if you allow them autonomy over how they do their work. And that will improve your ability to recruit and retain them.
Nurture them and allow them to grow
As well as training them to do their job you need to be looking at how they can expand their skills. The ideal is that you keep their expertise in your practice and so you need to think with them about how their role can develop. But even if they outgrow your practice, being supportive sends an important message to them, and the rest of your team, that you will not hold them back just to make your life easier.
Administrative tasks you can offload (with supervision)
- Drafting replies to simple requests for information
- Drafting onward referrals to secondary care – for example from opticians or physiotherapists
- Bringing urgent items (e.g., from the CQC or Coroner) to your attention
- Coding and making diary entries
- Completing referral proformas and collecting the required path results
- Dealing with the administrative burden of referral pathways
- Communicating with patients about the referrals and handling requests to expedite
- Chasing up referrals to make sure they were correctly received
- Redirecting rejected referrals if they were sent on the incorrect pathway
- Managing diary entries and repeat test requests or referrals
- Checking for and responding to abnormal results
- Communicating simple results and management plans to patients
- Communicating with other hard to reach professionals (social workers, teachers etc)
- Filtering incoming calls to reduce interruptions but allow through important calls
Data and reports
- Running and repeating clinical searches and audits
- Drafting reports for PCN / ICS
- Tidying up summaries
- Developing templates and writing protocols
This list is not exhaustive and not everything may suit everyone. But the idea is that these are all areas that take up our time and which do not require a medical degree to do the spade work. Some may be done by an individual PA and some by your admin team. Time spent developing your team to help with them can dramatically reduce your workload while maintaining your continuity and availability to your patients.