A few years after moving to Singapore for work, Eric Benghozi had a chance encounter with a doctor who was struggling with the operation and inventory management of her clinic. He was working for Georg Fischer at the time, a Swiss pipe engineering company with more than 60,000 products, and it occurred to him that, with his experience, he could help solve her problem.
And that’s exactly what he did, devising a 20–80 rule that helped her prioritise the 20 per cent of drugs that she used most frequently and setting up an algorithm for the easy reordering of supplies.
The experience got him thinking about how this doctor, and perhaps others out there, would benefit from a clinic operator, much like a hotel management firm. “There are hotel operators that nowadays don’t even own the hotel building,” Eric tells The CEO Magazine. “What they do is simply operate hotels – that is their know-how, that is what they do.
“I started thinking that we could probably do the same for clinic management and that’s how I got into it. I saw that there was an opportunity to do that, to set up standard operating procedures for best practices and implement them into different areas of the clinic operation.”
The next stage was hitting the phones, calling around to find a clinic willing to give him a shot – and find one he did. That was 11 years ago – the rest, as they say, is history.
Eleven years ago, you would meet doctors who would sit at their desks and wait for patients to come to them. That is over – now you have to be proactive.
That’s not to suggest it was an easy ride. Eric soon discovered clinics in Singapore were up against various challenges. Once a “very fragmented” collection of small groups and independent operators, a series of acquisitions and consolidations had led to the rise of several big groups. At the same time, cash had become a thing of the past as a growing number of insurance-based patients demanded cashless services, putting pressure on clinics.
To adapt to this shifting landscape, The Clinic Group has had to change the way it operates. Firstly, it needed to grow, according to Eric. “The growth factor brings us security,” he continues. “It brings better standard operating procedures and cheaper costs to operate the group as a whole.”
Although “overselling” services in the medical industry is prohibited, the company had to find ways to reach out to its patients. “Eleven years ago, you would meet doctors who would sit at their desks and wait for patients to come to them. That is over – now you have to be proactive,” the CEO stresses. “We have developed educational talks, we have developed an email to reach out to them and we have invested in information so we can reach out to patients directly and tell them what they should do.
“People want to take care of their health much more than before. They are informed and so we need to bring them information and reach out to them before they need it.”
It’s part of our DNA to work towards service excellence at all times.
This approach saw the company report a record month in January 2020. But then COVID-19 struck and in just two months, patient numbers tumbled by 75 per cent as people avoided the CBD centres where most of its clinics are located. “It was a very difficult and stressful environment to work with, to equip our clinic assistants and doctors properly with all the new regulations that kept changing at a high frequency,” Eric recalls. “And because nobody knew the disease at the time, it was a challenge from a medical standpoint.”
Taking care of patients while also keeping his own team safe proved a complex juggle. Combined with plummeting patient numbers, The Clinic Group found itself in a fix. Eric had to negotiate with landlords and providers, cut resources, and was eventually forced to cut hours and reduce salaries.
“It wasn’t an easy thing to do,” he admits. “Luckily for us, we had a little bit of reserve from the previous year, which was a good year. So, we burned our cash to survive.”
Fortunately, there were some silver linings. “People couldn’t come to the clinic, so we developed our own telemedicine portal in order to see our patients,” he says. Another shift in the business model was the introduction of medication delivery services for people unable to leave the house. He also took the opportunity to enhance the company’s clinic management system – essential to its marketing efforts.
The pandemic proved to Eric that the company must strive harder to excel. “We need to be better at what we are doing,” he says. “It’s part of our DNA to work towards service excellence at all times. It is absolutely essential for us, over the next two to three years, to continue to sharpen the sword.”