5 Minutes with Ged Foley
Ged Foley is the CEO of Sonic Clinical Services, which is the largest provider of primary care GP services in Australia. He obtained his medical degree at the University of Liverpool UK in 1988 and later moved to Australia, over 20 years ago.
Ged initially held the position of Chief Medical Officer at IPN, before becoming CEO of IPN Medical Centres in 2015, bringing extensive knowledge of rural and metropolitan general practice, both in Australia and abroad.
Why did you decide to study medicine?
There are lots of different reasons actually. When I was growing up and the circumstances in which I grew up, it was about top of the tree aspiration-wise. I didn’t come from an academic family, my family were working class and no one in our family had been to university before myself and my brothers, so we were the first ones to look at tertiary education.
I was good at the arts and sciences, but there was only really one career in the sciences that interested me and that was medicine. This was for lots of different reasons, some of was due to altruism and some just due to scientific interest. I loved the way the body works, I actually liked talking to people, and it was aspirational. It was probably the toughest thing I could think of to get into when I was growing up.
The other thing was, in my view, it wasn’t a pure academic science – it was a humanistic science.
What drew you towards general practice?
Again, that was a bit of a journey because I travelled and worked in various different jurisdictions in Australia, New Zealand and in the UK. I had a good hard look at specialties and was certainly offered training in general medicine and cardiology. What attracted me to general practice was the fact that it was just that – General Practice. It covered the whole spectrum of medical practice, you didn’t have to sub-specialise. It also allowed you to have such a broad interest in medicine, and the ability to establish a rapport with patients.
Do you still practice as a GP?
No, I stopped seeing patients regularly about 18 months ago. The only practice I’ve done recently was to help with the screening of Indigenous children as part of the work we do with the Clontarf Foundation, providing health checks for indigenous school children.
What have you found was the biggest difference between working in the UK and Australian health care systems?
In Australia I think one of the biggest differences is as practitioners we have much better access to diagnostic procedures and fewer restrictions on therapeutics compared to the UK, so we’re not so economically constrained here. One of the biggest aspects of being a GP in the UK is acting as a triage system for the health service. Here, we have much more freedom to practice in the way that we want to practice and to manage our patients effectively.
What do you think is the most rewarding part of your current position?
There are various different ways in which it’s rewarding. I guess the most rewarding part of it is being able to establish a good culture within the organisation including what’s best for patient care and guiding the organisation in that direction. We are the biggest general practice group in Australia, and there are opportunities to develop really good pathways and good support for excellent clinical practice. It’s just a very privileged position.
For Sonic Clinical Services, what do you think your biggest opportunities and challenges will be over the next five years?
There are always challenges in terms of funding for primary care; to a certain extent, the funding is a political football. Building robust business plans can be somewhat of a challenge because of changes in Government policy.
I believe emerging technology is going to change the way we practice medicine across the board and that includes primary, secondary and tertiary care. The difficulty we have at the moment is that the technological advances are actually outstripping the funding and societal model of medical practice in Australia and many parts of the developed world.
If we look at what technology can do right now it’s actually in advance of our funding and societal model; some things that could be achieved in terms of patient care can’t currently happen because our method of funding doesn’t support them. At some point in the next five or possibly 10 years there’s going to be a bit of a catch-up. Unfortunately, it may take a crisis to stimulate that. That crisis might actually be brought about by advances in technology, particularly AI and its potential utility.
How has the organisation seen the implementation of My Health Record taken up by your patients, but also as a company are you embracing it?
We’re certainly facilitating it. I firmly believe My Health Record is a really good idea. The way it’s been designed and implemented is not necessarily ideal, but I think we all recognise that. I think some sort of central repository of information for patient data is really important, however I’m not quite sure how patients feel about the accessibility of that. I think it still has a problem with its user interface, so patients don’t feel that engaged. Despite this, I do believe it remains a fundamentally sound idea and we continue to support it.
Who has inspired you the most in your career?
As a clinician, I would say one would be when I was a registrar at Royal Perth Hospital. There was a terrific doctor I worked for called Professor Alex Cohen who at that time was the president of the Royal Australian College of Physicians. He was a great human being and a great clinician. He excelled at listening to his patients and interacting with them as well as being a huge font of knowledge in medicine. He also was a very cultured person, had a wide range of interests and in possession of a great deal of knowledge about a wide range of issues, not just in medicine but outside of medicine. Lovely guy and a real inspiration – as a clinician and as a human being. He probably didn’t know that he was my hero.
What would your advice be to aspiring leaders in the industry?
I think about what leadership means. Leadership is not about authority, it’s not even necessarily about management abilities. It’s about being able to see the big picture and act in the best interests of patients and clinicians. Sometimes it’s difficult to juggle that because there are competing priorities. So, leadership is really about thinking about who you represent. I’m kind of the school of thought that to lead is to serve. You’ve got to think about who you represent as a leader and what sort of influence that you can have on the industry and how you can act in the interests of the people who work for and with you. I think any organization is only as good as the people who work within the organisation, and I believe that’s a really important thing to think about.
I think about doctors and patients, but I also think first and foremost about the people who work within the organization what it’s like for them to work in our organization, what they feel about it, and how you make that a positive experience.
Do you think there was a benefit of being appointed through an executive search firm?
It gives you some comfort in knowing that there’s been a rigorous process that’s been conducted to find the right person for the right role and that the net has been cast wide enough. I have little interest in securing a position because of friendships or established relationships. You want to be the best person for the job, and I think using executive search produces transparency and fairness to the process which is incredibly important for those senior positions. This is what I look at when I’m looking to replace a senior position. I think when using executive search, you also find candidates that you wouldn’t necessarily think about and I believe that’s really important. Sometimes a candidate is presented who’s a bit left-field and that’s actually very valuable.