The Ochre way is reshaping Australian healthcare
In 2002, starry-eyed visions of an “Outback adventure” helped spark the birth of one of Australia’s most vibrant and innovative general practice businesses. The short version goes something like this: When the remote New South Wales town of Bourke’s three GPs needed to be out of town at the same time, finding locums – doctors to care for the community during their absence – was nigh impossible. After pulling together “a heap of friends” and pulling off a tricky juggling act, the GPs were covered.
After that break, two of the GPs, Dr. Ross Lamplugh and Dr. Hamish Meldrum, returned to Bourke with a business idea to ensure better coverage in remote areas of NSW, and founded Australian Outback Locums.
“In a very broad sense that’s what started things,” Ochre Health co-founder Dr. Ross Lamplugh told VENTURE. “Because we were dealing with locums in those communities in western NSW on short-term contracts, we started to come across people who were willing to work for longer periods.” They found a general practitioner couple from New Zealand who were looking for the aforementioned adventure, and directed them to Brewarrina, a town without a doctor about 100 kilometres from Bourke.
Because they were not sure if they would enjoy the role, and if so how long they would stay, the adventuring docs didn’t want to open and run a medical practice of their own, and the consistent remuneration they needed couldn’t be arranged through the local health service. (In most locations in NSW, the Health Service pays GPs on a "fee for service" basis, according to the number of patients seen by the doctors each day.)
“Health Services couldn’t guarantee a daily rate and wouldn’t run the practice for them, so we stepped in and said we’d run the practice if we received a fixed daily rate for the hospital work,” Lamplugh recalled. Eventually, with help from the local community leadership and a fair deal of advocacy, Lamplugh and Meldrum’s company became the first private enterprise to manage a public hospital emergency department. “We won the contract, but I suspect we were the only ones who applied because no one else was silly enough,” he demurred.
Lamplugh and Meldrum then streamlined the burdensome fee for service protocols used by the Health Service to ensure that their doctors received guaranteed pay on time, two things practitioners were unused to. “All those things made a real difference. Over the next six to seven years we picked up eight contracts in western NSW. We covered towns such as Bourke, Brewarrina, Cunnamulla, Collarenebri, and so forth, and that was our business for the first years!”
Thus, Ochre Health was born.
“Over time, various stakeholders said, ‘You guys are doing a really good job of finding doctors and delivering clinical services in remote parts of Australia.' We then won substantial Commonwealth funding to build medical centres in more urban, but still underserviced, locations. So, we opened a series of medical centres that did not have hospital contracts associated with them. That's the foundation, and what we're trying to do now is take that foundation and grow the business substantially,” explained Ochre Health CEO Dermot Roche.
Today, Ochre Health serves much of Australia with an integrated network of medical centres that focus on providing quality patient-centred care, while supporting their clinicians with innovative technology and quality practice management.
“Success in general practice is about starting with a genuine purpose – at Ochre, that’s about improving the health of our communities. Thereafter, it’s about doing everything possible to deliver on that purpose through balancing the clinical and operational activities required to serve our patients, our GPs, and our staff,” Roche affirmed.
Ochre’s foundational team knows all too well the challenges faced by poorly served communities, and since those early days of scrambling to find qualified doctors to pitch in, have developed their entire operating methodology around providing the best care in every circumstance. They also recognise the need for doctors to be cared for with fair compensation, coverage, technical support, and a safe working environment.
The former Australian Outback Locums is now Ochre Recruitment, an organisation that ensures all of Ochre’s doctors get the quality coverage they need, when they need it.
Ochre’s management framework, The Ochre Way, recognises that people choose the work they do out of a sense of purpose, and at Ochre, that purpose is to improve the health outcomes of the communities they serve. “We make sure we have well-qualified doctors with strong experience who are genuinely focused on health outcomes, not just the transaction of getting a patient in, doing a quick assessment and getting a patient out,” Roche said. “Really providing comprehensive care ultimately results in our purpose. We embed that purpose across everything that we do.
“We don't want to be a corporate healthcare business that transacts with patients on a click basis, so to speak, one that pushes toward the commercial outcomes without focusing on the community and the clinical outcomes. We do the opposite here.”
Ochre provides a high standard of care for every stakeholder in the organisation, from patients to doctors, nurses, and support staff. According to Roche, Ochre staff “ultimately get a sense of, ‘Yes, this is the place that I want to be, and it's a place I want to stay.’” The promise of care for all is the organisation’s beating heart.
“We underpin those promises with genuine, well-defined operational processes that make it easy for a patient to do business with us. We have good systems and processes that allow us to make sure the GP feels that they're being looked after, and we genuinely partner with them on their journey. We provide the right kind of support tools for our staff so that they feel recognised, rewarded, and supported.”
Unlike most corporatized healthcare systems, Ochre’s GPs aren’t locked into fixed, long-term contracts. “We pay on time and accurately, removing the pain and hassle of a doctor trying to get paid,” Roche emphasised. “We capture, measure, record, and report clinical outcomes, which very, very few organisations in our space do. We allow the doctors the freedom to practice their skills as they should do, as independent clinicians, surrounded and supported by the right kind of infrastructure.”
With practices throughout the ACT, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, Ochre Health Group brings urban and rural communities the care they need with a commitment as broad, deep, and beautiful as the Outback itself.