Saturday, April 21, 2012

a career in private midwifery?

... continuing thoughts on this topic from the MIPP blog.
with Sue and baby Benjamin - photo taken by Amy, used with permission

Today I want to focus on questions that arise for midwives and midwifery students who are considering a career in private midwifery practice. If you want to practise privately, independent of the mainstream maternity hospitals (public or private) which provide employment for the great majority of midwives in this country, you need to find a sustainable way to work.

Most midwives who practise privately in this country rely for 'business' almost exclusively on individual women who seek the one-to-one midwife who will work with them when they labour and give birth.  Midwives in private practice have caseload bookings, with individual women, usually across the spectrum of pre-, intra-, and postnatal services.

Most births at which the woman's chosen midwife is the primary/leading professional in attendance - the one who takes responsibility for the conduct of the birth and ensuring the wellbeing of mother and child in that acute episode of care - are in the woman's own home. There are midwives with clinical privileges in hospitals in the South-Eastern corner of Queensland (Toowoomba, Ipswich, Brisbane, Gold Coast), and Sydney. I don't have the details, but can follow up if anyone wants to know more.

What does a private midwifery practice look like, from a business perspective?
We need to consider the practice (the acts and being of midwifery) separately from the business (structure and financial aspects).

The midwife's practice can be 'solo' (working as the only professional midwife booked by a woman for the episode of care) or in arrangements where two or more midwives work together to provide the primary care for each woman who is booked with them. This is often described as a 'group practice'.

The private midwife's business arrangements for earning a living can be a simple 'fee for service' in which the woman/client pays that midwife directly, or the fee may be paid to an employer/company which in turn remunerates the midwife for the work she undertakes. The employer in the latter instance could be a midwifery group practice, or another business such as a group of obstetricians. The midwife may or may not be a partner in the practice.  Whatever the arrangement, laws applying to tax, employment and superannuation must be complied with.

My system for management of payments is that any money that is transacted, whether by cash, credit card, cheque, or electronic transfer, and whether by the woman or by Medicare (bulk billing) is immediately recorded by hand in a small 'Cash Receipt' book with carbon copies.  This automatically generates a number for the receipt, as all the pages are numbered, and I add a prefix which refers to the number on the outside of the booklet - at present the prefix is 17.  The top page is placed in the client's file, and the carbon page stays in the receipt book.  The receipt number and information will be entered into my Quickbooks accounting system when I get to it.  This is the basis for my income tax, and quarterly BAS returns.  Midwifery services do not generate the goods and services tax (GST), but the GST charged on purchases by the midwife in carrying out her business can be claimed from the ATO.

Most of my midwifery practice is 'solo', with some bookings made in which I practise with another midwife.  Recently I have enjoyed working with my colleague and friend, Jan Ireland from MAMA, in providing midwifery services for a woman who was booked with Jan.  I will describe this case from the perspective of the new Medicare arrangements, as it demonstrates how midwives are able to work together within the collaborative arrangement and maternity care plan set up by the midwife who has made the primary booking.

In this case, from the Medicare perspective, the second midwife is able to act as a reliving midwife or locum for the primary midwife.  The locum is described in legislation
Health Insurance (Midwife and Nurse Practitioner) Determination 2011, Health Insurance Act 1973,

Part 4 Interpretation

(1) In this Part: collaborative arrangement, for a participating midwife’s patient, means a collaborative arrangement mentioned in regulation 2C of the Health Insurance Regulations 1975. delivery includes episiotomy and repair of tears.

(2) For this Part, a participating midwife is a member of a practice that provides a patient’s antenatal care if the midwife:

(a) participates (whether as a partner, employee or otherwise) in the provision of professional services as part of the practice; or

(b) provides relief services to the practice; or

(c) provides professional services as part of the practice as a locum.
The arrangement by which I have provided (b)'relief services to the practice' or (c) 'professional services as part of the practice as a locum' is under (a) 'otherwise', since I am neither partner nor employee of MAMA.

Midwives who are beginning private practice, and who have Medicare eligibility, may consider the 'relief/locum' model, either as partner, employee, or otherwise, as a means of getting started.  

I commenced this post with a question, 'a career in private midwifery?'.  I believe there is a great potential for midwives to aspire to extending their midwifery practice when they step out of hospital employment into private practice.  However there are also significant risks, which all would do well to consider. 

Midwives who practise privately in a community are able to support each other, with relief/locum services, on one hand, while on the other they may be competitors for business.  Being able to accept and work constructively with this dynamic is a key to sustainability in private midwifery practice, not just for the individual midwife, but also for the community served by midwives over generations.

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