How this health centre is pioneering a new model of care

Whenever Dr Benjamin Hadikusumo hears The Shrink Company described as a “clinic”, his heart sinks. “I feel like I’ve failed,” says the CEO and founder of this unique collective of mental health experts. “The word ‘clinic’ feels very mundane – you go in, you receive treatment, you leave. To me, this is my home.”

 

The Shrink Company’s head office, in Tweed Heads, northern New South Wales, certainly feels more Hamptons than hospital, with staff encouraged to bring in trinkets and photographs from home to create a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. But Dr Hadikusumo’s approach to his work is more than just window-dressing, reflecting his emotional connection to the company. “My staff – they are my people, they are my family,” he says.

 

Dr Hadikusumo – a psychiatrist and adjunct associate professor at Bond University, Queensland – started The Shrink Company in 2015, with little more than a laptop and a determination to take a more purpose-driven approach to his discipline. 

 

He now has a team of 22 people, including psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health nurses, across five sites in northern New South Wales and Queensland. GP referrals, which are the usual way in which patients reach a specialist, are important, but community awareness of Dr Hadikusumo’s business means potential clients are also asking their GPs to refer them. “I feel market confidence is high for our business,” he adds. 

 

 

The Shrink Company offers a hybrid, team-based model of care, rather than the traditional model where patients see one specialist at a time. Four key values, or pillars, underpin the business: excellence, integrity, sincerity and humility. (“Every person within the organisation is a floor sweeper,” states the website. It’s true, affirms Hadikusumo: “If the garbage is full, I’ll take it out.”)

 

For Dr Hadikusumo, this focus on values translates into staff loyalty and a consistently high level of care for clients. “We are not in the business of mental health,” he says. “We’re in the business of hope. Mental health is just how we do it.”

 

Hire staff with shared values

 

Hiring people whose values align with the company is vital within a purpose-driven business, says Dr Hadikusumo. However, it hasn’t always been easy.

 

“It’s not something you learn in medical school. We’ve made mistakes along the way and hired people who didn’t share our values, and that was probably down to a lack of clarity. But we interview better now. I always place values above competency. Competency can be taught, values cannot.”

 

Shared values also help boost staff engagement. At twice-yearly in-house events, employees are given awards in categories that reflect The Shrink Company’s four key pillars. They’re also offered additional training through in-house programmes. 

 

“People ask why we do that, because these are not income-generating initiatives,” says Dr Hadikusumo. “The answer is that this is the way we operate to stay true to our values.” 

  

At Christmas, Dr Hadikusumo and his staff prepare hampers for patients they know are doing it tough. “We’re not able to do it at scale, like an NGO or anything,” he laughs. “But we’re doing well enough to give back to the community.”

 

Why Afterpay is a good fit for health

 

“We’ve signed up to Afterpay because we wanted to give clients options,” says Dr Hadikusumo. 

 

When The Shrink Company moved into the disability sector, it discovered that the tests required to help with diagnosis and treatment weren’t funded by Medicare. Some patients couldn’t pay for those tests upfront. “This was a way to enable people to start their journey with us.”

 

The Shrink Company is now in the process of transitioning its systems and website to enable patients to take full advantage of Afterpay’s service.

 

Why innovation is key

 

As The Shrink Company grew, it took a direction that Dr Hadikusumo hadn’t anticipated. “We had a bit of an identity crisis, where we moved quite a lot into the disability sector,” he explains. “So, we have split the company into four business divisions, including The Shrink Academy and Shrink Neuro, to enable The Shrink Company to focus on its core mission, which is frontline mental health.” 

 

Having the ability to respond to patterns of patient need is important, says Dr Hadikusumo. “Three years ago, we decided to future-proof the business. We thought, ‘We’re small now but we can grow bigger by doing things nobody else can do.’ So we went for hospital-level accreditation in order for us to demonstrate our commitment to quality assurance, and this also allowed us to offer treatments that traditionally could only occur within a hospital or tertiary institution setting.”

  

Dr Hadikusumo also tries to leverage new technology whenever he can. There are no support staff in his four satellite offices – instead, a video doorbell registers a patient’s arrival for an appointment, and there’s a computer for new patients to fill in their details. “I got the idea after a trip to the US, where I picked up a car from Hertz without meeting anyone in person,” he says. “I have to say, the reception to this was a bit mixed at first, but now everyone has got used to it.”

 

If he had chosen the more conventional route as a sole practitioner of private psychiatry, Dr Hadikusumo admits he would probably be better off. “The more traditional approach would have given me the lifestyle many doctors prefer much earlier on,” he says. “But I’m more interested in the long game. I wanted to see if I could help more people, and produce a better outcome, and that’s what I believe we do.” 

 

Felicity Robinson’s work has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald and a range of magazines. She is the co-founder of PRIMER

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