ER Group, South Africa’s largest emergency medicine management company, is continuing to thrive through strategic investments, aligned partnerships and a mature ethos
Writer: Jonathan Dyble
Project Manager: Callam Waller
It is unquestionable that the vast and expanding array of niches within the global healthcare industry has been key in facilitating medical progression in recent years.
According to data from the World Bank, the death rate per 1,000 people has dropped from 8.529 to 7.649 between 2000 and 2016, with this downward trajectory only set to continue in line with growing innovation.
Much of this can be attributed to growing competition within the industry, a key example of which can be seen with the emergence of the ER Group – a group of companies that has come to position itself as South Africa’s largest emergency medicine management group.
Borne out of a doctor’s partnership at Mediclinic Sandton in 2001, the ER Group has grown exponentially from its humble beginnings, now standing as a group formed of six companies providing one of the most extensive emergency healthcare portfolios to its customers throughout South Africa and the wider continent.
“Our journey has been a rollercoaster as we’ve learned the private healthcare sector, the medical aid industry and all the pitfalls of business,” says Dr Steve Holt, Managing Director, ER Group. “The biggest challenge has always been the commercialisation of medicine to achieve scale, balancing the need for good quality medicine with good business practice to achieve value for all parties. Today we continue to face this challenge, only with bigger numbers and higher stakes.”
In dealing with this dilemma, amongst others, ER Group has always stayed true to its values, gradually building up a firm of like-minded individuals with leading expertise and a commitment to relentless innovation and consistent systemised quality care.
“We believe economies of scale is the answer to cost effective quality,” Holt states. “We prioritise care over profit and we look after our people.”
This attitude is readily reflected in the Company’s approach to industry partnerships, with ER Group and its six subsidiaries openly seeking collaborative agreements as a means of improving and diversifying both its own services and developing the regional industry.
“We have partnered with Medaire International to service the airline industry through a medical call centre and are looking to partner with the government to upskill more emergency medicine specialists,” Holt reveals.
By recognising the benefits of cooperation, ER Group is able to proactively position itself ahead of the industry curve, working to identify new technologies, practices and techniques whilst broadening its own expertise.
Further, the firm strategically pursues investment across a range of verticals to expand its offerings, most namely through its foray with Urgent Care as a convenient alternative to emergency unit management of minor cases.
Holt continues: “We have also invested in the development of a bespoke system called Effortless ER, a solution that aims to optimise the flow of patients, enhance follow up and move emergency department management into a real time environment.
“Moreover, we have invested in handheld ultrasound machines to develop point of care ultrasound in emergency medicine to help reduce costs and develop our doctors, and in our doctors themselves through a wellness program that seeks to reward our employees for various good lifestyle behaviours, good medicine and good service.”
It is the recognition of staff, alongside the implementation of state-of-the-art equipment and an agile work environment, that Holt considers to be fundamental to the ER Group’s success.
The firm offers extensive in-house training, such as the medical development programme (CEM), to all its doctors, whilst its administrative teams are also afforded a number of development opportunities that are aligned to their roles in the business.
Further, ER Group pursues partnerships in the way of bolstering its own education practices, currently looking to collaborate with the University of the Witwatersrand to train more emergency medicine specialists through a formal sponsorship programme.
“We believe that such a programme would be good for South Africa and if it’s good for the country it will be good for us,” Holt states.
Having spent his whole working life in the industry, Holt’s own outlook is reflected by the ER Group’s emphasis on enabling its employees to expand their skillsets.
“I feel like I learn every day,” he reveals. “Although I have no post graduate education in business management, my 20 years in this industry have taught me finance, HR, marketing, PR and many other business skills. I have attended and continue to attend workshops and conferences to learn new skills and I read at every opportunity.
“Although an MBA would have been beneficial to have studied formally, I do believe that my ‘on the shop floor training’ has taught me everything I need to know and more.
“For me, this business has been my MBA.”
To ER Group, understanding its employees’ needs is imperative to maintaining growth, playing a fundamental part in the businesses’ talent retention strategy.
This sound approach is also reflected in the Company’s corporate social responsibility practices, encouraging its staff to readily become more involved in local projects and communities.
“These initiatives involve things like recycling projects, supporting creches and homes for the underprivileged,” Holt explains. “On the medical side we support projects near to our emergency units – homes for people with disabilities and children’s refuges by providing medical care pro deo, for example.
“Our model provides our staff, doctors and others, with the perfect platform to work within their communities on projects that make a meaningful impact on South Africans.”
Thanks to this outlook on local communities, its employees, and the movements of the market and industry, ER Group is well set to not only maintain its position at the helm of the South Africa’s emergency medical market, but continue to expand into the wider continent and beyond.
Holt concludes: “In short, we believe that healthcare in the emergency space is best served by a scaled organisation that can offer all the facets required in an emergency medicine environment – an ethos we will continue to hold dear in everything we do.”