COVID 19 has changed the landscape of healthcare in many ways and there are many physical therapists who lost their jobs as the census of facilities plummeted. For those of you who have become what is called a “forced” or “accidental” entrepreneur, and are embarking on starting a private practice, do not worry. History is on your side. General Motors, Burger King, CNN, Uber, and Airbnb were all founded during economic downturns. To help you start your own physical therapy practice, here are 5 tips to remember:
Tip One – Ideas are like Belly Buttons, Everybody Has One
It may take more than an idea to get started. While it is important to have the internal needs, dreams and desires that motivate anyone to create and pursue opportunities, it should be the needs of potential patients and not the needs of the therapists that form the core of any private practice.
You cannot easily create a need or demand for your service; you want to be able to identify a need that already exists. Ideally you want to be able to match your personal needs and your clinical skills with a need you have identified in the community where you intend to practice. Think about the bigger picture trends and see how they apply to your neck of the woods. If you are not sure whether there is a need for physical therapy services, find out if there are waiting lists for patients to be seen in the outpatient department of your local hospital. If your specialty is pediatrics, see whether there are school-aged or pre-school children not receiving their mandated therapy services at school. If the answers are yes, you can be sure that there is a need out there.
Tip Two – Choosing a Name: What You Can Learn from Martha Stewart
Therapists often wonder whether to begin their practice under their own names or to develop a company name. Establishing a business identity that can exist separately from you is usually the best way to proceed. Back in the day when Martha Stewart was convicted for insider trading and sent to jail, many said that because her company name was the same as her own, the company tanked when she did. While that is only one example, having a name that describes the services you offer can go a long way especially in marketing, and long-term, when it comes to selling your practice. The creation of your public image begins with your choice of a business name, and the moment you name your business, you no longer are just a person who provides therapy, but a business offering therapy. A great deal of the marketing you will do is to the public and NOT to the medical community so a descriptive, yet professional name can be very helpful. You want the name to reinforce the image you are trying to create. Keep your eye on future expansion from the start and try not to choose a name that may be self-limiting in the future unless you are sure you want to stay within a narrow target market.
Unless you want to stay as a solo provider, consider not using your personal name in the name of your company. Oftentimes when therapists choose to practice under their name, and later grow to hire additional staff therapists, patients are reluctant to be treated by anyone other than the owner of the company. For long-term planning purposes, there will come a point when you will be doing more administrative and less hands – on direct patient care. This will be much easier to accomplish when patients are used to coming not to an individual, but to a facility that offers therapy, by you as well as others.
Tip Three – Location, Location, Location
There are many factors to take into consideration when deciding where to set up your practice. The location of your practice is particularly important and requires doing the proper research and asking the right questions. This is usually the first real investment you make in your practice. In addition, your location is the first impression clients will have of your practice, oftentimes even before they have met you. There has to be a degree of compatibility with your business location and the image you are trying to project. There are generally three types of space: professional, commercial, and retail. The type of practice that you are setting up with will help to point you in the right direction as to what type of space would most suit you.
- Professional office space is also usually the most economical and is space located in a building with other health care providers such as dentists and physicians. This is ideal for physical therapists with a focused or niche market (i.e., such as hands) since most of the patients will come through referrals.
- Commercial office space – This is general commercial space; for an urban setting, this can be in an office or mixed used (residential and commercial) building and in the suburbs can be in a strip or mini mail. For practices that will focus more on the general population, such as in wellness or sports performance, this is ideal.
- Retail office space – almost always the most expensive is storefront space in a mall or street. Although this gives you the most visibility, there may not be enough justification for this unless you are in a direct access state where you do not need a physician referral prior to starting and can accept more or less “walk-in traffic”. Do not pay for ground floor space if, due to patient privacy concerns, you have to frost or cover the windows.
While you do not want to open in an area that is saturated with practices, if there are specialty practices that could be complementary to your practice, it might be good to open near them. It is ideal if your practice is in the same vicinity where you live. Not only will be more convenient for you, but from a public relations point of view, consumers will appreciate the fact that you are a member of their community. It is important that you choose a location that matches the need you have identified. If you know a community is underserved, make sure you are in a central location of the underserved community. If you are starting a practice because a physician needs a place to send patients, it stands to reason you should be located near that physician. It is always good to be near a hospital or medical center or in a medical/professional art building. Make sure you are in a central location close to mass transit if you are in an urban setting and close to highways etc. if you are in a suburban area. It is almost essential that the space you decide on is wheelchair/stroller accessible (even if you think your clientele will be 100% ambulatory). Certain state and federal contracts that you may want to pursue in the future require that the principal place of business be wheelchair accessible. Also, when you are factoring in the size of space, remember that certain contracts may require paper charts that must be stored on site in a HIPAA compliant manner.
Tip Four – Make Sure You Are Protected
Professional liability insurance for physical therapy groups, also called malpractice insurance, professional indemnity, or errors and omissions insurance, is vital to your business’s longevity should you, your employee, or your full practice be named in a malpractice lawsuit. Take the time to research your options for professional liability coverage. Once you have employees, you will also need to investigate getting a worker’s compensation policy.
Tip Five – Throw Away Your Clock and Keep Your Compass
Grow wisely. Do not be concerned if it takes some time for your practice to take shape and get going. It is much more important to make sure your physical therapy practice is going in the right direction than how long it takes you to get there.
Iris Kimberg, MS PT OTR CEO, Private Practice Opportunities and Guidance. com
Iris is a longtime private practice consultant and works with PTs OTs and ST across the USA on various aspects of practice startups, expansion, and practice sales. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org