Three Critical Questions

Before expanding into a new location, grow your practice from the inside

If you're like me, you're bombarded by ways to grow or expand your practice on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, I see many of our colleagues grasping at these straws in hopes of growing their business. We go from dining doctors, to purchasing fancy treadmills, to launching Facebook ad campaigns and settling into new satellite offices.

It sometimes seems that as private practice owners, we will try everything just short of putting on a costume and spinning a sign outside our clinic.

Regrettably, after trying many of these expensive options, we are often left frustrated after investing a lot of money with very little return.

Importance of Growing Your Practice

Don't get me wrong - we need to grow. Especially now, in order to survive in an environment with declining reimbursements and uncertainty in our profession, private practices must endeavor to grow and expand.

Not only is growing and expanding important for each of our individual practices, but crucial for our profession. Just as Princess Leia called out to Obi-Wan Kenobi, "Help me Obi-Wan, you're my only hope," our profession is calling out to us as its only hope. The future of physical therapy depends on us as private practice owners to elevate our profession by being successful, practicing autonomously, and setting the standards by providing the highest level of care.

The reality is that there are very effective ways to grow and expand your practice without trying the latest fad and spending lots of money. Growing your practice does not mean you need to open a new office or spend lots of money on marketing. There are effective steps you can take inside your organization that will take less time, money, energy, and effort to grow your business.

By answering the following three questions, you will unlock what I consider the three secrets of success in physical therapy private practice.

Who Are You?

It's vital that you determine who you are. What is your company about? What defines you? Where are you going? What do you want to be known for?

Unfortunately, many business owners, especially private practice physical therapists, operate like they're teenagers. They don't really know who they are. They haven't figured out what they're about. Without any grounding, they go after the latest fad, try to be everything to all people, and don't have the maturity or the footing to help carry them forward.

Your purpose and values are the foundation of your practice, from which you will grow and expand. Your purpose is the framework upon which everything else rests. You could have the coolest social media campaign, a slick website, and every letter after your name, but if you don't know your purpose and values, you will not have a stable foundation. This will lead to you trying every method that comes your way to grow your practice, without success.

Your purpose defines who you are and why you exist. Your values will act as a guiding light and provide an agreement on how you will act and operate; they will provide your practice with depth and maturity. Once you have determined your purpose and values, make sure your team knows them and operates with them in view.

So how does this contribute to your growth? Without having this stable and solid foundation, you have no way to grow. It's like trying to jump with your feet in mud - you won't go very high, if anywhere at all.

Once your purpose and values are set, your whole company will be on the same page, you will know who you are, you'll know where you are going, and you will be able to move in the same direction. You will have a stable foundation and platform to launch from, and then there will be the opportunity for growth to happen.

How Good are You?

The mistake many private practice owners make is that we don't define what "good care" really is. Most practices try to relieve a patient's pain or injury by providing good care, and eventually discharge them as a satisfied patient.

The typical scenario is that a patient who has an injury or pain comes to our office for treatment. They expect to give up some of their time and finances in order to receive that treatment. If all goes well, the patient is satisfied and goes back to the doctor to report their positive results.

"Good and satisfied" are no longer the standard that we in private practice should be aiming for. With changes in health care, increased patient financial responsibility, and hospitals, doctors, and corporations trying to take over our profession, good and satisfied is no longer good enough.

We need to deliver such over-the-top care and service that good and satisfied are considered a failure. Patients must go back to their doctor and those they know, and not stop talking about us.

Give your patients more than they pay for. Provide a clear explanation of their benefits; have their personal therapist call after the initial evaluation to see how they're doing; extend your hours of service; greet your patients by name and make them feel as if they're in their second home.

Get rid of "good" and "satisfied," strive for over-the-top excellence, and you will be sure to grow your practice.

Will They Remember You?

We live in a busy and fast-paced generation. Most of us slow down for a few minutes while in line at Starbucks, before we rush off to a meeting or our kids' sporting events. On top of this, we're bombarded with information coming at us - e-mails, social media, texts - that all lead to shortened attention spans and fleeting memories.

It's easier than ever to have a great experience with a medical provider, or even a restaurant, only to forget about them months later. How many times have you heard a patient forget who the specialist was who performed their surgery two years ago, or even six months ago? How many times have you forgotten about that place where you had that great meal a few months ago, and ended up somewhere else?

Unfortunately, your patient is likely to forget about you. Even if you changed their life and they love your practice, in six months to two years later, you may become a vague or forgotten memory. No matter how great you were, most likely they will not remember you.

Don't let your customers forget you. Stay in communication with them. Whether you provide an annual call, or send out e-blasts or newsletters, the goal is to stay in touch with your patients. That way, six months or two years down the line, they will remember you and come to you when they need care. Grow your practice by staying in communication with your patients so that the door is wide open for them to return.

Grasping at Straws?

In the words of the great scholar Mr. T, "I pity the fool" who tries to grow their practice by grasping at straws and spending lots of money, with little to no growth.

As a private practice owner, you will be inundated with thousands of ways to "grow your business." Now more than ever, with declining reimbursements, we must be efficient with our time and money.

The most sane, cost-effective, and effective way to grow your practice is to answer the three questions above. Take some time to honestly answer these questions and apply them to you and your practice. Once you do, you will know exactly how to grow your practice, from the inside. 

Brandon J. Buehler is co-owner and co-founder of Coury & Buehler Physical Therapy, a 4-location practice in Orange County, Calif. Coury & Buehler Physical Therapy was named ADVANCE Magazine Practice of the Year for 2013. Visit www.cbphysicaltherapy.com


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