Make your small private practice thrive in 4 steps

Health care is changing at lighting speed. If you don’t know this, or worse, don’t accept it you’re doomed. No. Really. It’s change or close shop. Whether you like it or not, health care reform is going to change the way we practice from now on.

Many physicians are choosing to work for large group practices to buffer themselves from directly dealing with change. Mental health providers could do the same, I suppose. But is that what you want for your career? Do you want to work for someone else for a Relative Value Unit?

How about your patients and clients? Do you think they would prefer to receive care in a small practice where they are known by the staff and cared for with dignity?

Despite the commoditization of health care, small private practices can still thrive, but you’ll need to be willing to move into what I call a “next generation practice.” The old ways of doing things don’t work any more. Here are four steps to you new, profitable practice.

1. Develop a well-defined specialty.  Yes, even a primary care practice can specialize (families, elder care, fitness freaks, people with weight issues, families with autistic kids, etc.). If you want to be a generalist, join a group practice. If you want your own small business to thrive, niche up. Why? People will find that very unique and attractive. When they find the practice that speaks to their needs, they’ll be more likely to be loyal to the practice and pay for extra services.

2. Offer services specifically tailored to your target patient. This can include typical therapy appointments and assessments with added support groups, coaching services, information nights with professionals who also serve your population.

For example, a practice focused on helping people with weight loss could have a support group that meets once a week and a monthly info night for new and continuing patients where a nutritionist, massage therapist, fitness expert and yoga instructor come to talk about how their services can support weight loss. This would be great for networking, PR and patient satisfaction.

3. Embrace technology. And I mean give it a big hug. There are lots of HIPAA compliant scheduling programs, electronic medical records platforms and email encryption services. Set up systems so you can answer patient queries by email a few times a day (or have an assistant do it for you), do as much scheduling as possible online, start referring your patients to relevant smart phone apps and encourage them to stay connected with your practice via social media.

Why get all plugged in? First, it’s cool and many patients will be excited to work with a networked health care provider (those that are intimidated by technology will be able to get care with a more traditional practice). Second, it sets you a part from your colleagues and is good marketing, third, it will be much easier to be profitable when you leverage technology to make your practice more efficient and streamlined.

4. Stay flexible. Change is going to be the norm, not the exception during this generation of health care. New technologies will be coming out at an increasingly fast pace. Health insurance will be adapting and adjusting to new laws affecting reimbursement rates over and over and over again.  Plan for change. Stay flexible. Don’t invest in anything that will take 10 years to pay off.  Keep alert to new trends, regulations and service possibilties. When you see trends or changes, be ready to adjust and take action. Practices that can turn on a dime will be consistently profitable. Those that can’t adjust without months of evaluation and debate will be burdened with lag time between what used to generate income and what works now.

The next generation health care practice will be innovative, cutting edge and meaningful to patients and clients. It will appeal to a generation of people who are plugged in, educated and informed. A practice that wisely integrates technology, specializes and is ready to adapt to change will be positioned to help more people and be exceptionally profitable.

The new opportunities the future will bring us are exciting to me. How do you feel about the concept of “next generation” practices?

Susan Giurleo is a psychologist who blogs at the BizSaavy Therapist.

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