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David vs. Goliath: Small practice advantages within the physical therapy marketplace

Posted Nov 24 2010 3:02pm

The following article was authored by Vantage Clinical Solutions principal, Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA , and published in the February 2010 issue of Impact Magazine, a publication of the Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association .

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David vs. Goliath Small Practice Advantages Within The Physical Therapy Marketplace
By Tannus Quatre PT, MBA

Executive Summary
Think you can’t compete with the big guys? Think again. Small practices do have distinct advantages over the corporate giants. Capitalizing on the three areas of atmosphere, technology, and strategy can position your practice to compete with the big guys.

Now more than ever, small private physical therapy practices not only can compete with the institutional rehabilitation providers and large healthcare organizations, but they can actually outperform their behemoth competitors in a number of key of areas. This article illustrates three important areas in which small practices can actually have an advantage over larger providers, allowing for optimal operational efficiency, decreased cost of care, and unparalleled brand image in the marketplace.

We’ll look specifically at the elements of atmosphere, technology, and strategy as we strive to arm the “little guys” with some practical know-how that will help David feel a bit less intimidated by Goliath.

Atmosphere
When searching for ways to outperform competitors head-to-head in the marketplace, it is wise to look first for those areas of business or market performance that are structurally and distinctly in one’s favor. In a matchup between small and large physical therapy practices, the most distinct advantage comes within the smaller, more intimate atmosphere. Nearly impossible for larger competitor counterparts to replicate, the intimacy, privacy, and comfort that can be achieved in the small physical therapy practice should be used as a core benefit and point of brand distinction in the marketplace. Throughout the country, there are examples of physical therapy practices delivering the most advanced of rehabilitation services in cozy houses that have been converted to medical office space. These practices may be more reminiscent of health spas than of the often sterile and generic environment found in many hospital and institutional rehabilitation settings.

The ability to create a desirable atmosphere marketable to those seeking a distinctly comfortable and private healthcare experience is an advantage strongly held by the small physical therapy practice, and it is a point of distinction not easily countered by larger care providers.

Technology
You may be wondering exactly how technology – long viewed as an advantage only to large healthcare organizations that could afford the hefty infrastructure required to run complex systems – could possibly be considered an advantage to the small practice conscious of both budget and simplicity. Technology associated with physical therapy practice management, medical billing, and electronic medical records has dramatically improved over the past five years. In these advances, the ability to introduce highly specialized, cost-effective, and scalable technologies into physical therapy practice has allowed many small practices to surpass the systems available in even the largest of healthcare systems.

The introduction of web-based software platforms into the physical therapy arena has created the largest leap forward in the use of technology as an advantage to the small practice, allowing small physical therapy providers to cost-effectively subscribe to highly customizable electronic medical records and practice management platforms. The ability to customize this web-based technology to specific areas of physical therapy expertise within the small practice is a distinct advantage over larger corporate management systems that are designed to meet the needs of many disciplines, including medicine, nursing, social work, and other ancillary services.

With practice management technology, the ability to customize the interface between provider and system means improved operational efficiency at the point of care, thus improving the patient experience and reducing the time and costs associated with care delivery.

Strategy
One of the most powerful forces available in the successful navigation of physical therapy services is the ability to adapt readily to the market and economic environment. The agility and speed with which a practice can adjust to accommodate the demands of a changing market or the presence of new competition can mean the difference between long term success and short term demise. Strategy, or the carefully planned tactical approach a practice takes within the market, can often be more quickly deployed in the small practice.

The smaller, flatter administrative structure of small practices often enables the owner to communicate directly with customers (patients and referral sources) as well as clinical staff, providing supreme customer intelligence compared with the multilevel and complex administrative hierarchy seen in large market competitors. Quick adaptation and responsiveness to the market is an advantage long held by the small practice, and one that should not be underestimated as small practices look for ways to compete with their large counterparts.

Conclusion
Small clinical practice is a very important facet of quality healthcare in the physical therapy profession. Though this article speaks only to the advantages held by the small practice within the physical therapy market, it is important to note that there are distinct benefits associated with the delivery of physical therapy through large, multidisciplinary healthcare settings as well. This article does not intend to provide any opinion whatsoever as to the “ideal” or “preferred” model of care delivery; it only focuses on the areas in which small practices may hold an advantage over larger competitors in the marketplace. Ultimately, it is the presence of customer choice and healthy competition within the market that will benefit the recipients of physical therapy services through improvements in quality, reduced cost, and enhanced delivery of care.

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Tannus Quatre is lead practice consultant with Vantage Clinical Solutions, Inc. , and can be reached at tannus@vantageclinicalsolutions.com .

Article reprinted from the February 2010 issue of Impact, with permission of the Private Practice Section, APTA.

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