Mobile Physiotherapy - What is it? Should you start a mobile clinic?
- May 31, 2017 at 5:55am
- Ben Strachan
Mobile physiotherapy is offered by practitioners at a patient's home instead of at a clinic or hospital setting. As a practicing physiotherapist for ten (10) years, I have seen both the advantages and disadvantages of home-based visits (consultations) and treatment. This article discusses what you need to know about mobile physiotherapy clinics.
How to start your own mobile clinic.
Mobile physiotherapy clinics are arguably the easiest type of clinic to set up. All you need is a portable massage table, clinic consumables, and reliable transport to get you to your patients. Most mobile clinics are low-risk, self-managed businesses that don't require a receptionist. You don't have to worry about a monthly lease (rent), and you don't have the pressure of covering large overheads. That being said, the reality of mobile healthcare is that the start-up period demands hard work, especially if you are doing it on your own.
My Personal Story.
I own three (3) traditional physiotherapy clinics in the Brisbane metropolitan area that operate from commercial premises. Although all three clinics have steady patient numbers and flow, I decided in 2015 to add mobile physiotherapy to our services. At the time, I assumed that all the things that worked in traditional clinics would seamlessly translate into mobile care. I thought my physical clinic experience would give me a competitive advantage, and people would automatically like dealing with a “movable” clinic.
I was wrong...
Not that mobile physio was a mistake, far from it. I simply underestimated the following issues:
- Service area and travel time.
- Call answering and administration.
1. Service Area.
The most challenging aspect of mobile healthcare is defining your service radius. Recall that with clinics, patients attend your fixed location at an agreed upon time. However, in a mobile clinic, you as the practitioner travel to the patient's location, likely their home. This presents numerous challenges as I discovered when starting a mobile clinic a few years ago. In the beginning, I would visit patients in all parts of Brisbane, spending most of my time driving between appointments. This significantly increased my petrol expenses, as well as the amount of “dead” time not being spent offering actual health services. Mobile physiotherapy is difficult unless you divide cities like Brisbane into manageable service areas. Realistically, to be profitable in mobile healthcare, start by defining three or four areas and have a scalable plan to service them that minimizes petrol costs. In addition, you need sufficient patient numbers to sustain a team of three or four physiotherapists with workable schedules.
In many previous blogs, we’ve discussed the disadvantages of mobile physiotherapy payments. Up to now, it's been difficult to process health insurance payments, because HICAPS payment terminals are not portable. Thankfully this is changing, as discussed in my Medipass blog post.
An advantage of mobile clinics should be low overheads. For example, if you were to go on holidays, your costs would be quite low. However, be aware that per patient costs during mobile operation can still be quite high. Eventually, you should evolve from being a sole mobile operator to having staff so that you can earn passive income, i.e. income that doesn't rely on you. I had more difficulty achieving this as a mobile clinic than with my traditional clinics. Let's illustrate with the following scenario. Assume that for each consultation, you need to drive 30 minutes each way, i.e. one hour of travel per patient consultation. Further assume that you charge $110 per consultation, and pay a mobile physiotherapist $50 per hour. A standard consultation is 30 minutes, with a 10 minute setup time. After factoring in petrol costs, a mobile owner barely makes any money at all. As mentioned earlier, economy of scale is very important. Look to reduce travel time to 15-20 minutes and charge a premium for your service. Otherwise profits are going to remain small...
Aspiring mobile owners have to embrace marketing to grow their business. The healthcare advertising space is very competitive, with so many clinics approaching potential patients in a service area; it's hard to get your message out. The internet remains a good option, but simply uploading a “mobile physio” web page and expecting it to automatically draw in patients might be wishful thinking. You need a good understanding of digital marketing, and time to develop a relationship (connections) with referrers. There are no guaranteed solutions, some people do well with Google Adwords while others – myself included – prefer website SEO (search engine optimization). In the end, your ability to provide quality care over the long term builds your reputation and encourages word of mouth referrals.
5. Call Answering and Appointment Scheduling.
Another common mistake among mobile clinic owners is underestimating the administrative workload.
Given that patients in need of physiotherapy cannot drive, we assume that they automatically prefer home visits and don't mind when their practitioner arrives, right?
Not true – in my experience, people regularly call to create, cancel, and reschedule appointments, which make for mentally exhausting days. That's why you need a full time administrator (or equivalent) to manage patient requests. A word of caution - call answering services may not be the answer. They often leave calls unanswered during peak periods, are expensive, and have poor knowledge about physiotherapy.
Mobile Clinic Solutions.
There are two (2) common solutions for overcoming the growing pains associated with mobile physiotherapy clinics:
- Grow the business over time, sacrifice, and assume small profits for a few years.
- Partnership or merger with larger clinics.
1. Grow over time.
This is my personal experience, having taken three (3) years to really get things going the way we want. My secret? Leveraging my clinics to handle administrative overhead, regular meetings with doctors, and driving long distances to build a client base (and forgoing short-term profits).
It took a lot of work, but eventually I was stable enough to add staff.
2. Strategic Partnerships.
At Owner Health, we’ve made the mobile clinic process easy by developing software that defines a physiotherapist's service area so that they can focus on regular patients in specific locations. By partnering with us over time, practitioners can achieve a good and stable income. We provide the necessary management infrastructure (e.g. knowledgeable receptionist available to help) that lets you concentrate on what you do best – high quality patient healthcare. Once the setup is complete, you can employ someone to take your patient list, and continue growing.
Australia's future demographics and Medicare trends point to explosive mobile healthcare growth. It's the most patient-centric method of care available and most likely to deliver the best results. It's not as easy as it seems, and highlights a 'chicken and egg' problem: Needing to be big enough to define your area, but struggling to become that big.You need to acquire and use the necessary administration and marketing knowledge, although it's difficult for individual owner-operators to balance it with regular day-to-day healthcare tasks.
To help meet these challenges, consider joining Owner Health. We can help you grow your business.
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