Advice for how to go solo - and be successful.
Physicians decide to strike out on their own for a multitude of reasons. Some find a desire to do it their own way after years of working as an employed physician in another provider’s practice. In other cases, a physician may be presented with an opportunity to take over a practice or fulfill an unmet healthcare need in a new town.
Whatever the impetus, the idea of opening and running an independent medical practice in the age of mergers and hospital buyouts can be daunting. Can an independent medical practice even survive in this environment?
In a word, yes.
Not only can independent practices survive, they can thrive. The key to launching a successful independent practice is proper planning. Knowing what steps to take and what mistakes to avoid is critical to ensuring a sustainable, profitable practice.
Follow these five steps to get started down the right path:
Understand why you want to work as a solo provider. Is there a financial reason? A desire for better work-life balance? Or do you wish to provide a different type of patient care, perhaps with a more personalized touch?
An appreciation of your motivations will help define your mission, which sets the framework for the kind of practice you will build and map out the steps to launch it. Even more importantly, your mission will serve as a grounding point, an ideal upon which you can continually reference to measure whether your practice is fulfilling its purpose.
Once your mission is clearly defined, set long-term goals for your practice. You can’t get there in one step, but you can certainly strive for it from Day One. For example, do you desire to become a patient centered medical home? Do you want to grow your practice to include ancillary services, such as behavioral health services or a sports medicine clinic? Do you want to launch your own line of supplements?
The type of practice you want to build will impact the tasks involved in starting it, such as getting credentialed with insurance companies, locating an initial space with room for future expansion and hiring individuals with the necessary skills to make your practice successful.
The combination of your mission and your vision becomes your “brand” of medicine. The culture and environment that you are creating influences how you market to your targeted patient population.
Invest the time and money up front to develop a memorable name, a strong logo and a mission statement that communicates to potential patients what your practice is all about. And remember that rebranding costs significantly more than branding, so it’s best to take a “measure twice, cut once” approach for marketing materials.
The single best way to make sure that you don’t miss a step in your planning is to acquire or develop a project plan. This plan should include a checklist of the items that need to be completed before practice launch as well as a list of ongoing tasks. Some examples of ongoing tasks include state and federal registrations, compliance, credentialing and contracting, marketing, hiring and human resource management.
Don’t let the number and complexity of tasks scare you. You can successfully open your practice if you educate yourself on what needs to be done and then set timelines for each task’s completion.
The old adage is true: location IS everything. Be sure to conduct a thorough assessment of your market to determine if a potential location has the patient population you need to sustain your practice for the long-term.
Review population trends, community growth and new construction permits along with existing or planned locations of other private practices and hospitals. Don’t choose a location based on nostalgia for a neighborhood or what appears to be a bustling location. Do your research and base your decision on facts.
Also spend time researching what kind of space will work best for your practice - and your wallet. Finding a walk-in ready medical space or one that only needs a few cosmetic upgrades is a great way to keep costs down, as a full build-out can be very costly, time-consuming and expensive.
However, from time to time, an opportunity to purchase a location may come along, and that can benefit you by adding a real estate asset to your portfolio. Of course, consult your lawyer to ensure the property will be protected if a malpractice suit arises.
The work of opening a practice can be overwhelming, especially as a solo provider with no one to help with decision-making and administrative work, so many providers engage with an experienced consultant for direction and assistance. By acknowledging knowledge gaps, you’re helping to ensure you make the best decision for you that also makes the most business sense.
During this time, consider reaching out to colleagues who have been through the process and can share what worked for them and what didn’t. Mistakes are expensive, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help, especially if you can avoid making those mistakes in the first place.
Transitioning from an employed provider to a solo practice owner is a journey - a long and challenging journey - but an exciting one that can lead to professional contentment and financial success.