Friend or Foe?
The benefit of forming strategic alliances.
By Kim Stamp
Competition among local physical therapy clinics tends to be fierce. And, unfortunately, the last thing that competition breeds is a willingness to create friendly alliances. However, the formation of strategic alliances may well be a key factor in the success of privately owned practices as we battle against the rising tide of hospital- and physician-owned practices. When we think of strategic alliances, we tend to focus on providers who refer patients to us or who can in some way positively impact our patient flow. While these are important to be sure, I want to unpack the possibilities of forming relationships with others who work in private practice clinics and who struggle with the same issues that we do on a weekly basis.
As administrators, there are many things we deal with that could be positively impacted by understanding the best practices of others in our business. One area that comes to mind is recruiting. Often, we are flying blind when it comes to salary ranges and employee benefits in our region. If your business is offering below–market value wages, you’ll have a difficult time competing for good talent. It is very helpful to have others to query about this! Many states now have physical therapy managers associations that meet on a regular basis to discuss everything from salary ranges to reimbursement rates. I can’t encourage you enough to consider joining one of these organizations if it’s available in your area.
Western Washington State is a great place to practice when it comes to strategic alliances (not to mention the great recreational opportunities we have!). Washington has an active Private Practice Special Interest Group (PPSIG) that meets annually for continuing education purposes. It is a valuable conference specifically designed for private practice owners and therapists and offers not only great speakers each year, but also a roundtable discussion that follows the same format as the Private Practice Section’s Graham Sessions. And not only do the PPSIG conferences offer learning and discussion opportunities, but they also hold an annual fundraising auction that benefits state-level lobbying for physical therapy (PT) issues and many opportunities for camaraderie.
In addition to the PPSIG organization, Washington State has one of the strongest Physical Therapy Managers Associations (WSPTMA) in the nation. It is a volunteer organization with a board of directors who have various administrative specialties (billing, front office, human resources [HR], etc.). The WSPTMA offers four conferences per year that deal with everything from HR to insurance authorizations. Additionally, WSPTMA offers an administrative track, in conjunction with the annual PPSIG conference, which allows owners to bring their administrative personnel, allowing them to gain valuable information that will directly influence their clinic. I have personally been involved with the WSPTMA for the past four years and have found the experience to be invaluable. Not every state has organizations like these, but it is worth investigating. And, if you are really energetic, you could start one in your own area!
There are also organizations at the national level such as the Private Practice Section (PPS) of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and the Administrators Council. Through these organizations, you can attend an annual conference held each fall and network with practitioners and administrators from across the US. An administrator’s certification program, which consists of six modules of instruction, is offered at each annual conference. This is a fantastic program for administrators and comes with the opportunity to receive a certificate of completion after an online exam is taken.
Now that we’ve covered some of the nuts and bolts information about alliances, I’d like to diverge into the philosophical side of things. In private practice physical therapy, owners and managers can tend to be cautiously proprietary. While I completely understand the reason for that, I have found that seeking the common ground can be both rewarding and beneficial. With everything in me, I believe that if we focus on what we as a company do well, rather than on worrying about the competition, we will have success. I have had great discussions with local PT managers about best practices that have created “good will” between our business and theirs. I have also experienced fresh ideas from others in private practice that have aided our clinics. This type of camaraderie may not work with a clinic that’s in close proximity to yours, but it’s my belief that it’s better to make friends than enemies in this business.
Last, I simply want to encourage you that you do not need to stay on an island when it comes to administrating your practice. Nor do you need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to best processes or marketing strategies. Take some time to look into what’s available in your state, or on a national level, and think about creating some strategic alliances of your own.
Kim Stamp is the regional business manager for South Sound Physical & Hand Therapy in Olympia and Tacoma, and the president for the Washington State Physical Therapy Managers Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.