What Is Your Game Plan?

Creating a successful team in your private practice.

By Jean Darling, PT, LAT

Imagine The 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team, nicknamed the “Dream Team;” it was the first American Olympic team to feature active National Basketball Association (NBA) players. Described by American journalists as the greatest sports team ever assembled and called by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame “The greatest collection of basketball talent on the planet.” This team defeated its opponents by an average of almost 44 points en route to the gold medal. What if you could assemble your Dream Team, what would it look like? If you have your top picks when it comes to basketball players would LeBron James and Stephen Curry be in your starting line up? That sounds like a great start up plan but what if your team can only practice once a week, due to being spread out geographically?

This is a problem that mid- to large-sized physical therapy companies may be presented with, but having a stellar executive team is the key to success. What makes a winning team within a company? Certainly an all for one and one for all mentality comes into play, but we must consider the overall mission statement that a business has. If a business has the following three core qualities, it can assemble a winning team of its own.

1) Hard Workers
A business needs to employ people who realize that good things come to people who put out good effort. This is a trait that will become the backbone for your business and keep you afloat in the event of a crisis or even just a down period. Hard work must be given out willingly, too, without asking constantly, “What’s in it for me?” Consistent, strong effort rarely goes unnoticed, but someone who always wants a little something extra for themselves and is looking out for only “number one” might not be the best fit as a team player.

2) Bring in Your Unique You!
Now that you have a backbone established, you can begin rounding out the team and honing in on the particular strengths each member has to offer. Diversity is what makes a business strong—not everyone can or should be the same. Embrace that. Otherwise we would have 50 CEOs in the same corporation and that would be a real disaster. Celebrate what skill sets your team members have that made them stand out from the crowd when you decided to hire them, from great writing skills to stellar negotiation tactics and focus on assignment deadlines.

3) Problems? Communication Assemble!
You have the backbone and sharp characteristics of your team players established now but even with all of these strengths going into play, there is always a challenge to address or a crisis to be prepared for and face head-on. Do not do it alone or it will overwhelm you. Know how to communicate with your team members—all of them. Whether you communicate best via email, in person, or within an organized meeting, keep communication lines open and be available to new ideas and options suggested in the process.

Last, How do you reward these individuals within your management team?
An obvious answer is to get to know your new employee well! Are they motivated by cash, bonus, or stock options in accordance with how well the company does this year? It would be an excellent fit to find someone who enjoys a modest salary and is happy with a challenging job, and those individuals do exist. Some are happy with family time and a fun culture, while others may be attracted to being part of innovation or a world changing effort.

Do not forget, once the new members of your team are on board, it is time for the truly hard part: putting your trust in them. Your gut will fight you every step of the way. You will assume your instructions are clear and misunderstandings are their fault. You will assume when you disagree that you are right and they are wrong. But you will sometimes be wrong. The key to successful executive relationships is changing what your gut tells you. Remember how you interviewed for trust? That is important because once you hire an executive team, you must let them take their responsibilities and run with them. That means agreeing with them about what their roles are, what deliverables they are responsible for and on what timeframe.

Entrepreneurship and business creation is about going for the things that are much bigger than what you could do alone. Your job is not to reach the goal; it is to build a team that will reach the goal. If you really want to reach your goals, you will need to bring on others to help. Creating a good executive team means knowing what you need them to do, finding good candidates, promoting from within, and giving them what they need to do their jobs. If you choose well, they will be successful and make you successful as well. Now you can build your Dream Team of 2016!

Jean Darling, PT, LAT, is an Impact editorial board member and vice president of Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine. She can be reached at jean@advancedptsm.com.

Dip into the Pool

Guidelines to providing excellent aquatic care

By Kelly McFarland, PT, DPT

Risk. Thrill. Heartache. Sleepless nights. Profit.

Perhaps like many of you, I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My father started his own business. As did my mother, and my brother, and my sister, and myself. We are passionate about what we do. This makes for some interesting kitchen table discussions about customer service, leadership, return on investment (ROI), return on equity (ROE), and net operating income (NOI).

Business may run in my veins, but so does another substance.


I opened my physical therapy practice with the goal of helping people heal the best way—my way—with personalized plans and individual care. I knew going into private practice would be my best shot at accomplishing this. Because of personal experience and the positive outcomes that I have witnessed, I believe in aquatic therapy as an adjunct to a patient’s care. Water soothes, relaxes, promotes movement, compresses, and—when used correctly—heals. From the beginning, I wanted to make water my “niche.” I researched many options and eventually chose to invest in a therapy pool with an underwater treadmill, resistance jets, and underwater video monitoring system. With a pool and a place to put it, I was ready to roll.

Twelve years, three clinics, and 18 employees later, aquatic therapy remains a focal point of our practice. Its mere existence in our practice draws clients to us and its effectiveness brings them—and their friends—back. Water has helped brand us as a premier clinic; expanding into new markets, and serving people with diverse conditions. Along the way we have learned a few things about how to create and maintain a high-quality aquatics program.

One Patient at a Time

Treating multiple patients in the therapy pool at the same time is possible, but at Premier, we like to specialize in individualized care as a best practice. We found patients tend to feel apprehensive when they are being treated in the pool in a small group setting. Some are not comfortable exposing their bodies “publically” in a swimsuit. They want privacy. Others may be rehabbing from a joint replacement surgery and are unsure of their body’s functionality, while others are ready for speed training. They want personalized attention. When a therapist is juggling multiple patients it cuts down the quality of care, at least in the patient’s mind. With a single-patient policy and 45-minute sessions, the maximum capacity each day for our pools is 12 patients. We average 8-12 patients per day.

Invest in the Best Product on the Market

I heard a respected attorney once answer this question from a young, soon-to-be law student. “I’m choosing between two schools. One will pay my way but the other is in the top 10. Where should I go?” His answer: “Always choose the better school. It will pay off in spades.”

I opened my first clinic in 2003 with the crowning feature being a therapy pool with underwater treadmill, resistance jets, and video monitoring system. Since the day we opened, we have strived to provide premium service, special attention, and a more personalized approach, much like a “private school” version of physical therapy. People notice that we are different. Having water helps us “niche” our practice and stand out, but having the best water and using its tools creatively conveys to our patients our dedication to innovation and quality care. Many patients seek us out simply for our aquatic tools.

Create Personalized Programs

Our patients receive individual care created specifically for their situation. Some programming inevitably overlaps, but we progress patients based on their needs for each visit.


Judy suffered from scoliosis since she was a child, undergoing various amounts of pain medication and physical therapy through the years. As she progressed through middle age, the pain and neuropathy increased dramatically. She lost function. At age 55, Judy chose lumbar spinal fusion surgery, from T9 to sacrum, totaling nearly half of her back.

Judy was presented to our clinic two and a half months postsurgery. She was unable to sit during the initial evaluation due to her pain level and limited mobility. After an initial evaluation, we moved her immediately into the pool.

We instituted a Core/Lumbar Stabilization program where we were able to focus on muscle reeducation and establishing the proper firing patterns from the core stabilizers. We also incorporated functional movements such as squats, step ups, and walking.

Judy began the walking program without the use of the resistance jets, holding the handrails 100 percent of the time. She progressed quickly. Soon she was able to walk pain-free in the pool. We increased the treadmill speed, duration of the walk, and added resistance jets.

Judy now walks pain-free on land and has increased her stride length and range of motion. She also drives, sits for longer periods of time and walks—pain free—up stairs. She feels her “spirit has been lifted” as she has regained her functional mobility that she thought might be forever lost.

Educate Others about the Value of Water

Because of some therapists’ perceptions that patients are simply “floating around in the water,” aquatic therapy sometimes gets dismissed as a nonaggressive modality. With the underwater treadmill, resistance jets, and monitoring equipment, this is not true. Many research studies show its effectiveness for advanced recovery time, return to running, exercise advancements, weight loss, and rehabilitation.

Doctors W. Matthews Silvers and Dennis Dolny conducted several conclusive hydrotherapy research experiments at the University of Idaho. In the first study, it was found that training on an underwater treadmill can create a metabolic and cardiovascular environment as stressful as traditional land-based treadmills but with reduced joint stress. In follow-up studies, positive results were also verified with factors such as maximal oxygen consumption, heart rate, ventilation, blood lactate, leg stride rate and length, and perception of effort. Each study confirmed the effectiveness and equivalent responses with aquatic fitness vs. land-based treadmills.1

Offering a low-pain and less-feared method of exercise, physical therapy can greatly enhance patients’ quality of life. In the water, there is no fear of falling. Research from the University of Utah shows that older adults who consistently exercise on an underwater treadmill improve flexibility and even sleep patterns. 2 As we educate patients, caregivers, and practitioners about the benefits of aquatic exercise, we become the “facility of choice” in the region and a valuable asset to their overall health.

Business ownership may be many things, but it is always interesting. My goal in opening a physical therapy practice was to provide the highest standard of therapy with compassion to each patient, focusing on return to function, education, and wellness. Creating and maintaining an innovative aquatics program helped me accomplish this and in so doing, brand our practice as “creative,” “premier,” and “innovative.”

Run a quick check to see what is running through your veins. I bet you’ll find some platelets, plasma, and—if you’re lucky—a little water.

Kelly McFarland, PT, DPT, is a member of the American Physical therapy Association and serves as a guest lecturer for the Texas Physical Therapy Association, HydroWorx. She founded Premier Rehab Physical Therapy in 2003. She can be reached at premierrehab@sbcglobal.net.

Hope and Opportunity

By Stacy M. Menz, PT, DPT, PCS

As I read through Sturdy’s article this month, appropriately titled, “Hope and Opportunity,” I was struck by exactly that, the hope and opportunity that our profession has. The article discusses how when we contract with employers directly to provide services to their employees, we are not only getting their employees back to work, but also we are preventing lost time from work—creating a savings on the company’s bottom line. Through these actions, we are demonstrating our value as a profession.

What I found even more compelling was that therapists are contracting with companies in ways that are innovative. One therapist is working with the ballet, while another works with a tech company. If you are in pediatrics like me, you can contract with school systems (this is the kiddo version of work). The opportunities are there if we as a profession look for them and continue to promote our own value.

Even more exciting is how we have moved beyond just getting employees back to work, we are also preventing injuries and thereby preventing days missed. And as employers ourselves, who cannot get behind the idea of keeping our employees working! What are some of the innovative ideas you and your company have supported employers by keeping their staff healthy? I can only speak from a pediatric perspective, but I know that we have begun using motor groups in the pre-schools where we work, which has cut down on the number of referrals for physical therapy overall; it has also empowered the teachers and staff on how to support their kiddos. It would be great to hear your ideas on our discussion board www.ppsapta.org.

On a different topic, we are going to start running a new column occasionally called “What’s on my Desk?” I know as a business owner, and as a person, I am always looking for new and interesting ideas for things to listen to, read, and explore. So, I am sharing four of the things that I am into at the moment. I would love to hear from other members of the private practice section with regards to what’s on your desk (or iphone, or computer, or ipad). If you want to share, please write it up and send it into me, and we will include it in one of our issues.


Practice Makes Perfect

Make consistency a habit.

By Don Levine, PT, DPT, FAFS

As practitioners, owners, and managers, we all understand that honing our skills makes us better able to assist our patients toward their desired outcomes. So, how does that apply to our efforts toward marketing and public relations (PR)? It is exactly the same. Practice makes perfect!

Flex Your Muscles

As Kimberly McCall points out in her article in Inc. Magazine, marketing is a lot like exercise, and consistency is the key.1 How often do we tell our patients, it is vital that they perform their home exercise program regularly to improve. That same concept holds true with regard to implementing a successful marketing or PR program. Hit or miss programs will not provide positive outcomes. Steady, consistent messaging is required to stir your market to action.

Several other marketing experts utilize the analogy of exercise in their discussion of developing effective campaigns. Don Beehler, a PR consultant in Nashville, states, “A start and stop PR effort is a little bit like start and stop exercise—it’s better than none at all, but not nearly as effective as a consistent effort.”2 He goes on to point out that without consistency, top of mind awareness can diminish over time. Much like our patients who, once better, stop doing the things that might keep them healthy, they fail just as we would with our occasional marketing and PR endeavors. Regular marketing and PR, just like regular exercise, is crucial to success.

Stick to It!

Brand consistency is another integral component required for reaching your marketing and PR goals. In her blog, “3 Reasons Why Brand Consistency Is Important,” Ally Scott points out that many business owners are too relaxed with their messaging efforts and notes that consistency:

  1. Differentiates you from competitors,
  2. Increases customer recognition, and
  3. Reinforces your identity.3

Regular use of your logo and your mission statement—even your colors and your font—will help increase awareness of your practice.

Flexibility, strengthening, proprioception, balance, endurance…

There are many components to a treatment plan just as there are to a successful marketing or PR campaign. In designing a plan for a patient, a physical therapist assists in developing goals and, with those in mind, implements a treatment plan to reach those objectives. While the patient may need work in many different areas, the treatment techniques are consistent with the overall functional aims. In this same light, our marketing and PR plans should resonate with consistency. A campaign will have many avenues to reach current and potential clients: websites, social media, e-newsletters, direct mail, print advertising, etc., and the message needs to be consistent across all elements.

Developing Trust

To be effective physical therapists, we must develop a sense of trust with our patients. Successful marketing and PR campaigns require the establishment of trust and credibility with your target market. Eric Holtzclaw outlines the five rules on power of consistency in business, stating that consistency:

  1. Allows for measurement,
  2. Creates accountability,
  3. Establishes your reputation,
  4. Makes you relevant, and
  5. Maintains your message.4

Do not confuse and lose your potential clients with inconsistent messaging and branding.

With all of the areas of your practice calling for your attention, it is easy to let your marketing and PR plan take a backseat. Just like a successful exercise program, your marketing and PR campaigns must be well planned and regularly followed to provide the desired outcomes of increasing consumer awareness and driving business through your doors.

Be reputable. Be relevant. Be consistent.

Be successful!


1. Website: www.inc.com/articles/2000/03/17909.html. Accessed May 2015.

2. Website: http://donbeehler.com/tag/pr-consistency. Accessed May 2015.

3. Website: www.pulsemarketingagency.com/Branding/3-reasons-why-brand-consistency-is-important. Accessed May 2015.

4. Website: www.inc.com/eric-v-holtzclaw/consistency-power-success-rules.html. Accessed May 2015.


Don Levine, PT, DPT, FAFS, is chair of the marketing and PR committee and co-owner of Olympic Physical Therapy with five locations in Rhode Island. He can be reached at dlevine@olympicpt-ri.com.

Who Is the Customer?

By Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA

Often times we guess at what people want from us. Whether it be the best, a doctor, or a specialist in XYZ, whatever it is they want, we will so often go to any length to make sure we are that very thing—but what if we are wrong?

What if they do not want the best? Or more likely, what if they assume that is what they are getting every time they see a physical therapist anyway? What if they do not want a doctor, because their physician could not fix them to begin with? What if they do not want a specialist? What if they just want to move better?

Well, if that is what we think they want—and they really do not—then we have not only wasted our time, but we have missed an opportunity. The more we can deliver what our clients actually want from us, the more value we will produce and the richer our profession will become.

And our clients just want more of themselves.

Think about it. Do you buy whitening toothpaste because whiter teeth make your food taste better? Is it because the ingredients are safer or more effective? No. You buy whitening toothpaste because you feel like whiter teeth will make you more attractive or beautiful. The toothpaste helps you be that more ideal version of yourself.

Would you buy a sports car because you want to quickly race to work in the morning? Is it so you can outrun criminals or jump over gulches when the bridge is out? No. You buy a sports car because it makes you feel sporty. In this case, sporty would be closer to that more ideal version of yourself.

So, why does someone come to physical therapy? Is it because their physical therapist has an alphabet soup of credentials behind their name? Is it because their physical therapist has 25 years of experience? No. Someone comes to physical therapy because they want to be the more ideal version of themselves. The version that moves better, has less pain, and can do more things.

By focusing always on them and what we can do to help them get there, we remove a laundry list of distracting elements that get in the way of a very simple truth—that people care about themselves. So let us be sure they know we can take them there.


Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA, lives at the intersection of physical therapy and entrepreneurship, spending his time helping physical therapists build and operate successful practices through his company, Vantage Clinical Solutions. He specializes in marketing, finance, and business planning, and authors and speaks regularly for the APTA and PPS. He can be reached at tannus@vantageclinicalsolutions.com.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.