Julie Lombardo, PT, DPT, OCS, WCS
Julie Lombardo, PT, DPT, OCS, WCS, is a PPS member and owner of Capitol Physical Therapy in south central Wisconsin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Practice location; size; years in practice: Madison, Verona, Sun Prairie, Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Since 2004, we have grown to roughly 20 employees and 4 locations in south central Wisconsin. We’re extremely proud and honored this year to have been named “Wisconsin’s Private Practice of the Year.”
What is your most influential book/person/event that enhanced your professional career and brief description of why? It’s difficult to distill the reason for our company’s success down to one person, book, or event as that “one thing” evolves over time. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t first credit my husband Dave for giving me the confidence to become an entrepreneur and start my own company. I would then credit Evidence In Motion’s (EIM) Executive in Private Practice Management (EPPM) program for giving me the knowledge and tools to scale up my practice by increasing same-store growth and adding additional locations. Finally and most recently, surviving breast cancer has helped me stay focused on what really matters most in life.
Describe the flow of your average day. Do you treat patients and how many hours a day/week? When do you perform management tasks, answer emails, market? I start my day early, which gives me concentrated quiet time to accomplish the more creative priorities on my to-do list before the rest of our team starts their day. In terms of prioritizing what needs to get done in a given day, I take care of any “low-hanging fruit” as quickly as possible and then prioritize and delegate other tasks based on the timeline and their relative importance to the business. I create dedicated blocks of time to be out in the community and marketing to our referral sources. I also establish regular blocks of time for both team and individual meetings with our managers to review progress on our overall company strategy and assist them in achieving their individual clinic goals. Although I don’t treat patients as frequently as I’d like, I find that my time is best invested with our managers and front office team working “on” rather than “in” the business. This affords me the opportunity to genuinely listen to, understand, and therefore learn, how I can best assist and mentor them to achieve both their personal goals and optimize clinic growth.
What is your essential business philosophy? Health care is local and all about relationships. We pride ourselves on being a pillar of the communities in which we serve. We want to know the needs of our referral sources and partner with them as part of a multidisciplinary team of professionals caring for the patient and enhancing the overall outcome. We believe patients value friendliness, customer service, and a listening ear as much as they want to receive highly skilled care. We take pride in knowing our patients’ names and delivering “high-touch” care to maximize the patient’s experience. We want more than anything for patients to leave our clinics knowing that our team genuinely cares about them as a person and that we feel honored and privileged to serve them.
What have been your best/worst/toughest decisions? One of the best decisions I ever made was to complete EIM’s EPPM program and then dive right in and become a host site for EIM’s Orthopedic Residency. This has not only improved my ability to scale our clinic growth but has also made a significant impact in our ability to recruit and retain the best therapists, which we believe are those who value lifelong learning and want to be part of a company that values clinical excellence. EIM also offers programs for our senior physical therapists and clinic directors to pursue advanced education, attain their orthopedic clinical specialist designation(s), and improve their ability to manage their team. Currently, 80 percent of our therapists are board-certified specialists. Our entire team benefits from our residents through weekly “minutes” that recap their learning modules. This has helped us create a unique, lifelong learning culture built on delivering the best care and service in the industry, which enhances the patient’s outcome and overall experience with physical therapy. It would be impossible to objectively estimate the value and impact that this has had on our culture.
How do you motivate your employees? People want to know they are valued, trusted to work hard, and know how their efforts impact our company’s success. Early on, I had a tendency to micromanage our people and not give them the ability to take small risks and make autonomous decisions that would occasionally end in failure. As a result, I was eliminating the “privilege” of our employees to learn from their mistakes and therefore inhibiting their professional growth. I have shifted my management style over time to emphasize autonomy within a structure of accountability. I remain a hands-on leader who holds our team leaders accountable, but we emphasize a culture of principles over rules, so we are less apt to stifle decision making. Our management team also invests significant energy into our onboarding process so that everyone understands what is expected of them and has the time to adopt and buy into our cultural norms. We emphasize a “get stuff done” culture rooted in a “work hard, play hard” mentality. Finally, I’m always looking for opportunities to say thank you for a job well done.
How do you stay ahead of the competition? I keep us focused on what we do best by staying grounded in delivering the best care and service for our patients, no matter the latest or popular trends in health care. At the end of the day, physical therapy is still a “nuts and bolts” business. We work diligently to focus on enhancing relationships with our referral sources and the experience of each and every person who comes through our doors. With the ever evolving insurance and regulatory environment, we certainly have to pay attention to changes in health care. However, we’re happy to cautiously observe the evolution of these changes and train our team when necessary. On the other hand, we’ll gladly take the lead when it comes to doing the basics better than anyone else in the industry. We commit ourselves to doing the “little things” well, which invariably add up over time and contributes to our sustained competitive advantage. Perhaps most importantly, although we celebrate our successes, we are never satisfied with the past. We are always looking to get better and never view ourselves as “having arrived.”
What have been your best learning experiences since inception of your practice? Ultimately, this is a business, and you have to keep that in the forefront of your mind. Early on, I would be surprised when our staff would leave and go work for other practices. I quickly learned the importance of creating clear expectations and solidifying agreements with employees in writing so that expectations were mutually clear and agreeable. It’s tempting to do business on a handshake, but expectations invariably become misunderstood over time. If you take great care of your people and give them opportunities to grow, they will stay loyal for many years. Other opportunities will always present themselves to your staff, but they will easily see that the “grass isn’t greener” on the other side. We succeed because of our people, who individually and collectively are by far our most important asset.
What are the benefits of Private Practice Section (PPS) membership to your practice? PPS membership has been absolutely invaluable to my business. Many of my very best physical therapy friendships and mentor relationships were established through my association with PPS, some of whom I partnered with to form a statewide network of private practices. Through PPS, I have had the privilege of meeting and learning from the best-of-the-best in our industry.
What is your life motto? Life is short. Make the most of it.