Michael Wah, PT, OSC

Michael Wah, PT, OSC, is the owner of Active Life and Sports Physical Therapy in Maryland. He can be reached at mwah@activelifesports.com.

Practice location; size; years in practice: Baltimore, Maryland; 3 locations, 19 employees; 34 years in practice and independent for the past 14 years. Most influential book: Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

What do you like most about your job? I love to create things. Private practice offers a playground for creation. Being able to make a difference in people’s lives is a privilege. I’m inspired by ambitious individuals who want to grow. I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to their growth. I also enjoy being able help patients get back to doing the things they’re passionate about.

What do you like least about your job? Dealing with drama that sometimes finds a way to creep into our space.

What is the important lesson you’ve learned? Finding joy in your life comes from serving others and being grateful for what you have.

Describe your essential business philosophy: Surround yourself with talented people who share your passion and vision for what physical therapy is supposed to be and then do your best to provide them with the tools and work environment they need to succeed. It’s much easier to help motivated people succeed than it is to motivate middle-of-the-road individuals.

Describe your management style: I’ve always been a “lead by example” kind of person. There’s nothing that I will ask others to do that I wouldn’t do. I’m a work in progress—and a natural introvert—but I work at being better at communication and leadership.

Best way you keep a competitive edge: It is good to celebrate your successes but never get too comfortable. And always be ready and willing to step out of your comfort zone.

How do you measure your success? Making a reasonable profit, having patients tell me on a regular basis how great our staff and their care was and being able to enjoy my work each day.

What is your goal yet to be achieved? I want to be integrated within a health care system.

What was your best decision? Opening up my current business by myself. I was originally looking at opening up as a partner of another practice. In hindsight, I think that would have been a disaster. My second best decision was bringing in my current business partner. It meant giving up equity but we complement each other’s talents, hold each other accountable, and are accomplishing more together than either of us would have by ourselves.

What was your worst decision? I’ve certainly made my share of bad decisions that either cost time and/or money and/or aggravation. Mostly around hires that were not a good match.

What was your toughest decision? It was always related to hiring. People are complex. Difficult to predict how they will play out once they are hired. We have carefully thought through our values and the attitudes we are looking for, but there’s no perfect formula.

How do you motivate your employees? I’m not sure that we motivate people as much as we help our motivated people do what they do best. We do this by challenging them to grow, facilitating their growth, and letting them spend most of their time doing what they love. We try to remove or minimize aggravations.

If you could start over, what would you do differently? Nothing.

Describe your competitive advantage: I have a bright, talented, and ambitious team. I have strong community relationships and a commitment to always getting better at what we do.

Describe your marketing strategy and highlight your most successful action: Our patients are our best sales people. They tell our story to their friends, their family, and their doctors. Satisfied patients want to tell other people and they want to help you. We ask them to help and we thank them for helping.

What unique programs do you offer that set you apart from the competition? Our internal training process, our vestibular rehabilitation, and our balance and falls program.

What are the benefits of Private Practice Section (PPS) membership to your practice? I always read and get ideas from Impact magazine. We always get a lot of good information from networking at the PPS meeting.

What worries you about the future of private practice? Upcoming changes to the payment system. Physical therapy can be a force in improving health care efficiency and effectiveness but needs to be financially viable to do so.

What are you optimistic about? Physical therapy is the best first option for so many conditions, including most musculoskeletal disorders, balance and fall problems, and vestibular dysfunction.

What are your goals for the next year? We have a contract with a hospital system and are about to open a joint venture outpatient location with that system. We know what private practice physical therapy has to offer patients. We have a number of goals related to educating the various components of the system on how physical therapy can contribute. We hope to integrate physical therapy into the hospital system to help it meet its global goals of improving outcomes, improving efficiency, and improving patient experience.

What do private practitioners need to do to thrive in today’s health care environment? Help organizations, institutions, practitioners, and individuals see the value that physical therapy has to offer.

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