1

Will Private Practice Survive?

By bringing innovative programs to your community, your business will continue to thrive.

By Lynn Steffes, PT, DPT

As I travel the country and have the honor of working with private practices nationwide, I hear what I refer to as “the six million dollar question:” In this ever-changing health care climate will private practices survive? I respond with a resounding “Yes!” But not without a few caveats:
Private practices must:

  1. Exercise the agility that is inherent to being a small business.
  2. Be lean and study their expenses, while controlling their overhead.
  3. Build and leverage relationships they have in their communities and with their patients.
  4. Explore opportunities to collaborate with each other to create economies of scale.
  5. Celebrate the cost effectiveness of their setting in a cost-conscious personal and health care economy.
  6. Innovate new programs to bring highly valued services to our patients, our communities, and our health care system!

The first five solutions are often already on the “radar screen of private practice owners.

So how do practices begin to embrace and meet the challenges of number 6?

We must identify the emerging trends and greatest burning needs for our population and build cost-effective (see 4) services through our practices to serve the needs of our patients and our communities (see 3). Perhaps the most burning need in health care is brain fitness!

The enhancement of cognitive health through fitness and wellness may be one of our nation’s most important priorities in the next decade. Age is the greatest risk factor for cognitive impairment and as the Baby Boomer generation passes age 65, the number of people living with cognitive impairment is expected to jump dramatically. In fact, more than 10,000 Baby Boomers are turning 65 each day. After 65, the risk of being struck by the disease doubles every five years, so almost half of people suffer from this disease by 85. What this single disease may do in the next few decades boggles the mind, resulting in nearly 10 million Baby Boomers who will die with or from Alzheimer’s and Dementia (AD). “The National Institute of Health’s research funding for AD research already low in comparison to other major diseases, some have called this one of the biggest predictable humanitarian catastrophes in the history of America.”

Cognitive impairment is a very costly disease, for patients, families and the U.S. government who anticipates spending billions on care. “The projected rise in Alzheimer’s incidence will become an enormous balloon payment for the nation—a payment that will exceed $1 trillion dollars by 2050,” warns Robert Egge, vice president for public policy for the Alzheimer’s Association. “It is clear our government must make a smart commitment in order make these costs unnecessary.”

Since research has demonstrated that prescribed exercise has the single greatest opportunity to make a difference, I believe that this is an obvious calling for our profession. Both education and exercise are key components of building an effective cognitive fitness program. As physical therapists, we know that these skills are cornerstones of our skill set. Physical therapists are highly engaged with the primary target for this service: the Silver Generation. Individuals—ages 50 to 70—whose top concerns include their future cognition as it pertains to the aging process. Strong evidence exists that the current boomer generation is concerned about cognitive health and fears Alzheimer’s disease.

“Nigel Smith, director of strategy at AARP, framed the conversation by sharing that 80 percent of the 38,000 adults over 50 surveyed in the 2010 AARP Member Opinion Survey indicated “Staying Mentally Sharp” as their top ranked interest and concern—above other important concerns such as Social Security and Medicare.”
In addition, these Baby Boomers also happen to have the highest disposable income for cash based programs. They are known as “….the wealthiest generation in history…”.

I strongly believe that this prevention and wellness strategy belongs in the physical therapy market space. This is where people can come for confidential assessment, exercise planning, and education based on the latest research available. A clinic-based program enables physical therapy clinics to implement a cost-effective and holistic approach.

I initiated development on a program named BrainyEX to honor both of my parents and my family members who have been on the difficult journey of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia for over a decade; a journey that had little hopeful guidance and is both heart wrenching and frightening to travel.

The first BrainyEx pilot was highly successful in empowering participants to not only feel capable of impacting their cognitive health but showing significant changes in their lifestyle including exercise, dietary changes, sleep & stress management. The initial results were measured by Lumosity and in-clinic cognitive testing—all improved.

PT Plus in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, was our small pilot sight. Amy Snyder, MPT, DPT, and owner PT Plus, Milwaukee says, “Our practice has hosted a focus group and the pilot cognitive fitness program. Our client’s interest and enthusiasm to learn more about cognitive fitness has astounded me. I believe that brain health and wellness has been under served by the health care system. No one asks the questions or provides interventions until a problem occurs. As physical therapists we have a wonderful opportunity to reach out to or communities and empower them to make health choices that will keep both their body and mind well for years to come.”

We hope your clinic will explore brain fitness too. It is definitely a key part of answer to the six million dollar question!

lynn-steffes

Lynn Steffes, PT, DPT, is president and consultant of Steffes & Associates, a national rehabilitation consulting group focused on marketing and program development for private practices nationwide. She is an instructor in five physical therapy programs and has actively presented, consulted, and taught in 40 states. She can be reached at steffbiz@gmail.com.