7 Mistakes to Avoid When Opening a PT Clinic

So you are planning to open your own physical therapy clinic. You have a good sense of what to do: find some clinical space, hang your shingle, and tell folks about your clinic. That's about it, right?

Maybe not. What are some of the things you should avoid doing when you are planning on opening a private PT clinic? And what mistakes should you avoid when running and operating your own therapy practice?

Running a physical therapy clinic is challenging. Not only are you responsible for treating your patients and documenting their progress, you are now charged with keeping track of the finances, the employees, and the day-to-day operations. And remember, paid vacation time is a thing of the past. As they say in the medical business, you eat what you kill; every patient you see is money in, and a chance to have a positive customer service experience. And every bill and expense you have is money out the door.

Owning a private PT clinic is fun, too. You get to be the boss. You get to make the decisions that can vault your clinic to success—but some of your decisions can have negative consequences on the health of your business—and on your overall happiness with owning your own physical therapy clinic.

Here is a list of mistakes that should be avoided when owning and operating your own private physical therapy practice. Some are absolute no-no's. Others are merely recommendations from a PT who has made a few mistakes over 10-plus years of PT clinic ownership.


Not Having a Plan

Woman on a stationary bike
Caiaimage/Trevor Adeline/Getty Images

You didn't get into and through physical therapy school without a plan, and your physical therapy clinic has a greater chance of success with a well thought out business plan. Your plan doesn't need to be anything fancy; it simply has to define your business and its goals and provide a roadmap on how you will achieve those goals.

Failure to have a business plan can leave you in a sea of financial worries without a compass. Initially, plan out 12 to 18 months of your business, and don't forget to update your plan ​year after that, so you have a sense of where your business is—and where it is going. 


Buying the Most Expensive Equipment

When planning your physical therapy clinic, you should include a capital budget for medical and clinical equipment. This may include:

When first starting out, it can be tempting to buy the best—and most expensive—equipment. That shows your patients that you have a shiny and exclusive clinic. But the finest PT equipment may come with a high price tag, and you may be drowning in debt before you even get your clinic off the ground.

Do you really need the fully adjustable hi-lo tables? Does your clinical exercise equipment need to be from the top name-brand manufacturer? Probably not. When starting out, you may fare better using clinical and exercise equipment that is budget-friendly but still gets the job done. Once you have established your business after a few years, you can consider trading up for the fancy stuff.

Your patients most likely won't come to you because of your high-end PT equipment. They will come to you because of your excellent clinical skill set and your top-notch customer service.


Ignoring the Business Aspect of PT

So you're a great PT, right? You get good results and your patients seem to enjoy their time with you. That should be enough for a successful business, right?


As a physical therapy clinic owner, don't forget that you are a businessperson. You cannot ignore the business aspect of clinic ownership. Non-clinical roles of a PT clinic owner may include:

  • Procurement of supplies
  • Managing employees and staff
  • Marketing your services
  • Ensuring compliance with local and national regulations

You constantly need to manage employees, finances, and marketing—all, while treating your patients and making sure your documentation, is up to snuff. Failing to be a businessperson for your PT clinic can mean disaster for you and your business.


Failing to Put Customer Service First

Take care of your customers, or they will take their business elsewhere. In your physical therapy clinic, who are your customers?

Obviously, your customers are your patients. They are relying on you to provide a clean, organized clinical space in which they can engage in their rehab. They are relying on you to provide excellent clinical care in a timely manner, and they need you to make the best choices for their rehab. Take care of your patients properly, and they'll come back every time they need PT. Fail to put your patients first, and they may just head for a different clinic.

Your customers are also doctors and other referral sources. Doctors will refer patients to your clinic, and they are expecting that patient to have a positive experience. Your referral sources also expect timely communication, so make sure you keep them informed of the progress of their patients. Keep your referral sources happy, and they'll keep trusting you for the care of their patients.


Outsourcing Too Many Services

There are a lot of moving parts to a private PT clinic. Managing payroll, equipment, copayments, and insurance billing can be tough. Easy solution: Outsource it.

Not so fast.

One mistake many clinic owners make is that they outsource too many services. For example, insurance billing and navigation can be a nightmare, and hiring a billing service company may sound like a good idea. Simply feed your PT insurance claims to a billing service, and let the money roll in, while the billing company takes a percentage of that money. The problem with this scenario is that the percentage that the billing service takes adds up. Plus, no one will be as aggressive as you in collecting on outstanding claims and debts. You may want to learn to do your own billing; this ensures that you are in control of the insurance and billing process and, ultimately, your cash flow.

Managing payroll and employees can be difficult, and many companies outsource their payroll services. This sounds like a great idea, but the fees associated with an outsourced payroll service can cut into your bottom line. Many small business software programs have built-in payroll solutions, and it may be worthwhile to manage your own payroll to avoid spending extra cash on an outsourced payroll company.

Outpatient PT clinics need linens. Therapists use towels during ultrasound or whirlpool modalities, and treatment tables often have pillows that need pillowcases on them. You can outsource your linen service, but this monthly fee may really add up, especially if you're already outsourcing other aspects of your business. Solution: purchase your own clothes washer and dryer and wash your linens yourself. This takes time and effort, but it can save you hundreds of dollars each month, improving the health of your PT clinic's bottom line.


Hiring the Wrong People

As a physical therapy clinic owner, eventually you are going to have to hire some people to work for you. You may need a receptionist to answer the phones, manage your schedule, and collect copayments. As your clinic (hopefully) gets busier, you may need to hire other physical therapists to work for you. But you must hire the right people for your clinic.

Having the best people for your PT clinic is paramount. You want your clinic to be known in your community as a positive place, and the right employees can make that happen. Hiring employees who are not a good fit for your clinic can spell disaster.

Who are the wrong people for your clinic? Start with the basics: your employees must show up on time, prepared to tackle each day. Customer service must be their number one goal. For clinical staff members, they must make sound clinical decisions and be recognized as an expert in the PT field.

Employing people who don't share your vision can cause patients (and doctors) to turn away from your PT clinic, so hire wisely.


Letting Finances Get Out of Control

Managing the financial aspect of your private physical therapy practice can be challenging, but it needs to be done properly. Failure to properly manage the outflow of cash from your clinic can be a huge mistake and may lead to an unhealthy bottom line at the end of the month.

These days, it is easy to pay bills; Simply set up an automatic payment from your business checking account or credit card, and the money flows out. But here's the problem: these auto payments can slowly and steadily creep up until you are overpaying for basic services. Recurring payments, like those for your telephone, internet service, and business insurance, can ratchet up over time, and you need to be aware of how much you are paying each month to ensure that costs remain in control.

You must be constantly aware of how much you are paying for basic utilities and materials in your clinic. Office and clinical supplies will be needed, and you should take time each month to ensure that your suppliers are giving you a competitive price for these goods. Shopping around for the best price for your necessary items may be the key to ensuring financial health for your PT clinic.

Owning a physical therapy clinic can be a fun and rewarding venture, but it can also turn into a nightmare business if you are making some big mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, and learning the ropes of the business world for a physical therapist can be tricky.

Work hard, provide excellent customer service, avoid some common pitfalls and mistakes, and you can have a successful physical therapy practice for many years.

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