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Moving from employment to responsible private practitioner

Whether contemplating a move from public to private practice or simply from employee to business owner, physiotherapists must re-evaluate both their mental approach to the profession and the actual tasks they must perform.

As a public health worker, schedules and patient load are largely set for you by hospital administrators and your immediate supervisor. Your hours and duties are almost exclusively centred on patients, including the administrative tasks. In return for your services, you receive a regular salary and defined benefits.

Private practitioners, on the other hand are completely responsible for their clinics, which includes patient care, office administration and business management. Once you have fully committed to private practice, there is no hiding from any aspect of entrepreneurship.

To survive as an owner/practitioner, you must reflect on the massive changes that will occur in your life and plan accordingly. While business plans, cashflow analysis and breakeven strategies can be worked out with the help of others, only you can determine the pace of your practice’s growth.

Some experienced physiotherapists – and even a few raw graduates – readily take the business plunge by starting a private practice from scratch or in some cases purchasing an existing practice with a healthy patient base.

Many others, however, are less reluctant to let go of a regular paycheque and benefits and choose a more gradual path. These physiotherapists start private practice while remaining fully employed, enduring longer hours to build up their client base. As private income increases, they are in a better position to leave other employ outright.

The sales and marketing aspects of private practice are what distinguish the winners from the rest. While the medical and patient care skills of private physiotherapists may not vary greatly from public sector colleagues, the ability to sell oneself and systematically gain referrals differentiates your business.

Breaking through to an often sceptical and cynical general public requires all the tools at your disposal. Maintaining good relations with hospitals, general practitioners and others is critical for gaining referrals to sustain and grow your practice. Word of mouth tactics are best, as are personal testimonials. With the emergence of Internet technology and social networking, it’s increasingly important to position your business “brand” on the Web.

So, are you ready to attack the marketplace with both your professional and business abilities? A responsible private practitioner must strike the right balance between patient needs and his clinic’s viability and will reap the rewards of successfully doing so.