Why some clinics are choosing a shared services model for growth

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Smaller health clinics have many challenges…often even more than larger ones. If you’re operating a one- or two-person chiropractic clinic, for instance, even simple — let alone robust — practice-management and electronic health record solutions as well as administrative support can be expensive and time-consuming necessities that may be outside of your financial reach. They’re particularly critical resources if you’re planning to expand services to differentiate you with convenience-minded health consumers…while ending up with a healthy bottom line and a decent work/life balance in the process.

Respected industry research and consulting firm Gartner Inc. articulates the need and value of a shared services model this way: 

The purpose of a shared services model is to run, grow or transform the business. Effective shared services models are defined by an unrelenting focus on customer value and satisfaction, being competitive and continuous improvement.

That’s why a growing number of clinics — especially in allied health professions such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, chiropractic, massage, acupuncture and more — are turning to a shared model so they can cost-effectively manage the many aspects of successfully running and building a business today. Sharing services saves money, and enables clinics to have the much more-robust tools and support they desperately need but may not be able to afford alone.

Clinic space and locations — Office space is increasingly expensive, and the pandemic has seen both business and residential rates skyrocket in most markets. Medical office buildings have been a resilient subsector of the market throughout the pandemic, as more (and increasingly aging) patients are returning to in-person visits for tests or services — some elective, like massage or acupuncture — they had delayed the last two years or more. 

But affordable space convenient to a clinic’s targeted populations isn’t necessarily in great supply, with prime locations that including decent parking remain expensive and at a premium in many areas. Sharing services can mean clinic space requirements potentially can be smaller and, thus, less expensive with greater choices.

Convenience — In planning for growth, clinics also must remember that patients are becoming increasingly aware that they’re truly consumers of healthcare, just as they are of other goods and services. So with traffic congestion and the “I want it, I want it, I want it now” convenience that has shaped consumer expectations through services like Amazon.com, Door Dash and others, it’s important to consider how clinics can collaborate to bundle and market not only complementary health services in optimal locations, but share the administrative services resources and costs to make it possible.

Referrals — It’s nothing new for one provider to refer to another, such as a chiropractor to trusted PT, OT, massage or acupuncture therapists. So why not consider sharing one or more locations, and the services that all of them need to stay independent while positioning each of them for continued growth?

Getting started

First, providers need define the many questions they need to raise and address, such as what automation and security are essential to each of them, and what support services are desired but not essential? This is a great time to make a “wish list” of what they’ve been yearning for, and then what desired functionality overlaps or is adaptable. Providers seeking to build and launch a shared-services PM model should carefully assess what, if any, solutions each has currently…and what they do not but should have to run each clinic successfully. Are any of their existing practice-management solutions flexible, expandible and secure enough to meet each specialty’s needs and thus should be considered as the foundation for a shared services model? (Hint: Few will be.)

In addition, allied health professionals considering a shared-services agreement must remember that unless they jointly form a new corporate “umbrella” entity, each clinic’s protected health information (PHI) under the HIPAA Privacy Rule must be separate and secure unless a patient has signed documented approval for sharing it. Also, security and privacy includes — well, let’s be honest — your money. If providers maintain separate incorporated businesses, they won’t want their colleagues to have ready (or any) access to their financials, outside of a shared administrative resource. Not all practice-management systems can ensure all of this secure separation. 

Presuming that no one has a PM solution that meets everyone’s needs, a small, representational committee should be established to investigate and narrow down solutions on the market. Typically, solutions ready-set to support unique needs and growth should be subscription- and cloud-based, with no long-term contracts that may be difficult (and expensive) for initial participants who later choose to leave the collaborative arrangement…and for new ones to easily join.

Typically, clinics should want a practice-management solution that includes:

  • Integrated online patient intake forms
  • Online appointment scheduling for a single or multiple clinic locations
  • Automated messaging for visit reminders, follow-up surveys including links to posting online (hopefully positive) reviews, and other messages that grow brand visibility, encourage patient retention and discourage missed appointments
  • Credit-card authorization on file for copays and outstanding balances
  • Simple yet in-depth reports for income and appointments by location, provider and time period
  • Integrated telehealth capabilities (though with most of the provider types we’re discussing here, that may not be valuable since their services are very hands-on. For consultative specialties such as behavioral health, yes. Primary care? Definitely.)

Expanding locations and services, covering other providers

Not only does a cloud-based, function-rich, practice-management solution deliver support for providers sharing an office space — which will be recognized as a huge convenience for patients, plus provide an  opportunity for cross-“selling” — it also provides the foundation for continued expansion into other locations. This is particularly useful if participants choose to form an umbrella “brand” for building name recognition as a multi-service clinic when it expands into new locations. Whether individual providers choose to keep their own brand or not, the combined brand can still support and build name recognition in a broader service area.

In addition to cost-effectively expanding consumer health services, a shared-services relationship may open up discussions about possible coverage options for some allied health professionals, especially for staffing multiple shared clinics. Depending on the regulations of a particular state, physical therapists sometimes may be able to fill in for occupational therapists and vice versa. Experienced OT, PT or chiropractic professionals also may have some subspecialty experience and certification in massage therapy or acupuncture as well.

Bottom line: Sharing saves money

Especially for smaller or niche providers, the concept of sharing services just makes sense. Expenses will be lower…on everything from practice-management solutions to administrative support and smaller clinic square footage. And if clinic space is being shared, the combined services of participating allied health professionals can be leveraged for market differentiation and growth as a multi-service, one-stop convenient health destination. What’s not to love…for both you and your patients?

Try our 14-day free trial of intakeQ’s online forms capabilities and our integrated practiceQ practice-management solution today and see how they can cost-effectively improve productivity, satisfaction and the bottom line…as well as that of other providers in a shared-services model.

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