3 min read

How to Use Technology to Run a More Efficient & Profitable Physical Therapy Clinics?

You began your career as a physical therapist because you wanted to help people. You soon started significantly impacting people's lives and saw the opportunity to assist even more individuals by launching your clinic. As your practice grew, you found yourself becoming increasingly busy. You began to feel overwhelmed, with little time to spare and a mounting pile of administrative tasks. It was then that you realized there must be another way, that someone else must have experienced the challenges of running a business before. This was also my story.

I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but I'm a physical therapist at my core. When I embarked on this journey, I didn't deeply understand business; I started because I wanted to help people. Most clinic owners, like us, share a similar beginning. We stumbled into the business side of physical therapy, driven by our passion for patient care. We are clinicians first and, perhaps, business owners second or even further down the line. However, it's vital to recognize that, as business owners, we must be profitable to succeed and continue positively impacting more people.

As you dive into the business world, immersing yourself in podcasts, reading blogs like this one online, and pursuing personal development in areas such as marketing and leadership, you soon realize just how much you don't know. This realization can be overwhelming; I'm sure many of you can relate.

We all share a common desire for more time, more money, and more freedom. After all, these were some of the main reasons we decided to start our clinic. We sought to break free from the mill clinics, with their heavy reliance on high patient volumes and extensive paperwork.

Some clinic owners choose to remain solo practitioners, and if this aligns with your vision of success, I wholeheartedly respect that choice. In such cases, the focus shifts toward creating efficient systems to streamline day-to-day operations. However, for those who aspire to expand their practice, as I did, systems thinking alone is not enough; it must be combined with effective recruitment. Growth requires people. Once your clinical schedule is fully booked, hiring becomes essential. Otherwise, you'll find yourself stuck. When you're swamped with patient appointments, there's simply no time to answer calls or engage in marketing activities that could help more people discover your expertise in aiding recovery. Solving this dilemma is crucial for growth.

As a solo practitioner or in a small clinic, you may experience quiet periods. These lulls can trigger panic, prompting you to dive into marketing efforts to regain traction. Yet, as you get busier with patient care, marketing tends to take a back seat. This cycle repeats monthly and year after year unless you decide to break it. If hiring is financially challenging, it might be an indication of incorrect pricing or a mindset that's not yet prepared for growth.

My journey in private practice began in 2010, a considerable time ago. I initially had an essential website and relied on paper notes for record-keeping, ensuring compliance with governing standards. Friends and family were my first clients, and I gradually garnered word-of-mouth referrals. I established partnerships with local clubs, cultivated relationships with physicians for referrals, and even distributed leaflets to residents. Fortunately, technology began advancing.

As I continued, I recognized the need to implement more robust systems in my clinic to support its growth. I started by adopting an EMR and billing system, which initially improved payment processing. However, as my business acumen expanded, these systems became increasingly frustrating. I grew tired of drawing exercise plans and prescriptions by hand when specialized software became available. This journey led me to explore clinic management software designed specifically for physical therapy clinics. I also integrated accounting software, telehealth solutions, anatomy software for patient education, payment systems, and a CRM tool for client communication. Before I realized it, I was managing 7-8 different software systems, with few of them effectively communicating with each other.

Over 11 years, I meticulously crafted numerous systems and expanded my team to meet growth demands.   

With time, I found myself at the helm of two clinics, overseeing a team of ten employees. During this phase, the challenges of managing multiple software systems became evident. My team rightfully pointed out that we had accumulated a multitude of tools, and their frustration was valid. However, each piece of software addressed a specific need within the business, whether it was scheduling appointments, verifying insurance information, enhancing the patient experience, facilitating education and rehabilitation, managing billing, executing marketing strategies, or handling financial matters. As our clinic expanded, so did the complexity of our challenges.

During this journey, I began to grasp the importance of knowing your clinic's numbers inside and out. Running a clinic is not merely about tallying up patient visits and calculating turnover – a lesson I learned well before 2010.

In the midst of it all, I nurtured a dream – a dream of amalgamating all these disparate systems into a single, unified platform. The aim was to eliminate redundant work, reduce distractions and the need for constant task-switching, enhance team productivity, and provide me with access to the information necessary to operate a more profitable, efficient, and scalable business.

Scaling an inefficient business is a nightmare - trust me!  

So what software do you really need to run an efficient clinic?

Here are five essential technology solutions every clinic should have:

  1. Clinic Management System: This system facilitates efficient scheduling and includes patient reminders to streamline your practice's operations.
  2. Exercise Prescription Software: Ensure your patients receive the personalized care they deserve with dedicated exercise prescription software.
  3. Secure Online Medical Records Storage: Safely store and back up medical records online, ensuring data security and accessibility.
  4. Billing System: A comprehensive billing system helps you track payments seamlessly. It should integrate directly with your clinic management and accounting systems for a streamlined financial workflow.
  5. Insurance Verification Software: Invest in insurance verification software to expedite co-pay collections and minimize time spent on the phone with insurance companies.

Let’s explore each one in more detail:

       1.Clinic Management System: 

This is the cornerstone of your day-to-day life. Having your diary organized and efficiently managed, with easy scheduling and patient reminders, can significantly boost your attendance rate and reduce the 'did not attend' rate. Having a system that makes it easy to reschedule or identify patients who have dropped off their plans or canceled without rescheduling is a potential goldmine that most clinics don’t devote enough time to. Just imagine how much more profitable you could be if you could ensure that every patient stayed until the end of their treatment plan and never canceled.

Following up with patients who have dropped off or canceled is crucial not only for delivering exceptional care but also for running a successful clinic. You need to have a system in place that initially helps you monitor and report on these metrics and then assists your administrative team in following up with them.

       2. Exercise software:

Patient reminders also play a pivotal role in improving the attendance rate, ultimately resulting in fewer changes to the diary. Your clinic management system must be capable of informing you where patients are in their treatment plan and what the percentage completion rate is. Since a successful patient care process involves completing the treatment plan, you need a system that monitors and reports on how many patients successfully complete their treatment. Additionally, I appreciate being able to see this breakdown per therapist; it allows me to identify who is excelling in my clinic, not just staying busy.

In 2023, relying on paper-based rehabilitation plans is simply outdated. The inclusion of exercise prescription software is now an indispensable component of any contemporary clinic. Not only does it significantly enhance patient adherence to rehabilitation regimens, but it also contributes to markedly improved treatment outcomes. Patients appreciate this modern approach, and providing them with an excellent experience is crucial for both business success and maintaining a stellar reputation.

Transitioning from your clinic management software to another platform can be a time-consuming and cumbersome process. It involves task-switching, which often leads to distractions and decreased productivity among your team. They may also voice concerns about the increased administrative workload alongside their already busy caseloads. Hence, it's essential to have a system with exercise prescription seamlessly integrated into patient notes, eliminating the need for duplication and streamlining workflow.

       3.  Assessments, SOAP notes and Addendums:

Over the last 10-15 years, the adoption of EMRs has become increasingly common. Thanks to technological advancements and the integration of AI capabilities, the process of creating legally compliant patient notes has become significantly simpler and more efficient. It's crucial to have a system in place that allows you to navigate the patient appointment journey seamlessly and complete your documentation in less than 5 minutes per patient. If your current system falls short in this regard, it might be time to consider an upgrade.

Consider this: If you could save 5 minutes per patient and see 10 patients every day, you'd gain back 50 minutes daily. Now, multiply that efficiency across your entire team, over a week, month, and year. The time savings and increased productivity can have a substantial impact on your clinic's operations.

       4.  Billing Systems: 

I've come across many billing systems that claim to be integrated but are, in reality, mere bolt-ons. Effective billing should begin as soon as the appointment is created. It's essential to have a system that allows you to book an appointment, collect co-pays at the first session, and create a note with the correct billing codes, units, and provider details. This workflow ensures that errors can be identified and rectified before a claim is even submitted.

Billing systems that are bolted onto existing platforms often fall short in identifying errors and providing transparency into your clinic's operations. For instance, if the system doesn't recognize an incomplete note, that bill cannot be submitted to the payer. If it is submitted, it's likely to be denied, impacting your cash flow and necessitating additional time for error correction and resubmission.

Having a fully integrated billing system ensures faster payment, reduced errors, and complete visibility into your claims. This information empowers you to make informed decisions, including which providers to continue with and which ones to reconsider.

       5.  Insurance Verification Software: 

This is a game-changer. The ability to upload a patient's insurance details and access relevant information within seconds, without the need for a phone call, not only enhances the patient experience but also enables the clinic to collect co-pay payments at an earlier stage in the patient journey.

When you can effortlessly determine the patient's financial responsibility, allowable deductibles, and both in-network and out-of-network co-payments, it streamlines patient care and elevates the overall experience. Furthermore, when this system seamlessly communicates with your billing system, you can expedite revenue collection and receive payments much faster compared to a cumbersome manual process that is prone to errors.

For clinics heavily reliant on insurance or those with a significant percentage of insurance-based patients, the inability to collect payment until 30-40 days after service delivery and invoicing can severely impact cash flow. Having an integrated insurance verification system mitigates this issue, ensuring a healthier financial outlook for the clinic 

But where do you get the time to implement these systems?

Or where do you find an all in one physical therapy clinic management system to do all this for you?

Sadly most businesses and most business owners have no real understanding of how their clinic is performing, how their staff are performing and how much money they are loosing because their clinic management solution and billing systems simply don’t work or meet the needs of their clinic.  They are bolted together, don’t communicate and don’t give them the output they need and deserve.  

As a result, either you or one of your team spends hours every week trying to extract the necessary information into a spreadsheet or some form of report to analyze your business's performance. Your front desk (I genuinely hope it isn't you!) spends hours chasing billing companies for unpaid invoices or rejected claims. Verification and patient eligibility checks take hours, at best, and days, at worst. The entire process is tiresome, leaving you feeling overworked, undervalued, and stressed – certainly not how you envisioned it when you first started.

Setting up systems in your clinic is time-consuming, but it's an investment that will pay off. You're leveraging time, and once it's done, repetitive tasks become more manageable for you and your staff

Ultimately, investing in the right technology and dedicating time to make the switch will enhance your efficiency and productivity. With a clear view of what's happening in your clinic, you can pinpoint and address issues. Is it a marketing concern? A front desk issue? Are there challenges among your physical therapists or individual clinicians? Is it related to how your team handles 'sales' conversations? Or perhaps it's a financial problem related to billing, accounts receivable, or your pricing strategy and overall business model? Without data, you can't make informed decisions to effectively grow and scale your clinic.

If you're too busy to contemplate a change, I completely understand – I've been there too. However, it's essential to recognize that if you always do what you've always done, you'll continue to get the same results.

For clinic growth, recruiting good people is vital, and having these individuals leverage great systems is where the magic happens.

If you want to explore an all-in-one clinic management solution that can encompass everything discussed in this article and more, simply take a coffee break and take a look inside Spry. After all, it was designed by physical therapists for physical therapists.

Click on the link below to watch SPRY in action.

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