When Medicare slashed reimbursement for nerve conduction studies in 2013, it hurt a lot of neurology practices. Some private practices had to close their doors because they had nothing to fall back on.
KCA Neurology in Franklin, Tennessee was not one them. Yes, says owner Dr. Gretchen Campbell, “It hit us hard too.” But today her practice is thriving. We asked her recently to share her secrets. It turns out, there are no secrets, just strategy.
Her strategy comes down to three core components: 1. Put your business first. 2. Connect with others. 3. Diversify. Put these three strategies into place and you too can have a thriving private neurology practice in today’s climate of lower reimbursement.
1. Put your business first
“The first thing you need to know is that you’re a business first, and there’s no shame in that,” says Dr. Campbell. “I know we train a long time to be doctors, but if you’re taking the risk of being a business owner as well, that has to come first. Otherwise, you won’t be in business very long.”
Dr. Campbell says to do this she reads a lot. Her bookshelves are stocked with just about as many business books as medical texts. “The body doesn’t change,” she says, “but the landscape for a small business is constantly changing.” And you have to keep up.
A good place to start is with sales. “Just like other businesses, we’re in the sales business too,” she says. “You can be a great doctor that has an IQ of 1000, but if you go into a room and you can’t connect, that person is not going to come back.”
Running a business also means keeping up with today’s marketing strategies. Chief among these says Dr. Campbell, is having a web presence. Read more about that in our post, Do you Know your Webutation?.
2. Connect, Connect, Connect
“Relationships are everything in business,” says Dr. Campbell. This applies to mentors, peers, and specialists across all fields of medicine and beyond.
“It is good to find people you can learn from to help you grow,” she says. “They don’t need to be in neurology, either,” she says. “There are things you can add to your business model that any doctor in private practice—or even businesses outside of medicine—can add.”
Dr. Campbell recommends reaching out to practitioners in your niche. She still meets with a group, FemPro, that she started in 2004. FemPro, or Female Providers of Williamson County, is a group of more than 30 female doctors, nurse practitioners and PAs. “The whole point was to allow [providers] to meet face to face and to support referring to one another,” she says.
It is important to put yourself out there. “When I do meet other doctors, I’ll get their cell phone, and if I need something I’ll shoot a text,” she says. “I have a whole phone full of doctors’ personal cell phone numbers. So, if I … Let’s say for example, I’m in the middle of clinic, and I have a brief question, I’ll just text them. Those relationships will form when you foster them.”
Dr. Campbell also emphasizes that those in the private sector need to support each other. So many university and corporate medical groups encourage their practitioners to refer only within their network. “It is up to all the little practices to stick together and to stick up for each other.”
Sometimes, she says, the best person to help your patient is in one of these big groups, but “If we’re talking about someone that can be taken care of well in the private sector, then choose that first.” Most specialties—like neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, vascular surgery, endocrinology—still have somebody in private practice.” Take the time to learn the skill-sets of those practitioners practicing independently. When you do, they will also get to know you and are more likely to send patients your way as well.
3. Diversify your Practice
In today’s market, it is no longer enough to just see patients; you have to offer a variety of reimbursable treatments, says Dr. Campbell. Sometimes this means making an investment in equipment, but more often it means seeking out additional training. When it comes to patient treatment she says,“The technical component pays better than the professional component. You’d think it would be the doctor who gets paid more but no, it’s whoever owns the equipment. That is just the truth of it.”
Dr. Campbell provides her patients with a variety of treatments including Botox injections, EEGs, home sleep studies, and trigger point injections. “It’s better for the patient and all that revenue stays within our business.” She says she is also thinking about adding clinical trials to her practice. “It is a way to diversify, and it is not tied to insurance.”