How to Start and Operate a Physical Therapy Practice

How to Start and Operate a Physical Therapy Practice

My PT Journey:

When I made the decision to start my own physical therapy practice in 2014, there were not a lot of great resources available to me. Most articles that existed were run of the mill, generic “6 steps to opening a PT practice”. I built Practitionr to share my journey of what I feel like I did well, what I wish I could have done differently, and what mistakes I wish I could have avoided. 

Physical therapy is an essential component of health care, helping individuals restore their physical capabilities and lead a healthier life. But for those professionals passionate about the field, starting their own physical therapy practice can be a rewarding endeavor. In this three-part series, we will walk you through the steps to establish your own clinic. 

Choosing a Physical Therapy Specialization

Physical therapy is like a tree with many branches. Each branch represents a different specialization. But how do you pick the right one for you? This question is even more important to think about when you make the decision to open your own practice. When I started my practice, I knew that I wanted to take a highly specialized approach. I would personally attribute this as to one of the biggest reasons my practice was successful.

The most common Physical Therapy specializations are:

  • Orthopedic:  Work with injuries or disorders of the bones, joints, and muscles.
  • Pediatric: Focus on helping kids and teens with growth-related issues or conditions.
  • Geriatric: Assist older adults in maintaining mobility and strength.
  • Neurological: Work with patients with neurological disorders like stroke, Parkinson’s, or brain injuries.
  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary: Help people with heart or lung problems improve their physical health.
  • Sports: Help athletes recover from injuries and improve performance.

When I started my career in physical therapy, my first job was working in an outpatient ortho clinic. I soon realized that I enjoyed working with the geriatric population and eventually made my way into working in senior care facilities.

Understanding Competition When it Comes to Choosing Your Physical Therapy Specializations

Sometimes, choosing a specialty isn’t just about what you love, but also about where you can make a difference. In some areas, there might be a high demand for pediatric therapists but not many for sports therapists. For example, in Denver Colorado where I practice, there are outpatient ortho clinics on every block. Opening another outpatient ortho clinic in my area would have been very difficult. 

The Lay of the Land

Begin by surveying the field:

  • Identify Major Players: Who are the leading physical therapists or clinics in your area? What specializations do they focus on? 
  • Market Size: How large is your potential market? How many referring physicians are within a 5, 10, 20 mile radius? 
  • Specialization Saturation: If every other therapist is specializing in sports therapy, it might be harder to stand out or find a niche. Some specializations will also have a different sized radius area of how far people are willing to travel. For example, if you specialize in Parkinson’s therapy, people may be willing to travel 100+ miles to receive specialized treatment. 

The Power of Niche Specializations

Sometimes, the less-traveled path can be more rewarding. My practice specialized in neurologic rehab, specifically in the areas of Parkinson’s, vestibular, and geriatrics. In my particular area, contracting with insurance providers was very difficult. Most insurance providers were not accepting new practices into their network unless they were servicing a need that was not being met by other practices.

Uncommon Specialties: Fields like vestibular rehab (for balance problems) or women’s health might have fewer professionals, giving you an edge. My practice was neuro focused with a specialization in Parkinson’s therapy and vestibular rehab. Since we were one of the only practices that worked with DBS (deep brain stimulation) patients, people would travel from other states to be seen by us. 

Localized Needs: Perhaps there’s a local elderly community but not enough geriatric specialists. Find those gaps. If you are set on practicing sports rehab and there is a large saturation of sports rehab clinics in your area, find niche partnerships or services that others are not offering. In physical therapy, I have found that it is always better to go an inch wide mile deep. 

Specializations and Insurance Contracts: If you are not running a cashed based physical therapy practice, then insurance contracts are critical to your survival. In areas like Denver where there are a lot of private PT practices, insurance companies may not be willing to add you as a service provider if you are only providing general outpatient ortho services. If you are highly specialized however and there is a need for your specialization, it becomes much easier to contract with most insurance companies. 

Finding the Right Location for Your Physical Therapy Practice

First off, think about the patient population you want to help. If your specialization requires you to work with geriatrics, then consider areas with a large senior community. On the other hand, if you’re into sports therapy, being near sports centers, gyms, or sports-centric areas might be a smart move. Marketing your physical therapy practice will become a very important aspect of your day. Finding a great location can help tremendously when it comes to acquiring new patients.

Size and Proximity to Referral Sources

  • Choose the right amount of square footage for your specialization. 
  • Think about future growth plans. Do you have the ability to expand in relation to your growth pro-forma?
  • How far away are your primary referral sources? How many potential referral sources are in your 5, 10, and 20 mile radius?

Convenience is also ideal when finding the right location. When people aren’t feeling their best, they don’t want to travel far. So, being near public transportation stops or having a parking lot is the way to go. 

Marketing Your Physical Therapy Practice

Seek Referrals From Other Medical Providers

For most physical therapy clinics, referrals are the lifeline for new patients. Building strong relationships with other medical providers can oftentimes make or break a private PT practice. 

  • Network with Other Medical Professionals: Build relationships with doctors, chiropractors, or other health professionals. 
  • Offer Lunch and Learns: Lunch and learns are a great way to meet and network with other medical professionals. Most medical practices are open to you bringing in lunch for their staff while going over services you can offer their patients. 
  • Be Consistent: Have a plan to stop by on a weekly or bi monthly basis. Get to know your referral partners and make sure they get to know you. Leave brochures and literature often. 

Leverage Social Media

  • Platform Choice: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn are great ways to reach a diverse audience. Sites like TikTok and Instagram are great for sharing visuals of your practice, success stories, or exercise demonstrations.
  • Engage & Educate: Post informative and helpful content. Video posts discussing common physical ailments, tips for home exercises, or Q&A sessions can be a great way to engage with patients. 
  • Patient Testimonials: Share stories and testimonials from satisfied patients. A short video or quote can be a powerful endorsement of your services.

Optimize Your Website and Google Business Profile

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Make sure your website follows Google’s SEO best practices so that your site will appear at the top of search results when potential patients look for physical therapy services in your area. Doing a great job at SEO for physical therapy can be esspecially important if you are running a cash based practice.
  • Google Business Profile: Keep your Google Business Profile up to date and accurate. Do not leave any information blank if possible. 
  • Get Google Reviews: Google reviews are a great way to place high on Google search results and help greatly with conversions. Using services like Birdeye or Podium can drastically improve your star ratings. 

Choosing the Best Software and Services

In the digital age, running a successful physical therapy practice involves more than just exceptional patient care; it also means harnessing the right software and services to streamline operations, manage patient data, and enhance the overall patient experience. Choosing the wrong software for your practice can end up being a giant pain down the road. While you may be busing looking for the best physical therapy equipment to put in your clinic, don’t overlook the importance of choosing the best physical therapy software.

Practice Management Software

Practice management software is a digital tool designed to streamline the daily operations of a physical therapy clinic. Think of it as a Swiss Army knife for therapists, helping them handle various tasks from scheduling patient appointments to managing billing processes. By integrating various aspects of practice management—such as appointment reminders, invoicing, insurance claims, and even patient records—this software ensures that clinics run smoothly and efficiently. Basic practice management software will assist in:

  • Scheduling Appointments: Reduces the risk of double-booking and helps track patient visits.
  • Billing: Facilitates the billing process, from generating invoices to managing insurance claims.
  • Patient Communication: Appointment reminders via email or SMS. This can reduce no-show rates.

Electronic Health Records (EHR):

Digitally storing patient data and documentation has several benefits. Your EHR is probably one of the most important decisions you will make when it comes to PT software in your practice. Here are a few things to consider when choosing an EHR:

  • Accessibility: Easily retrieve patient histories, treatment plans, and progress notes.
  • Integration: Many EHRs can be integrated with practice management software or have practice management software as part of their complete offering.
  • Pricing: EHR pricing can range drastically. Some offer billing services and take a percent of your practice billing and others charge a flat fee. Both of these models have pros and cons so it is important to carefully consider each offering. 

Staffing Your Physical Therapy Practice

Operating a physical therapy practice may eventually require assembling a team of professionals to ensure efficient operations and high-quality patient care. As you grow your PT practice, here is a list key staff members you may consider hiring as you begin expanding your practice:

Licensed Physical Therapists (PTs):

  • Your primary service providers, they evaluate and treat patients.
  • Depending on your practice’s size and scope, you may need to hire multiple PTs, potentially with different specializations.

Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs):

  • PTAs work under the direction of licensed PTs to help provide therapy to patients.
  • PTAs often handle tasks like guiding patients through exercises or using specific therapeutic modalities.

Physical Therapy Aides or Technicians:

  • Physical Therapy Aides support PTs and PTAs by setting up therapy equipment, keeping treatment areas organized, and sometimes assisting with basic exercises or treatments under direct supervision.

Receptionist or Front Desk Coordinator:

This person manages patient scheduling, answers phone calls, greets patients, and can also handle billing inquiries at smaller clinics.

Office Manager or Clinic Administrator:

  • Your Clinic or office manager will typically oversee day-to-day operations, staff schedules, payroll, and other administrative duties.

Billing and Coding Specialist:

  • This person manages insurance claims, billing procedures, patient invoices, and ensures that treatments are coded correctly for reimbursement.

Medical Records Technician:

  • Responsible for maintaining and organizing patient records, ensuring data accuracy, accessibility, and security.

Marketing Specialist:

  • As your clinic grows, having someone dedicated to promoting your services, managing your online presence, and building relationships with other medical professionals can be invaluable.

IT Support:

  • Depending on the size of your clinic and the tech infrastructure (like electronic health record systems), you might need someone (either on-staff or contracted) to handle IT issues and maintain equipment.

Staying Updated with Physical Therapy Trends

Physical therapy, like any medical field, is continually evolving. Like any career, it’s essential to think long-term when starting a physical therapy practice. Some specializations might have more opportunities for growth in the coming years. Newer fields, like tele-rehabilitation (offering therapy through video calls), might emerge and change the game. Stay updated on the latest trends in physical therapy.

Emerging Techniques

Like most fields in medicine, physical therapy is always on the move, introducing new methods in patient care. Some of the more popular trends we are seeing are in the tele-health space. With the advent of virtual reality physical therapists are now able to offer services in a more remote setting. Think about video games, but designed to heal! Patients put on special goggles that take them to a digital world. Here, they do exercises and tasks. It’s not just fun; it’s been found to help, especially for people recovering from brain injuries or strokes.

Robot-assisted therapy is also a growing trend in the physical therapy world. Robots are being used to help patients with their exercises. For example, if someone is learning to walk again, a robot might support them, ensuring they move correctly and don’t fall. This gives patients a chance to practice safely and more frequently.

Final Thoughts

Starting and running a successful physical therapy practice is a continuous journey. It requires dedication, hard work, and a genuine passion for helping others. When you make the decision to start your own practice, you’re not just starting a business; you’re making a positive impact in your community. Good luck on your journey and I hope we were able to provide you some value or insights as you begin this next chapter.