March 27, 2015

Business skills help to build a sustainable private practice

Michael Kenihan is well placed to help clinicians succeed in business. A former athlete and physiotherapist, he now runs Australia’s largest network of allied health and sports medicine practices. He discusses the skills and behaviours that drive a successful private practice.

Poor business skills can limit even the best healthcare practitioner’s ability to earn a good income and build a sustainable career.

“I know of incredibly skilled and experienced people who have left their profession because they couldn’t support themselves and their families,” says Michael Kenihan, General Manager of LifeCare Health, Australia’s largest network of allied health and sports medicine practices.

Frustrated by this waste of talent, he was inspired to share the skills he had acquired during his own varied and successful career. He established LifeCare Business Mentoring to help up and coming clinicians then, when results confirmed the practical value of this kind of support, he co-founded Knowledge and Learning Solutions International (KALSI) to make education and mentoring available online.

Four basic principles

LifeCare Business Mentoring is based on the principles of clinical excellence, commercial success, cultural leadership and customer service.

“We constantly remind people that private practice isn’t just a clinical pursuit, it’s a business pursuit,” he says.

The program covers all aspects of business from developing a strategic plan and financial management to leadership skills. It also teaches commercial behaviours.

“These days being technically capable isn’t enough – people expect as high a level of customer service from a practitioner as they do from someone in retail,” says Kenihan. “If you don’t make the effort to build a rapport with your patients they’re unlikely to come back, or to help you build your business with word-of-mouth recommendations.”

An affinity with sport

A former South Australian high jump champion, Kenihan trained as a physiotherapist after a severe ankle injury prevented him from competing. As a clinician, he treated over 30,000 patients, including the Richmond Football Club AFL team, before turning his attention to creating, developing and operating private healthcare practices. He is also a past president of Sports Medicine Australia

“I’ve found that the same principles apply in business as sport,” he says. “For example, your technical skill is the foundation of your success but you also need to focus, work hard and function well as part of a team. And, whether you’re a cricketer or an osteopath, you need passion and commitment to what you do.”

He also believes that every venture starts with a clear goal.

“As a high jumper, I used to sit on the track visualising how I was going to get over the bar,” he says. “Now I encourage practitioners to visualise exactly what they want to achieve in their career.”

Five tips for building a sustainable practice

  1. Don’t expect too much too soon. “The first couple of years are about learning, not earning,” says Kenihan.
  2. Be prepared to work outside regular business hours so that you’re available to your patients when it’s most convenient for them.
  3. Observe more experienced practitioners at work whenever you have the opportunity.
  4. Be prepared to spend time building and maintaining good relationships and strategic alliances with people who can refer patients to you.
  5. Make the effort to build rapport with your patients. Even little things, such as addressing them by name, smiling at them when they first come in and taking them back to the reception desk to arrange future appointments, will help them to feel confident, comfortable and well cared for.
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