A conversation with rehab therapy analytics expert, Ben Sharpe, on using data to inform growth strategies.
There’s a story to be found in numbers. For outpatient rehab therapy clinics, you could be missing key insights if you’re not diving into your data.
Ben Sharpe, founder and CEO of Practice Dashboard, is also a former CEO of a 25-clinic organization out of Seattle, WA, RET Physical Therapy Group. We asked Ben to offer advice on how organizations looking to scale can use data to inform their growth strategies.
Understanding the power of numbers
Q: Are there any metrics that you think are underutilized?
Ben: I think generally all metrics are underutilized. A lot of clinic leaders are focused on very high-level observations, like how much money is in the bank, or how many patients came in last month. If it’s above expectations, good, but if it’s below expectations, bad. But they often don’t go much deeper.
I think a lot of that could be because there just hasn’t been a platform like Practice Dashboard that simplifies access to a deeper level of data.
This is why I think most metrics are underappreciated. In healthcare, there’s a sort of negative connotation to the concept of managing by numbers. In my experience as a practice owner who focused on numbers, is that the numbers are telling a story and because of the numbers, we’re able to do things for the patient for the right reasons.
Plus, numbers generally don’t lie. So, you can use objective data to do a better job and manage your patients more effectively.
Q: In your experience, are organizations able to use metrics to negotiate insurance payer contracts?
Ben: I think negotiating with payors is a difficult proposition for private practice owners because of their size and scale. Now, having said that, you can certainly use data to negotiate contracts. And I know a lot of therapists have been successful trying.
In my experience, enterprise leaders need to build a story around why they’re negotiating. In order to even have a shot, you must understand your data to paint a picture and a case for why you should be compensated more for what you do. So, with tools like Practice Dashboard which gives you a lion’s share of the data, you can build your case.
Growing pains & warning signs
Q: Which benchmarks do you recommend using to determine when and how to scale?
Ben: There are a couple. When growing, most organizations seem to think about scaling profitably. A lot of times, clinic managers who are therapists will come to you and want to hire more therapists because they feel busy.
In my experience, it is common for therapists to remember when they’re really busy or really slow, and they would want to make hiring decisions based on those peaks. However, if you do hire only during the peaks, you’re going to end up being overstaffed on the aggregate. So, as a clinic leader, data can help guide those decisions. There are several benchmarks that you can reliably look at to figure that out.
First and foremost is therapist productivity. This metric determines how many visits per hour or per day each of your providers are treating patients, which will indicate how busy your therapists are. I typically measure the averages monthly because you want to average out performance over time. If a therapist is seeing 15 patients in a single day, that doesn’t mean you should hire someone immediately. But if they’re averaging 15 patient visits per day over a two-month period, that might be an indication you need to hire someone.
Plus, you should set a benchmark across all your therapists. With a tool like Practice Dashboard, you can access a therapist productivity report where it’ll show all of your therapists throughout your entire organization or in a specific location to help you identify which therapists have the highest and lowest productivity across the group.
Another benchmark I’d recommend watching is your new patient conversion rate. In order to successfully grow a practice, you need to bring in new patients, right? There’s really no other way to do that.
I recommend looking at new patients over time, such as over the past year. Depending on your geography and other factors, your new patient count can fluctuate monthly, so an entire year can help you identify trends and see growth. Again, you don’t want to make long-term hiring decisions because of a short-term, cyclical pattern. Instead, look at new patient trends over time and for a gradual increase in new patients before you decide to bring on additional staff and support that patient load.
Q: Are there warning signs in clinic data that organizations should look out for after scaling their business?
Ben: Absolutely, and as you grow and expand, benchmarks become vitally important.
Here’s an example. At one practice location, it’s very easy to keep track of all your online reviews. It’s best practice to monitor and respond to them because your online profile is super important. You can manage those reviews effectively with one location. And you might have a pretty good sense of your customer’s perception of your business, because you’re in the practice, working with those patients, and you’re seeing the interaction of your staff with patients. With one practice of therapists, you’re able to directly address any customer service type issues either with your employees or with the patient.
But what if you have 40 locations? How do you scale that process? Do you have one person that monitors all reviews? Maybe you have 40 different Google My Business profiles now, and you have to click into each one to look for the reviews, and then respond. You should still do that often, but would a single person be able to do that daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly? As you grow, you need to start relying on some form of data to get a sense of what’s going on at all your locations.
So, as you grow, there are a lot of things that used to be easy at one or two locations that become more difficult as you scale. You just need to be mindful that the same strategies that worked at one practice, may not work as well at 20 or 50.
Data and goal setting: take it a step at a time
Q: How do you use data to determine long-term and short-term growth strategies?
Ben: While there are many different paths to get to your destination, there are also thousands of organizations with different ideas on how to execute those strategies. I would argue most of them maybe have similar themes in terms of their growth strategies, adding locations, or adding new programs. How they get there will depend on the business.
With Practice Dashboard, we have a productivity planning tool built into the software that allows leaders to set a monthly plan for their practice or for each location. So, within the system, you can determine how many new patients per month your clinic should plan for, how many visits per new patient you’ll need, etc. That way you can plan and budget for all these different KPIs. With this convenient tool, you can access a high-level view of your short or long-term goals.
Plus, you can also break it down at the therapist level, which makes it easy to set productivity goals across all locations and therapists. Then you can assign how many patients they see per day or week, or how many visits, etc. After that, it’s just a balancing act. You can keep monitoring and adjust accordingly until you hit the point of balancing the high and low-level goals across your practice.
Let’s take a monthly new patient goal as an example. If you are looking to take on new patients, there are a few short-term goals you can set like more marketing efforts or bringing on another therapist. Then, it’s just a matter of breaking it down into a few steps to see how you can achieve your goals.
It’s important to go through a planning process like that and be flexible to change as you grow. For example, no business owner expected COVID-19 would happen, yet here we are. So have some flexibility in your goal setting for surprise events.
Then execute on those steps and watch the magic happen. You’ll exceed your expectations, and the process continues as you set bigger and bigger goals.
Ready to write your growth story?
There’s no time like the present to jump into your organization’s analytics and start drafting your story. To learn more about how Insight and Practice Dashboard can support your organization’s growth, schedule a free, no-obligations demo today.