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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Private Practice, or Theme Park?

Published August 2, 2010 2:16 PM by Jon Bassett

There's an independent physical therapy practice in central Pennsylvania that has a baseball "theme." According to an article last year in the local community newspaper, the two co-owners are each avid fans of rival teams--the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. And they don't hesitate to share their allegiances with the patients who visit.

One of the owner's offices was painted to resemble Fenway Park, complete with green walls, a narrow yellow strip for a foul pole, and the number 310 painted to designate the distance between the park's fence and home plate. Pennants, license plates and knick-knacks given by patients add to the fun.

The article quotes a couple of patients--baseball fans--who love the atmosphere and the connection it establishes between therapist and patient. In the words of one, it makes the office more "personable" and takes his mind off the sometimes uncomfortable sessions and exercises.

All well and good from a business and marketing perspective. But it did get me thinking. I've interviewed practice owners who have taken things to the opposite extreme, insisting that their staff wear ties, play no music, and engage in minimal small talk. There aren't even any mirrors. As health care providers, they prefer to maintain a more professional, "clinical" feel that keeps their patients focused on the task at hand.

Taking therapist skill out of the equation for a moment, which is the better approach?

Many outpatient practices adorn their walls with sports memorabilia, photos of satisfied customers, banners from local high school teams...But can you take it too far? Where does the distinction lie between an austere medical facility, and an enjoyable patient experience that will keep your clients (and their friends) coming back?


The baseball theme is the perfect example of Lisa's post last week on whether your other interests influence your PT treatments.  

Really either extreme (a baseball themed clinic or a sterile environment) - ANY extreme - is going to appeal mostly to a limited segment.  The question is, Are you in an area that has enough people from that limited segment who need therapy to keep you in the red?  Personally, neither of these extremes would get me excited about my PT treatments or, in and of itself, cause me to want to refer my friends.  

The one thing that will appeal across all segments is results.  If the clinic is providing treatments that return their clients to maximum function and relieve pain, then patients will flock no matter the atmosphere.  And when their friends see how well they are doing, they'll flock too.

So when you look at the success of a clinic with an unusual environment, I would hedge my bets on their success rate over their atmosphere.

Janey Goude August 4, 2010 11:50 PM

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