Why a healthy business puts its patients first
A physiotherapist and a dentist tell Lisa Smyth about the challenges they've faced and the rewards gained by setting up their own practices
Physiotherapy plays a vital role in the recovery and management of a huge number of medical conditions. And that is just one of the things that Margaret Napier loves about her job. Every day in her clinic on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast, Mrs Napier meets different people and helps to make a difference to their lives.
She graduated from the University of Ulster and spent time working in both the National Health Service and private sector.
“I’m qualified a long time and after working in both the NHS and a private hospital, setting up my own practice seemed like a natural career move,” she said.
“I really felt like I had the clinical experience, expertise and confidence to move into private practice.
“It was a natural progression as far as I was concerned.”
So, in 2008, Mrs Napier established Elmwood Physiotherapy.
However, while she knew she wanted to set up her own practice, the location of the clinic was purely accidental.
“I just came across the premises and there were no other physiotherapists in that whole stretch of road,” said Mrs Napier.
“It was in such a good location, on the Lisburn Road, close to the City Hospital and the rooms were on the ground floor.
“We were also able to provide parking at the front of the building as well, which is very convenient for my patients, especially those who may have mobility problems.
“It seemed like the obvious choice.”
The initial outlay for the clinic was not prohibitive.
“There is some equipment but your business is essentially your hands,” said Mrs Napier.
“Like any new fledgling business, I had to write up the business plan, looking at all the legal issues, how was I going to generate the number of patients?
“I had to look at all the administration side of things.”
As for attracting patients, Mrs Napier was a well-established and respected physiotherapist.
“I had worked in the Ulster Independent Clinic, the Mater and the City Hospital,” she said.
“I knew a lot of the consultants and some GPs who knew my work so they were able to refer patients to me.
“I still had to go out and seek referrals from GP practices.
“It was difficult to get through to the GPs, you can’t just go directly into the GPs, so I left some of my literature and wrote to some of the orthopaedic consultants as well.
“I’ve always made sure that the signage for the clinic is very conspicuous and visible outside as well.
“We also take patients who walk in off the street.
“In the first week, we probably had about four patients, which isn’t an awful lot.”
Over the years, the number of clients has increased.
However, there is a limit to the number of patients Mrs Napier can see each week.
“The average length of time you want to spend with a person is 40 minutes, so you can see about 10 to 11 people a day,” she added.
Of course, Mrs Napier is a trained medical professional, so how does she cope with the business side of running her own clinic?
“I’m confident treating patients,” she said.
“When I opened the clinic, I had a lot of clinical experience and the ability to treat people but I didn’t have any business experience.
“My husband is a businessman and he has helped me a great deal.
“I do have to devote time to paperwork and keep my accounts in order, which was quite challenging at the start.
“It’s also imperative to keep up my professional development, to ensure you’re up-to-date with all the latest treatments.
“It can be quite isolating to work in your own practice but with the professional development you have peers you can speak to and that can be helpful.
“Running a business is challenging, there’s no maternity leave. In fact, I think I took six weeks off. You have to find people to cover for you but that’s a challenge in itself because you care so much about what you do.”
But it is the dedication to her own business and her desire to provide the best standard of care to her patients that is her motivation.
“I would tell anyone thinking of setting up their own business to think long and hard and be sure that’s exactly what they want to do,” said Mrs Napier.
“You have to have a real passion for your job and what you do as well.
“Your business can succeed if you surround yourself by the right people and make sure you get the right advice.
“Physiotherapy as a business is extremely viable, almost everyone will need physiotherapy at some point in their life. But you need to be honest about whether you love your job before setting up on your own.”