It’s a question recently asked on NPBusiness.org, our business blog.
If you’ve been thinking about starting a practice, you’ve probably wondered the same thing.
Unfortunately, “how long does it take to start a new practice” doesn’t come with a simple answer. With a range of considerations and decisions affecting the outcome, it’s next to impossible to come up with a specific timeframe.
Yet, that doesn’t mean we can’t shine a light on the topic, consider the primary inputs, and come up with some answers.
Now let me take a step back…
“How long does it take to start a practice?” is comparable to questions like:
How long does it take to cook a meal?
- It depends…
- Will you be cooking a 10-course meal or a plate of scrambled eggs?
- Do you have a recipe you intend to follow?
- Do you have all the ingredients at hand?
How long does it take to build a house?
- And once again, it depends…
- Is it a custom or pre-built home?
- Do you have a solid blueprint?
- Do you have all the necessary materials and permits?
With each question, the answer depends on a multitude of factors, just as it does when you’re starting a new practice.
Now having said that in most cases there are “industry averages” available to provide an approximate timeframe.
Most recipes provide an estimate of how long it should take you to prepare the dish. (I don’t know about you, but it always takes me longer than their estimate!)
When it comes to building a home, you will find the industry averages for custom homes range between 10 to 14 months, compared to the 3 to 4 month it takes to build a production home.
And the industry averages for starting a practice?
There are some. But please note these averages apply only to a few steps that must be completed to start a practice and not the entire process.
But before I get to them, let me point out this…
The length of time it takes to start a practice hinges on the clarity of your plan! The more clarity you have about what it is you want to build, the easier it will be to follow up on your ideas.
What kind of practice do you want to start?
Because starting a cash-based, one provider – zero employee practice generally takes less time than one that is insurance-based, with multiple providers and employees.
And now you can see that answering the question “how long does it takes to start a practice?” hinges on knowing fundamental bits of information. Because without them, you will simply be feeling your way through the dark.
Here are the milestones typical to most practices:
- Find suitable office space
- Get credentialed with insurance companies
- Purchase office furnishings
- Select office technology, including EMR and billing solution
- Set up a practice website
- Market the practice
Depending on your specific space requirements, this may take anywhere from 2 to 5+ months. While it’s important to know what you need and want, also think about acceptable alternatives.
Here are some things to consider: location, accessibility, proximity to public transportation, parking, business compatibility with other tenants, long-term suitability, the potential for expansion, cost of lease, or build-out.
Selecting your space is the first milestone. While it’s possible to begin the credentialing process without an address, it’s best to start it knowing your practice location.
Also, once you know your location, you can start to market and set up your website.
Generally, the length of the credentialing process depends on your location, the individual payer, and your current status as a credentialed provider.
You can get ready ahead of time by contacting the insurance companies to find out specific requirements. You want to have all your ducks in a row when it’s time.
As mentioned earlier, you should start the credentialing process with the address of your new practice. Allow 3 to 6 months to get credentialed with different payers. Be sure to follow up with all applications so that you can respond to additional information requests in a timely fashion.
Once you know your location and office layout, it’s time to purchase office furniture and medical equipment. Depending on your budget, you may decide to look for new or buy used.
Locating quality used furnishings and equipment may be easier and faster if you live in a bigger city. Alternatively, you could look on Amazon, eBay, and other websites to find used items.
Finding the right kind of equipment at a reasonable price may take some time, or it could happen very quickly. But you can start to look early on, so you have your fingers on the pulse of what’s available in your community.
Also, you don’t have to have every single item to get started. Consider making additional purchases after you’ve opened your doors.
Selecting the EMR and billing solution that are right for you may take some time. If you don’t have an EMR in mind, allow yourself enough time, at least three to six months to make your selection.
Even though it sounds like a lot of time, consider how long it takes to schedules demos, get your questions answered, and take the software for a robust test drive.
Give yourself enough time here, because billing and EMR solution is something you don’t want to rush…
Changing EMRs (and billing companies) is cumbersome at best. So if you can pick a solution that works for you out of the gate, all the better.
But finding EMR and billing company doesn’t need to wait, it’s something you want to start early on, as soon as you can.
You can start working on your practice website before you have space, knowing you will add the finishing touches once you have a location.
Start by searching for sites that you like and that represent businesses similar to yours. Take screenshots of the sites so you can show examples to a web designer when it’s time to develop your website.
If you have a good idea of what you’d like in your website (including look, colors, and logo) it shouldn’t take more than a few weeks to a couple of months to get your website up and running.
However, if you have no idea of what you like, or if you want a completely customized site, allow 3-5 months for the development and design process (and set aside a good chunk of change!).
While not necessary, it’s best to start actively marketing your new practice once you know your street address, web address, and phone numbers.
Once you have that information, start marketing your practice at once. Of course, that’s not to say you can’t start much earlier than that.
Start designing your marketing materials, advertising campaigns, and web presence. Identify how you will be marketing your new practice and develop a marketing plan. Marketing is not a one-time effort, but ongoing.
And of course, nothing is stopping you from designing and planning your grand opening… all you need is space holders for the address, the date, and the time.
How much time it takes to start a practice is in direct correlation to what you want to start. Identifying your plans for practice is your first step! And right after planning, finding suitable space for your practice tops the list.
While industry averages can provide you with rough time estimates, the amount of time it takes to complete each milestone in the practice startup sequence varies greatly.
While you may not be ready to sign on the dotted line or haven’t found the right space, it doesn’t mean you have to wait. There is much you can do to get ready ahead of schedule. And when you’ve finally located the right space, you will be prepared to hit the ground running!
We want to hear from you. Leave your comment below and let us know what you think!
By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog and author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians.”