Sunday, July 30, 2023

Small business, of medicine


If small businesses can surf on a community’s patronage, so can medical practices.

In a perfect world, physicians will attend to patients, give or prescribe medicines, and set the patients back on track to health. However, within the practice of medicine, lies the business of medicine. Learning how to navigate the business of medicine ultimately determines the success of a doctor and the satisfaction of the patient.

In the business of medicine, the principles of a profit-making business apply even though the care of fellow humans is best driven not by profit motive, but by altruism commonly associated with non-profit organizations. Non-profit is misunderstood as an endeavor that does need not profits. Even non-profits need to be profitable for self-sustenance.

Running a successful business (including the business of medicine) requires survival, and therefore, positive cash flow.

The challenge with being in the business of medicine is that doctors have fewer hours to spend healing patients. Electronic medical records software, if designed by patients, would have allowed for less staring into a computer by doctors and more eye contact with patients. When the initial or primary care of patients gets bogged down in systems it gives rise to a complex layer of administrative support. The success of a medical practice depends on both, bedside manners, and whether the administrative layer acts as a buffer for both, the doctors and patients, while removing bottlenecks in cash flow.

There may be business models worth exploring for certain service-based medical practices that entail low capital investment.

One model that comes to mind is that of a Chinese restaurant. Often, small towns across America have great Chinese restaurants thriving in a symbiotic relationship with the community they serve. The food is affordable, served hot and fresh, and they are open year-round, even on holidays. They accept cash payments, or for a little extra, credit cards. They probably have zero hurdles in their cashflow pipeline.

A good way to test the waters is in rural areas that could use more local doctors. If a rural medical practice is perceived as a small business that supports a community, and vice versa, whether with cash or in kind (assuming, comedian-ophthalmologist Dr. William E. Flanary’s YouTube alter ego Dr. Glaucomflecken’s skit on rural medicine is to be believed), there may indeed exist a viable patronage model for the small business of medicine. Perhaps, a thousand households in a community could directly fund and sustain a thriving medical practice. Noteworthy also, is renowned author-surgeon Dr. Atul Gawande’s description of a hospitalist in rural India who deftly and swiftly handles multiple medical issues of the local population, supported by the pharmacist across the street.

Such a local doctor could also use a small business’ marketing playbook and become a household name in a community.

The first step is for a community to accept the fact that a medical practice is in the business of doing good, but also one that must remain viable as a small business.

Picture credit: Photo by NCI on Unsplash