By Eva Vertes George, MD
If you’ve toyed with the idea of starting your own dermatology clinic, you are not alone. In an industry worth almost $8.5 trillion with marked growth exceeding $800 billion by 2021, approximately 31.4 percent of physicians are independent practice owners.
Innovations in healthcare technology will likely trigger a new batch of medical startups utilizing emerging digital technologies to fill the growing need for dermatological care. The problem is that physicians have spent the majority of their time learning how to serve patients as dermatologists, not how to run businesses. That lack of business savvy may prevent many talented healthcare professionals from going into business for themselves.
Experts estimate over 5,000 dermatology businesses operate in the US, with indicators showing a consistent 1 percent growth in the dermatology industry since 2020. Cost, culture, and the customer determine whether a new practice is dialed in for future success as a solo practice or as part of a group practice.
Based on these factors, let’s discuss the advantages of (and a few of the possible deterrents to) joining an existing dermatology group practice based on cost, culture, and the targeted customer base.
Estimating the total cost to open and maintain a new clinic is likely the biggest obstacle for dermatologists planning to take the next step toward ownership. When you consider overhead costs associated with property, lab equipment, staff, marketing, and billing software, it’s no wonder that new clinic owners often underestimate the amount of money it takes to keep the doors open.
Because it often takes at least two years to turn a profit, Jerome Obed, DO of Broward Dermatology and Cosmetic Specialists in Florida, recommends having at least two years’ worth of money to live on when first opening a private dermatology practice.
If cash flow isn’t reliable, joining an existing practice is a strategic option. This is mainly because access to an active revenue stream, insurance credentials, and a robust client base is immediate. Another advantage of joining an existing practice is that you don’t have to put limited funds toward marketing, nor do you need business experience.
A trusting patient relationship needs a positive work culture to thrive. “Positive work culture will always support the healthcare professional-patient relationship. It will build patient trust and gain confidence among staff who provide patient care,” an NIH report concludes. “It will allow them to feel that other than the goal of working to cure their diseases, they receive care.”
The NIH study found that when patients see doctors and nurses who are satisfied in doing their work and providing services, it encourages patients to follow instructions. “When they feel teamwork is active among staff and stable leadership exists from their managers, these patients may be more than willing to allow themselves to seek medical advice and treatment.”
The advantages of joining an existing dermatology group practice have a considerable impact on your success. But the ease of stepping into an established practice can also interfere with the long-term benefits. For instance, joining an established practice means someone else decides who you will treat, the billing software you will use, and the length of your appointments.
By comparison, when you open your practice—and on the condition that your financing is secure—you have more control over your patient volume. You’re also in charge of your office hours, appointment times, services, billing, and lab partnerships.
In a group practice, the bottom line is the main focus. It’s part of the motivation to maintain a fast pace and see as many patients as possible. It can also mean a lower pay rate for you. It’s no wonder almost half (42 percent) of physicians experience burnout. And that’s something to be mindful of when making long-term business decisions.
It’s important to establish the type of patient care you want to offer. Those decisions can help you prioritize resources, possible clinic locations, and equipment purchases. For example, does your area report high incidences of skin cancers? How many dermatology clinics presently specialize in the services you hope to promote? One phone call can help you establish the wait time for new patients. Addressing these questions can guide your professional goals for your patients. But there are other factors to consider.
Your customer base includes more than your patients: It includes billing partners, insurance companies, lab partnerships, marketing firms, other healthcare providers, and more. When you own your clinic, you get to select and nurture those valued relationships.
Strategic partnerships, such as your dermpath lab, can help streamline your workflow process and reduce overhead costs. For example, working with a lab with expertise in digital pathology means you don’t need to invest in expensive lab and testing equipment. Partnering with a lab that integrates with your EMR technology and offers locum tenens services may open up new opportunities to expand your services without investing in an expanded staff.
By working with innovative, digital-based companies like PathologyWatch, it’s easier to see the possibilities of opening your own practice.
The healthcare industry will show plenty of opportunities for dermatology services in 2022. Choosing the best way to promote your expertise with optimal patient care can be a rewarding next step in your career. Improve your chances of long-term success by weighing the pros and cons of a group practice versus starting your own dermatology clinic (your financial strength, work culture, and customer relationships) and chart your new path forward.