PT Now tries to disrupt niche
A simple pain in the neck can become much more burdensome when physician referrals, weeks of waiting and phone calls to insurance providers become involved. One South Florida medical entrepreneur is hoping to literally ease the pain and reduce barriers to care in the mold of other franchised health providers upending the traditional healthcare model.
Andy Zapata is an occupational therapist with an imposing resume and an equally lofty goal of lowering patient barriers to physical therapy and sports medicine services. As a pleasant side effect, his Miami-based, five-unit franchise, Physical Therapy Now, gives physical therapists the opportunity to break out of the traditional American medical system as well by directly treating patients, without requiring them to spend time and money seeking a physician’s referral before receiving care.
As the clinical director for a multi-unit urgent care facility in South Florida, Zapata is also a partner in five physical therapy, orthopedic, diagnostic and chiropractic centers, while also carving out time to be a medical inspector and consultant.
The company’s plans to go nationwide rely on new national direct access regulations—that took effect January 2015—allowing patients to seek treatment from a licensed physical therapist without the need for a prescription or physician’s referral. Florida was a trendsetter among states, as its direct access laws preempted the new national law.
After completing the company’s franchise disclosure document in late 2015, Physical Therapy Now is preparing to open its first non-corporate unit a stone’s throw from its Miami headquarters.
“A lot of physical therapists still believe you need a prescription to treat a patient,” Zapata said. “I want to be able to empower physical therapists, which helps get more patients into physical therapy.”
He sees the Affordable Care Act as a huge opportunity for his business, as more insurance card-carrying people deepen the pool of potential patients. Beyond basic physical therapy services, the company also provides sports medicine and worker’s compensation services.
Thirty percent of Physical Therapy Now’s clients come from people searching for traditional therapists, but the company is focusing its marketing efforts on encouraging hospitals to refer patients to its network.
Unlike The Joint, a 280-unit chiropractic franchise that doesn’t bill any of its services to insurance providers, Physical Therapy Now accepts insurance payments, but only charges $50 per visit for people without insurance or those who would rather pay on their own. So far, a large portion of its patients are young athletes looking to stay in fighting form.
Zapata said his practice provides a turnkey operation for potential franchisees that he says is a natural fit for doctors looking to escape the daily hassles of insurance providers or of working for a large corporation.
He hopes to attract physical and occupational therapists who are savvy enough to focus on three key goals for operating each practice: clinical abilities, administrative tasks, like tracking employees and keeping medical records; and marketing. Most new therapists who become franchisees, he added, will need the most assistance with administrative and marketing tasks. The entry cost for franchisees is estimated at $100,000.
This year, the company plans to add three or four new locations, which will most likely be in or near Florida, as the company already has the protocols and infrastructure in place to expand in its home turf.
Like other medical franchises, with scale, Zapata hopes his company can make a big difference by encouraging more end users to receive treatment than under the traditional medical structure.
“A lot of end users think physical therapy is just for an initial or acute pain,” he said, “but a lot of consumers have been living with chronic pain for their whole lives—we’re now more accessible than before.”