Lessons Learned from Three Generations of O&P Practitioners

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By L. Bradley “Brad” Watson, BOCO, BOCP/LPO

The O&P profession is ever-evolving, but in the three generations of my family's practice, Clarksville Limb & Brace & Rehab, Tennessee, the one constant has been our passion for helping patients. In today's challenging practice climate, it's important to combine a desire to help others with practical business strategies. How does a family-owned, community-based O&P practice stay relevant? Growth and longevity start with leveraging your single biggest asset—the patient relationship.

 

There is a unique perk to owning a community-based practice: Your patients are your neighbors, your childhood friends, and others you may do business within the community. You may see them at the grocery and hardware stores and your place of worship. Even though you may already know your patients outside of the office, never underestimate the power of listening and practicing emotional intelligence during visits. An O&P practitioner often sees patients more frequently than the treating physician or physical therapist. So, while listening to your patients' needs and concerns, it is important to remember you may be their closest, most trusted healthcare partner. Nurturing those relationships leads to referrals and repeat and generational business.

Watson and his father, Royce, hold the brace that inspired Royce to enter the O&P profession.

Photographs courtesy of  Clarksville Limb & Brace & Rehab.

In the same vein, a community-based practice has a unique ability to relate to patients on a more personal level. For example, while many O&P practices are shifting to a centralized fabrication model, we have found keeping our fabrication in-house provides another layer of personalization and customization for our patients. Customization is key—what works for one individual may not work for another. This personal touch makes community-based practitioners highly valued members of patients' healthcare teams.

 

Being a family-owned business carries with it specific benefits. We tackle challenges as a team and as a family, and we hold one another accountable. From an early age, I never doubted my father's support and confidence that one day I would co-own the business. Even now, my father tells me he is proud of me daily. I strive to provide the same unwavering support to my son, and it is gratifying to watch him grow professionally and build his own patient base. While some may assume working in a family business would lead to complacency, the reality is the opposite—we continually hold each other to the high standards set by my father when he opened our practice.

 

However, being a community-based, family-owned practice also has its challenges. Staying current on the rapidly changing nature of our profession requires unrelenting focus. One way that we manage constant change is by identifying and fully utilizing all resources at our disposal, both internal and external. When I began helping my father at age 13 by cleaning up at the close of each day, I would never have imagined the technology available for fabricators and practitioners today. Thankfully, I can rely on my son, Ryan, to leverage his generation's strength in embracing new technology. Conversely, there are times when I can provide perspective based on my and my father's experience.

 

When working in a small office, it is also important to take advantage of the support available beyond your practice's walls. There are a variety of professional resources you can leverage to stay on top of the changing needs and priorities for patients. We rely heavily on our credentialing body as well as key trade associations and consumer groups. The Board of Certification/Accreditation (BOC) keeps us up to date about legislative changes and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' requirements so we can adapt and respond appropriately to change as it occurs, as well as anticipate future changes to the profession. The trade associations to which we belong provide us with meaningful opportunities for continuing education, training, and interaction with other O&P professionals.

Watson discusses how to modify a mold to assist a patient to keep weight off of the distal end of a Syme's prosthesis with his son, Ryan.

Our credentials make a real difference to today's discerning healthcare consumers. Certifications and accreditations symbolize our commitment to high-quality patient care. That BOC accreditation logo in our practice window and the BOC certification patches on our lab coats are constant reminders to our patients that our practice and personnel have committed to uphold recognized standards of quality in patient care.

 

While staying current through professional organizations is important, it is also wise to be cautious about overextending yourself by getting involved in too many groups. We've found it most valuable to focus our time and effort on a few key partners. Since 2011, I have served on BOC's board of directors, serving two terms as chair in 2016 and 2017. The more involved I've become, the more opportunities are presented to my practice, including continuing education for staff members, the chance to attend national conferences, and increased visibility for our practice. Organizational involvement also provided me the opportunity to keep up with the changes in O&P in an up-to-the-minute way.

 

In addition to becoming involved in professional organizations, establishing a mentor—preferably at the start of your career—is essential to your business and life success. I am fortunate to have my father's counsel personally and professionally, and we are both proud to mentor my son. Identifying a mentor can provide perspective on the profession, and serve as a valuable sounding board during critical times. A mentor should be well versed in contracts, cash-flow practices, and general business operations, as well as the finer points of how to successfully integrate into your community. For example, when I entered the O&P profession, I assumed the key to driving new business was what I learned in college—aggressive advertising. Little did I realize, my small community preferred word of mouth. So, the best form of awareness was relationship-based referrals as a result of over-delivering for my patients. This is the kind of invaluable information you can learn by getting to know your fellow practitioners (and collaborating versus competing with them), as well as your area's healthcare providers.

 

The ultimate symbol of success is the impact we make on our patients. I urge any small business owner or employee never to forget the spark that fueled you to join the O&P community. Even after more than 25 years in the profession, I still get goosebumps seeing our patients thrive. By combining your passion with the unique opportunities presented to a community-based, family practice, you can continue to change patients' lives for generations to come.

 

L. Bradley "Brad" Watson, BOCO, BOCP/LPO, is the president of Clarksville Limb & Brace & Rehab, Tennessee. He is the immediate past chair of the Board of Certification/Accreditation's board of directors. He can be contacted at bwatsonboc@gmail.com.