When it comes to purchasing a home or investment property, it’s all about location, location, location. The same rule applies when you’re looking to buy a space for your medical practice.
According to a July 2014 report by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 50 percent of patients consider the location of medical practice when choosing a doctor. Another report similarly found that 70 percent of healthcare consumers deem location either critical or very important when selecting a provider or healthcare system.
Before you decide on the location for your medical practice, think about your needs as a provider and, more importantly, the needs of your patients. Here are 5 things to consider.
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1. Population data
Before you can identify potential locations for your medical practice, you’ll need to do your research. That means looking at local population data to make sure you’re putting down roots in a community that needs and will utilize your services.
You’ll first want to assess the concentration of the population you’re trying to target and how close those potential patients are to the location you’re interested in, according to Brian Cairns, CEO of ProStrategixConsulting in New York City.
Consider, for instance, the rate of population growth in the surrounding area — growing parts of the country will need larger pools of providers to meet rising healthcare demands. Also look at demographic information relevant to your specialty. If you’re a pediatrician, you might want to zero in on communities where parents with young children are moving.
A good place to start gathering data is the U.S. Census Bureau. Census data is free, but it takes some know-how to manipulate, Cairns says. Then contact government officials in the state, city or town where you’re looking to set up shop, as well as the local chamber of commerce, for detailed demographic information.
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In addition to considering who you’ll be serving, suss out who you’ll be competing with.
Find out how many providers there are, how big their practices are, and what their specialties are.
Is the area you’re considering saturated with providers? If so, do they offer the same or similar services as you? Could they function as a built-in network for referrals? Finding a space that’s well-known as site for medical practitioners can work to your advantage since people are accustomed to traveling there. “It’s a lot easier to tap into an existing behavior than to create a behavior all by itself,” Cairns says.
Figure out how providers already working in the area differentiate their practices. For instance, do they have a heavy online presence? Appear regularly on local morning shows? Rely on word-of-mouth referrals? If you decide to take on the challenge of moving into a competitive market, you’ll need to know what it takes to keep up with the current players.
A location in a remote part of town might seem cost-effective, but having low visibility will mean spending more money on marketing to get patients in the door. “Think about your marketing costs as part of your rent equation,” Cairns says.
A medical office that’s located on a major road or thoroughfare, or in a busy shopping center, can give you maximum visibility. You’ll also want to make sure the location you choose has clear signage in the parking lot and the lobby so patients can easily find you.
The location you choose for your medical practice must be accessible and convenient for patients. For example, if the patients in your community commute to and from a nearby city, consider a location near a train station, bus route or major highway. A good rule of thumb is to choose a location within 20 minutes of the residential area you hope to serve.
When comparing locations, consider the availability and amount of parking. Free parking is always preferable. And aim for a location with a spacious entryway where elderly, injured or disabled patients can be dropped off and picked up without difficulty.
Your hours of operation are another factor that could increase accessibility and set you apart from the competition, Cairns says. For example, early morning and evening hours might make sense for commuters while weekend hours might be vital for patients with kids.
First impressions matter. Assess the look and feel of your own office space and the building or plaza you’ll be working in, because patients often do equate physical appearance with quality of care. “Anything that communicates ‘healthy’ and ‘clean’ is critical,” Cairns says.
When touring properties, look at general maintenance and landscaping, lighting and cleanliness. Consider how the front desk, exam rooms, clinical areas and offices are set-up and designed. Not only should the space make patients feel comfortable, it should also facilitate smooth patient flow.
Take your time and do your research before signing a lease or purchasing a space. List the criteria you consider non-negotiable, as well the things you’d like but don’t need, and then compare your options.