When I decided to become a Massage Therapist all I wanted to do was work with athletes.
While in college, I signed up for every sport outreach available and started volunteering with a local hockey team.
I remember my first hockey game, there was a certain pageantry about it. I was so excited to have the opportunity to be a team member behind the scenes.
Immediately I texted buddies because of the sheer excitement of being there. This was what I wanted, this is what I went to school to do.
Then I started signing up for more sport outreaches. Anything or anyone I could get my hands on with sport, I was in.
I graduated and started working at a rec centre, all with the hopes of working with athletes and sport minded people, helping them perform better. Then I sat quietly in my clinic room. I watched people work out in the gym. The odd time they would come up and ask me questions in the hopes of getting some free advice. None of them booked in.
Then I met an elderly gentleman one day.
He told me he used to get regular massage when he lived in Edmonton. We got to talking for a while and he booked in.
He booked in every two weeks for the next few years.
But I wanted to work with athletes?
A Lack Of Funding And Sport Massage
Pride and dreams are a funny thing.
I stood proud during that first hockey game, proud that I had taken the chance to ask and was taken on by a team as a student. Proud that I was working in my favorite sport. Proud that I was the only one in my class doing this kind of thing.
As I progressed with that team, each week I would work with the team Chiropractor, Athletic Therapist and Sport Med Doctors.
I never brought up the issue of money, I was a student gaining experience after all.
But the topic did come up one day. I learned that all of those healthcare professionals were there volunteering their time. The common theme among all of them “We do it for the kids on the team”.
WHaaaaa?? No one is getting paid?
Things started to get clearer. Working in sport was not going to be the sole way I could earn my living as a therapist (at least to start). Amateur athletes don’t have much money and the majority of the money they do have, comes from funding from other organizations.
This changed everything.
Athletes have become something in my career where I make decisions based on my heart rather than my pocketbook.
While I get a variety in the clinic that are athletes, most of them have other jobs where their benefits package is paying for their treatments. Working with teams in the area is something I still get to do and is still one of my favourite things to do but have to work with them based more on my passion for it instead of basing my income on it.
Quite often teams are underfunded or don’t have the extra funds to put towards a full time Massage Therapist.
In order to work with teams it has become either a strictly volunteer option or part paid, part volunteer, but nothing I could make a full time living on.
Sadly the pocket book has to win out.
Extended Benefits And Massage Therapy
I have often said a Massage Therapist around here could build a practice on hospital workers.
Their benefit plan is phenomenal. They get unlimited massage therapy as part of their benefits package. That’s right, UNLIMITED.
But that almost changed.
Recently their union was at the bargaining table and one of the topics for discussion was their benefits. Rumour has it, there were some in the union that were billing a ton of massage therapy hours to their benefit plans and the company wanted to scale it back.
Last I heard everything stayed status quo.
What if it had changed? What if they did scale it back?
It would have affected the businesses of probably every Massage Therapist in the province.
If all of a sudden this population of people who came in for regular treatment couldn’t afford the same frequency, there was the potential for a massive drop in business for every Massage Therapist.
Several other insurance companies put a cap on the amount of treatment one person is allowed to use throughout the year and they book in according to what the plan covers unless they suffer some sort of injury as the year progresses.
It never fails at the end of the year, people book in around November and say “I’ve got $500 I have to use up, book me in until it’s used up!”
While that’s great business wise for a month or so, it’s not sustainable because you usually don’t see these people until the same time next year.
Cash Based Massage Therapy
That elderly fella that booked in every two weeks was a gem.
Going through college I hadn’t focused much on different populations, just sports.
Other classmates were signing up for outreaches that focused in these areas, working in old folks homes, extended care medical facilities, other charity events and whatever their interests entailed.
I wanted none of it.
Since being in practice and meeting people like the elderly gentleman I mentioned, I realized how much fun it can be working with the elderly. In fact now, some of my favourite, most regular patients are elderly people. The beauty part is how much you can learn from them. I love how most of them don’t really care what people think of them, they’re comfortable in their own skin and pretty much say whatever they want.
I find if refreshing (and pretty damn funny).
While many of these patients have extended health that covers them, the majority don’t.
But they still love coming in for treatment.
Could you build an entire practice on them? Maybe, but it’s doubtful, or would take a lot more time.
This enters into the realm of cash based therapy.
There are a few different blogs out there that specifically target marketing ideas and methods of setting up a cash based practice.
To some, the title is probably a bit off putting, thinking you’re just getting patients in the door for cash. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The reality is, you probably have to give these people more value than those with benefits.
I know some people are losing their minds reading this and saying “you can’t treat one patient different than another, you have to give the same value to everyone”.
While this is true and I totally agree, the point is more to the fact that people who are paying cash out of their own pockets (who don’t have extended health benefits) aren’t as likely to come in for a weekly maintenance appointment to stay on top of things.
They are probably going to come in when something is wrong and need it fixed asap. The luxury of maintenance appointments to stay on top of things isn’t typically something affordable for them. When they come in, chances are it’s because they really need it as opposed to having the luxury of benefit coverage.
This is where many of your other skills (assessment, clearer communication, interviewing) come in to play that aren’t always used for those regular maintenance patients.
There are more insights to setting up a cash based practice that can be found in Paul Potters blog if you want to check it out.
Chances are we all have different interests when it comes to our practice and would like to focus on something specific. Over the years if you can build up a patient base that is predominantly part of your interest it will make going to work a lot more rewarding. However there is still the ugly side of life where we have to pay the bills. Focusing into one specific population may make that a bit tougher, I’m not saying it can’t be done, just that it will be tougher. Don’t be too quick to rule out different populations as a group that you’re not interested in working with. They could end up making your practice a more profitable one. The other thing is that you never know what you can, or what you need to learn from various populations booking in with you. Yeah I love working with athletes, but the amount I learn from my elderly patients far outweighs what my athletes have taught me. Not only about life but also about being a therapist. Usually when I work with my athletes they come in, look at me and say things like “I need my gluts, quads and low back worked on”. They are in tune with their bodies and know specifically what they need more often than the general population. It’s with my elderly people, weekend warriors and everyday office workers where I need to do orthopedic testing, muscle tests and sharpen my interview skills. Take the time in your practice to see several different populations of people. Remember variety is the spice of life. And it will probably help the business too.