Healthy Returns

Doctor's Orders

Because health care is a business unlike any other, succeeding in the home-care industry requires a wide range of skills. On the upside-if you can call it that-illness is an inevitable part of human existence, and medical care is in constant demand.

That said, health care isn't exactly an entrepreneur's dream. Layers of bureaucracy stand between you and your clients. Marketing a new service means winning over physicians and patients-to say nothing of miserly insurance providers. Administration takes know-how; without experience (or experienced staffers), billing alone can become a lifetime project.

Breaking into this business without a health-care background is possible, especially if you specialize in nonmedical care. However, offering services you know nothing about is hardly intelligent, even if others will furnish the actual skills. "Every doula I employ has to be the equivalent of Mary Poppins," says Morley. "If I make a mistake, it's expensive."

It's more than expensive. In health care, quality control isn't just a marketing issue; it's a matter of life or death. "If you want to make big bucks fast, don't go into home care," warns Stumpf. "We have to care more about the patients than we do the money.

"I've taken losses to provide unreimbursable services when I thought they were necessary. I haven't kept a lot of the [revenue] for myself because a quality staff costs money. Profits cannot be your only concern."

Then again, profits aren't negligible. Successful home-care entrepreneurs are both compassionate and resourceful, shrewd and caring. Running a home-care agency is a bit like running a temporary help service. You contract with clients and provide personnel for a fee. But you also take on all the legal, ethical, emotional and bureaucratic issues that go with tending human health.

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This article was originally published in the February 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Healthy Returns.

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