From the December 2000 issue of Startups

Does the medical or legal field fascinate you? As a private practice consultant, you can become a well-paid and trusted confidante of the professionals you admire, while helping them run their businesses. Chances are you've never heard of private practice consultants; there aren't a lot of them, but they've been around for some time, having had their own professional association since 1968.

While private practice consultants can and do serve many professions-including law and accounting firms-about 75 percent of their clients are physicians, dentists and other health-care professionals, such as chiropractors, physical therapists, psychologists, radiation therapists and veterinarians.

The use of private practice consultants has grown more prevalent with increasing competition, proliferating information, technological advances, the growing complexity of virtually every profession, and the quantity of procedures, policies, and paperwork professionals must contend with to get paid. So the reality that professional practices need to be managed as businesses has never been truer, requiring consultants who can lend their business expertise to harried professionals.

Thus what practice consultants do includes:

  • Analyzing the strengths and weaknesses, productivity, systems and procedures of a professional practice and providing advice about strategic planning, new services and public relations. Consultants also often delve into more specific matters such as employment contracts, buy-sell agreements and profit distributions.
  • Aiding with marketing efforts, such as developing marketing plans, patient education materials, newsletters and brochures, and developing referrals from both medical and nonmedical sources.
  • Recommending and helping to implement specific management practices, such as handling telephone calls and appointments, the hiring and compensation of personnel, fee studies and comparisons, and establishing credit policies and collection controls.
  • Helping with financial matters, including reviewing coding practices to make sure the correct reimbursements from insurance companies and HMOs are obtained, bookkeeping, the doctors' business and personal tax returns, and financial planning.

Practice consultants are often attracted to this field because they can earn good money while working with highly educated and interesting people, and they're constantly challenged by their work in these ever-changing fields. Earnings can be the equivalent of what the professionals they serve make-often more than $100,000 a year.

But like every field, there are drawbacks. The other side of interesting and challenging is stress and the demands of professional clients who are vigilant to make sure they're getting what they pay for.

To make it as a consultant to professionals, you need to bring know-how to managing a professional practice. Many consultants have worked in a professional office and learned their stuff through experience. Others are CPAs and MBAs who recognized the needs of professionals and decided to specialize in helping them. Regardless of your background, people skills, an organized mind and good time management skills are all necessary traits.

Some may question whether private practice has a future in view of the growth of the giant HMOs and law firms. Kathryn Moghadas, owner of Associated Healthcare Advisors Inc., a Casselberry, Florida-based firm that specializes in compliance work in the health-care field, believes, "Private practice is coming back. The concept of megamedicine isn't going to work in this culture. After everyone merged, they discovered they hated each other and so it's swinging back." For Moghadas, the major advantage of her work is its diversity of clients; its biggest disadvantage is the lack of a steady paycheck.


Paul and Sarah Edwards are the award-winning co-authors of thirteen books, including Working From Home, The Best Home Businesses for the 21st Centuryand their latest book, The Practical Dreamer's Handbook. More information is available on their Web sites, www.workingfromhome.com and www.simplegoodlife.com.