Imagine you were completely convinced that one of your patients needed treatment for sciatica. You didn’t perform many clinical tests, and you didn’t monitor outcomes, because your gut told you that sciatica treatment was the answer. Yet over time, you found that your treatment wasn’t helping your patient; as a matter of fact, it was making symptoms worse. Had you thoroughly tested the patient at the onset of treatment, you might never have treated him or her for sciatica at all—because he or she actually needed to be referred out due to a spinal bone tumor. Your instincts were wrong.
While this is an extreme example of what can happen when you ignore objective data (and one that I hope would never happen in real life), the overarching message rings true for all rehab therapy professionals: data is incredibly important when it comes to designing—and assessing the success of—your care plans. And if you use objective tests and measures with your patients to increase the efficacy of your treatments, why wouldn't you do the same with your business?
That said, swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction (i.e., strictly deferring to metrics and data analysis when making decisions) isn’t necessarily the golden ticket to success, either. Relying too heavily on data can be just as bad—if not worse—than acting on gut instinct alone, especially if you have tenured experience.
Guts vs. Data: Weighing the Pros and Cons
Some of you might already be challenging this argument. Maybe you think data analysis is the only logical basis for making important business decisions—or maybe you think your gut instincts are totally trustworthy because they’ve led you down many fruitful paths over the course of your career. Neither perspective is wrong, per se, but there are pros and cons to leaning too much on each.
Our society loves guts—and we talk about them all the time! We talk about having the guts to speak our minds or chase our dreams. We rally behind clichés like, “No guts, no glory!” We smile at movie one-liners like, “You got guts, kid.” And while in these instances, “having guts” is synonymous with having gumption or courage, you do have to have both of those to consistently follow your gut intuition.
Gut instinct is invaluable when you’re managing a business. It can help you pick up on things that data wouldn’t otherwise tell you: emerging business trends, employee morale, client preferences, or even the next “big thing.” Guts can point you in the right direction when no other signs are readily visible. This is especially true for those who’ve been working in rehab therapy for a while; you know this industry, your market, and your practice. So, you may see industry trends that you can't necessarily quantify with metrics, but that are still valid.
And speaking of employees: Gut instinct can also help you pick out the best candidates when you’re looking to hire. For example, maybe someone’s resume isn’t picture-perfect; maybe he or she lacks relevant experience or has a few gaps in his or her job history. That doesn’t mean this person wouldn’t be a good fit, though—and I’m betting your gut will give you a pretty reliable indication of whether or not you should consider him or her for the position.
Guts also improve with time and experience. Your business intuition may not be totally fine-tuned when you first enter a managerial or executive position, but over time—and through trial and error—you subconsciously improve your ability to accurately read situations and people.
There’s a reason humans have such a strong sense of intuition—after all, it helped us survive thousands of years ago when our species was constantly on the lookout for food, water, and shelter. But intuition isn’t perfect; if it were, we’d probably just call it “knowledge.” And if you’re fresh to your managerial role, your guts likely are not cued into the hard-to-see indicators that would set off the gut of a managerial veteran.
It can also be really difficult to accept when your guts have led you astray. Trusting your gut, in a sense, is like trusting yourself above all else. And when you’re wrong, you’re the only person who can take accountability for the poor outcome.
It’s difficult to argue with numbers, because—provided they’re calculated correctly—they are essentially cold, hard facts. If your practice is pioneering a new idea, it’s going poorly, and you have the numbers to prove it, you’ll receive a lot less pushback from the people who originally championed the idea when you suggest shifting courses. But relying heavily on data—just like relying solely on guts—isn’t necessarily the best strategy.
Tracking data is enormously helpful when monitoring a business’s financial health. With a large pool of numbers, you can put a finger on just about any aspect of the business and determine if it’s successful—whether it’s the profitability of offering a new service, or the efficiency of each individual employee.
Data can also help you evaluate more than just the financial aspects of your business. You can use data to help track your patients’ and employees’ overall satisfaction with—and loyalty to—your practice. If you find that either group is unhappy, then that’s a great indicator it’s time to evolve.
Tracking data and metrics can help you see exactly where your business excels—and where it falters. Cost-benefit analyses apply to many different aspects of running a business, from evaluating the effectiveness of a specific marketing campaign, to determining if you’re ready to open a new location. Really, data tracking and analysis is all about informing more intelligent decisions—and course-correcting based on results.
Of course, data-tracking is not the catch-all solution to building a successful business strategy. If you focus too heavily on the numbers, it’s easy to get caught in analysis paralysis, which could prevent you from taking big steps—or challenging the status quo—for fear of how it could negatively affect your numbers. Or, if there isn’t yet enough data to support a potentially great idea, you could end up missing out on lucrative business opportunities because you weren’t willing to give it a try.
Additionally, data can be slightly misleading if it’s not collected or refined correctly. If you’ve done your due diligence and accounted for as many external factors and influencers as possible, the data should be trustworthy—but no one is perfect, and everyone is liable to slip up here and there. Unfortunately, those little slip-ups can really skew your data—and thus, your decision-making.
Finding the Sweet Spot
So, if neither approach—all-guts or all-data—is the right one, what’s a PT business leader to do? The key—as is the case with so many things in life—is finding balance. As a clinic owner, manager, or director, you have to walk a fine line between remaining open to taking a leap into the unknown—and ensuring you’re sufficiently equipped to course-correct when the numbers demand change.
So ideally, you’ll use your instincts to choose a path to follow—and then leverage tests and measures to validate that path. Finding that decision-making sweet spot is tough, but it’s vital to the viability of your business.
Contributing Your Data to the Industry
As an entrepreneur and business leader, I work diligently to maintain a balance between guts and data. I hold gut instinct near and dear to my heart (and without it, WebPT wouldn’t exist). Still, everyone at WebPT knows I’m a sucker for data. After all, data is the avenue through which we can prove that our ideas have substance—as well as discover ideas we never would have imagined otherwise. In that sense, data can actually drive innovation and change, and that’s part of the reason why WebPT’s annual State of Rehab Therapy survey is so important to me. We’ve uncovered some pretty shocking stats in our previous surveys—like the fact that more than 50% of rehab therapy students will graduate with $70,000-plus in student loan debt, or that female therapists, on average, earn lower salaries than their male peers. Knowledge is power, and awareness drives change and innovation. (For example, the student debt crisis has spurred initiatives like the APTA’s financial literacy program and Evidence in Motion’s accelerated DPT programs.)
This year, we’re excited to uncover even more data about the rehab therapy industry—data that will help us all make better decisions as rehab therapy professionals and business leaders. So, do your part to move the entire industry forward by taking our survey. After we finish collecting and analyzing the data, we’ll publish a comprehensive report that’s free for anyone to download, as well as host a free webinar to discuss what that data means for you and your profession.
At the end of the day, if you’re on a mission to elevate the entire rehab therapy industry—or you’re simply creating a strategy to boost your own business performance—both instinct and intelligence will play crucial roles in your success. Depending too much on one or the other will result in skewed decision-making; but if you balance your methods and use guts and data in tandem, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.