Managing growth within a multi-location organization through standardization, communication, and inclusion

In today’s ultra-competitive healthcare environment, it is crucial to the success of your organization to take advantage of every possible opportunity to grow despite competitive threats from much larger players. One of the main reasons organizations attempt to grow is to take advantage of the many benefits (otherwise known as “economies of scale”) that result from such growth. As clinic owners, when we think of growth, we automatically think of opening more clinics or sites, but we also can benefit by increasing our patient volume at an existing site.

Regardless of how you wish to grow, I think it’s best to do so through acquisition or startup. Both approaches are fairly standard in our industry and already tend to be a part of most organizations’ growth plans. However, these growth strategies can be challenging, especially for smaller practices that have limited resources or experience. To help ensure the success of your growth strategy, consider implementing the following operational methods:

Standardization

Standardization refers to making processes, procedures, products, services, and infrastructure consistent throughout the organization’s many locations. Standardization is advantageous because increasing volume in anything lowers the costs of processes and purchases. Some ideas for standardization include using the same office supply vendors, cleaning companies, water providers, and staffing companies. Ultimately, this sort of consolidation will increase the volume of purchases from each single vendor type, which can often earn you discounts. Plus, it’ll be significantly less for you to manage. Standardization will also positively impact workflow; if you have all locations following the same policy and procedures, you can more easily ensure quality and reduce errors within your systems.

Speaking of systems, you should also standardize your organization’s infrastructure (e.g., EMR, copiers, and phones) across locations. This will enable you to take advantage of volume discounts and more importantly, easily move staff around without them having to learn a new system, which can cause interruptions and be distracting. By standardizing your infrastructure you also are shaping your business’s brand; your patients will receive a consistent, quality experience—about which word will spread throughout your community, and all the clinics within your system will benefit.

Communication

Just as standardizing your office infrastructure helps shape your brand, so does standardizing your internal and external communications. Delivering a consistent message and vision to all employees, vendors, and customers is imperative for a successful, growing company. Unfortunately, it’s common for employees who work for a multi-location business to feel left out or disassociated with the corporation because many don’t interact with members of management on a daily basis—what I refer to as the “stranded island effect.” To combat the stranded island effect, I strongly recommend setting up regular email newsletters, conference calls, and meetings to keep people included, connected, and engaged. I have found that individual clinic teams want to achieve success, but corporate does not always make clear the organization’s goals and metrics.

Inclusion

By promoting two-way communication and involvement between clinic locations and corporate headquarters, you’ll ensure that employees on the front lines have the opportunity to offer input and suggestions that could lead to better outcomes, cost savings, and increased employee satisfaction. I’ve found that employees who are included in key decisions tend to be more productive and aligned with the vision of the organization than those who work for multi-location organizations that lead from the “ivory tower.” Aside from communicating on a regular basis, I would suggest that you request that your location teams participate in both community and corporate events so location teams know who the corporate teams are and how they are supported behind the scenes. This can eliminate the “us versus them” mentality that can divide a multi-location business.

Whether you are a smaller practice looking to grow or a larger practice looking to sell, these basic organizational methods can help you attain higher profits, happier employees, and—possibly—a higher valuation.