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Q&A With the 2019 Ascend Practice of the Year Winner

Q&A with 2019 Practice of the Year, John Brickley, Ambulatory Operations & Network Development at MedStar Rehab Network

Kylie McKee
5 min read
November 14, 2019
image representing q&a with the 2019 ascend practice of the year winner
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Each year, WebPT hosts the annual Ascend business summit, and to put a cap on the two-day event, we honor one practice with our Practice of the Year award. The 2019 recipient earned this honor by proving that delivering personalized, innovative care and being a multi-practice organization are not mutually exclusive. With 51 clinic sites (and counting), MedStar Rehabilitation Network, our 2019 Practice of the Year recipient, provides services across Maryland, Washington, DC, and northern Virginia. I had the immense pleasure of speaking with John Brickley, PT, MA, Vice President, Ambulatory Operations & Network Development, about MedStar’s success. Check out our interview below!

1. Tell me a bit about your clinics. What is the culture like? What makes your business stand out from the competition?

Our organizational culture very much revolves around our commitment to—or should I say passion for—adding years to the lives of individuals across our expanding region through the provision of exceptional, patient-centric care for a full spectrum of patient populations. With a keen eye on promoting accessible services for patients, we believe our model of fostering true value-driven care for a diverse, therapy-based patient population best meets community needs. We put patients and community first and, as a non-profit organization, creatively find ways to make the financial aspect of the healthcare equation work itself out. Not everyone does this. We will never stop doing it. We have managed to successfully hold firm to this stance.

Our culture also revolves around collaboration. We work closely with the physician community and have focused on having sites where we’re able to serve as “incubators” for new approaches to care alongside our physician peers. This culture of learning and therapist-physician collaboration is key to our success. We are dedicated to making sure physicians learn as much—if not more—from us as we do from them. Interestingly enough, this commitment to collaboration is also an important ingredient in expanding direct access to physical and occupational therapy in a way not done elsewhere in the country—yet.

So, I guess you could say what sets us apart from other practices is (1) providing patient-centric care for all in our communities, even for non-traditional patient populations in the therapy arena, and (2) approaching this in a more collaborative manner. This approach has also enabled us to push the envelope and position our profession in its rightful place—and do it all, once again, with patients’ needs first. 

2. Tell me about your practice’s mission and core values. What do they mean to you and your staff?

You could say our core values are defined by the word SPIRIT:

  • Service
  • Patient First
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Innovation
  • Teamwork

Of course, those are just words; they mean and do nothing if each person does not use them in his or her day-to-day actions to support and lead his or her team. This has to happen consistently across nearly 800 team members, 51 sites (and growing), and multiple jurisdictions. I wish it was simple, but it is not.

As far as our mission, we aim to be innovative and creative in enhancing the provision of health and wellness care for our communities. It is in truly serving the population, not just evaluating and treating those who need us. It is about putting patients’ needs first, for the entire population because that is the right thing to do. It is about remembering why we went into this profession in the first place—or for administrators, why they chose to work in health care. Then, we need to act accordingly. If done right, the rest will follow.

It is also important to know what it means to be a caregiver and to passionately give more than one receives. It may seem idealistic—I accept that—but it is both important and necessary to make enough of a difference, in my opinion. It is because providing great care, given the barriers we have within our current environment, is very challenging.  

3. How do you ensure everyone on your staff upholds those core values?

  1. Start with the right ingredients. Finding the right people to hop on the bus is not easy, but we make sure they understand what makes our practice special and why we do what we do. I hire by their heart and their gut—assuming they are qualified with a capacity to both learn and apply knowledge gained.
  2. Get them in the right seat. You might hire someone for culture fit and realize that, while that person jibes with your business’s values, he or she may not be right for the position you hired him or her for. However, that doesn’t mean you have to let go of a good culture fit. In fact, that person might be better suited to a different role. I see entities make this mistake all the time. It’s a shame for our profession.
  3. Teach them the secret sauce. We emphasize education on our core mission and the values needed in order to be a grand success—at the organization level as well as the individual level.
  4. Provide regular feedback. I could write a book on this, but just know that measurement and metrics at regular intervals are important.
  5. Reward accordingly. Stick to your core and do not waiver. In therapy, we know the importance of core strength. It is the same for any business, especially one that cares for people. Don’t waiver from it.
  6. Support and enhance with an ongoing environment of learning. This is another large topic in and of itself.

4. What sort of experience do you create within your clinic?

There is a day in the life of a patient and a day in the life team member. Let me try to connect these two.

Simply put, it is never easy. Doing things right is very hard on all of our associates in some way. The payer environment is unkind and unreasonable, but it is our reality. Providing the diverse services we do makes it more difficult. I do not have rose-colored glasses on. I empathize with every associate. I have been there, and I have done it.

But then we must look at how we try to make [the experience in our organization] different. It is:

  • enlightened, 
  • exceedingly rewarding, and
  • quite fun (despite the challenges).

Ultimately, all of this makes us feel very special. It’s what allows us to excel. We hear it constantly: patients feel a difference between walking into one of our practice sites versus how they felt walking into another in the past. It is the right kind of difference. Maybe it seems forthright for me to say it, but it is uplifting and incredibly satisfying. We are doing something right.

5. What’s in store for the future of your practice? Where do you see it in 10 years?

I’ll give you the short answer, which is simple: we intend to be an even better provider of diverse, patient-centric care—in a way that has fully positioned the therapy profession for its rightful place in the healthcare delivery model. In this way, we expect to be a leader nationally to promote exceptional, value-driven care in this country. We expect to—alongside WebPT—help lead the change needed across the care delivery models. We’re honing and using more creative avenues to mitigate the barriers that keep us from embracing our responsibility in making the best care for our communities a reality. Additionally, I, too, am passionate about making what is right for communities happen right now. We must not wait for the traditional challenges to sort themselves out at—at best—a snail’s pace. We are obligated to do better.

6. I noticed you have a robust offering of services and programs that extend beyond just physical therapy. What prompted you to look beyond PT, and what role have ancillary services and programs played in MedStar’s success?

I’ve touched on this a bit already, so briefly: yes, it is a differentiator. In part, we do it to deliver the needed care for a growing patient population. We also do it to make the field of physical therapy better; as PTs, we simultaneously learn from others as we teach them. This how care is done best, and PTs should accept that fact. We all have a lot to learn and teach.

For these diverse programs, we feel an obligation, and it is a true pleasure to deliver services to such a wide spectrum of populations across our expanding region. We are far from done. The communities we serve need—and deserve—whatever it is we can do to add life to their years, and for that reason, we will always provide the comprehensive set of services we do. Yes, it makes our lives harder sometimes, but it also makes them more enriched.

If doing what is right (i.e., expanding and pushing new envelopes in a highly sustainable manner and making health care better) is a sign of success, then yes, what we are doing has helped to make us successful. But it is not by any means easy. However, we will continue creating new models for populations not yet served in the therapy fields, and this goes beyond physical therapy. And we won’t do it because it is easy; we will do it because it is the right thing to do.


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