Looking to expand your practice to new locations? Considering moving somewhere new? Or are you a Fellow-in-Training getting ready to start or join an allergy practice? Whether you’re expanding, relocating or starting or joining a practice, choosing the right location is critical to your success. This decision will impact your allergy practice for years to come, so take time to carefully research and analyze these factors:
- What is the population to allergist ratio?
Many areas of the country have a shortage of allergists. View the interactive AMA Health Workforce Mapper (full-screen version) to identify shortages in the specialty by geographic location. Keep in mind that opening a practice in a popular area may be desirable but can take longer to build a successful practice.
- Local allergy practices and other competition
Research your competition, and make sure there is enough patient demand for a new practice. Are there established (entrenched) allergy practices in the area? What about new, younger competitors? Are ENT or primary care practices offering allergy services? Look into the following:
- Average wait times for competing practices.
- Local hospital growth plans.
- Whether local groups are currently recruiting, and if any new groups opened recently.
Proximity to primary care providers and other specialists
- Referrals and competitive landscape
What will your referral patterns look like? Is the location close to independent primary care providers (PCP), which are good for referrals? What are competitive challenges from local health care systems and multi-specialty groups? If these groups do not employ practicing allergists (most don’t) nor ENTs encouraged to practice allergy (becoming more common), then system-employed PCPs may be good referral sources and not a threat to your practice’s success. But if a health care system does employ allergists or ENTs practicing allergy, it could make referrals from these groups challenging, if not impossible.
“Independent PCPs are increasingly rare, so don’t feel like it’s a lost cause if all PCPs in your area are employed by health care systems,” advises Michael Tanoury, chief business development officer of Family Allergy & Asthma in Louisville, Kentucky. “More often than not, those systems won’t have employed doctors to meet the demand for allergy-related care, and their employed PCPs will be the lifeblood of your practice,” he notes. The bottom line: research the competitive landscape.
- Partnership opportunities
Are there opportunities to join a nearby Physician Hospital Organization, Accountable Care Organization or Independent Practice Association? These can provide significant advantages related to payer contracting and referrals.
Research population statistics to determine whether your desired location makes sense for your practice, including:
Do you plan to focus on pediatric patients or a mixed-age population? Age can also impact how you are reimbursed. For example, a community with a large population of seniors will likely mean working with Medicare and Medicare Advantage.
- Income level
Income level can indicate the type of insurance prospective patients will have. A community with a large low-income population may mean more Medicaid patients. With the rise in high deductible health plans, patients are on the hook for more of their health care expenses. Higher income populations may have more disposable income to invest in allergy testing and treatment compared to those who make less. “Understanding median household income levels will help you get a sense of which areas will have a population with disposable income, as well as those areas that will be mostly Medicaid or fall somewhere in between,” recommends Mr. Tanoury. However, there is a chance that lower-income areas may have more potential patients with undiagnosed or uncontrolled diseases and a need for more care, so it’s important to weigh your options and find what location will work for you.
If you plan to focus on serving a particular demographic (i.e. the Hispanic community), make sure your practice is conveniently located for your target population.
- ZIP code
If you’re an existing practice looking to expand, do a ZIP code analysis of your patients to determine whether a potential location meets existing patient needs.
Community growth trends
A growing community can help your practice grow. The local Chamber of Commerce, city and state governments and newspapers can provide information on community growth trends. Some things to research:
- Is the area growing? Are there new neighborhoods?
- How long are homes staying on the market? What is the trend?
- Are commercial real estate vacancies growing or diminishing?
- What is the unemployment rate and trend?
When focusing on specific sites, consider traffic patterns and safety as well. Be sure your patients will feel safe in the evening or early morning when it may be dark.
Take the guesswork out of choosing a new location by analyzing these factors for multiple potential sites – and set your practice up for success!