Having recently released sufficient time to review the feedback from our March 2017 symposium and to start to think about potential business models our General Secretary, Paul Donnelly shares with our Physio First members his early thoughts on resuming progress on developing the Physio Co-op.

Thank you to everyone who attended our symposium with such enthusiasm. Whilst it was frustrating not to have been able to get back to our delegate feedback and to start the deep thinking about business models immediately, from my recent (and initial) review I can now highlight that:

  • Our overall objective of helping to develop a private self-owned business entity continues to make perfect sense
  • The challenge to overcome what is involved in the process will be by starting with little steps
  • The conclusions prior to our March 2017 symposium remain accurate;
  1. we need to define a clear business case (“our product”) to participating members, other investors and private physio customers – self pay and commercial purchasers
  2. we need some fully committed and entrepreneurial members
  3. we need a fully committed and talented steering group to lead the start-up phase
  4. we will benefit from the expertise, contacts and resources of commercial partners.

Whilst the patient must be at the heart of the Physio Co-op, its business model and vision must demonstrate a cogent commercial case for each physiotherapy practice, and any participating commercial partner, that will be about how, through size and scale, we can:

  • save time, energy and money
  • create opportunities to generate more income
  • future-proof
  • trade on quality (that we currently defined as “evidence based cost effectiveness”)
  • facilitate practice sales and purchases.

In overall commercial terms, the Physio Co-op needs to help us compete in our current and changing marketplace!

In the period between our March 2017 symposium and now I have had the opportunity to meet perfectly cogent cooperative business partners who will be able to help us research, start and grow a cooperative. All they need is a positive business model and belief in the commitment of all involved.

For those physio practices who involve themselves in the pilot / start-up phase, there could certainly be a need to consider different terms compared to those who join later. This would be due to the inherent risk and investment of time and energy required from early adopters, even if the actual money element remains limited.

Essentially, the whole concept is based on enabling Physio First members who want to join in, to grasp this opportunity to impact on our marketplace. It will require practice principals/sole traders who:

  • are entrepreneurial, collegiate and disciplined enough to be part of  what is termed a “retailer (marketing) signature brand cooperative”
  • are able to unite around a clear strategy and common values
  • are ready and willing to work for themselves as owners of their own private physio clinics AND as healthcare business investors, as they will ultimately be joint owners of the cooperative!

I am still of the opinion that the Physio Co-op is a really good business idea and one that Physio First is right to fully explore. With private healthcare developing in the way it is, I am certain that it will feature more widely in our sector in the future; all it needs is the right business population to foster it.

The “right population” is a community of marketplace stakeholders who are prepared to unite as a

business entity using the cooperative philosophy – essentially one of self-ownership rather than external investor ownership. In our case, one of being an owner and active member of a business that is a private physio network, but that is a lot more than just “a network of private physios”. During the symposium we had identified Best Western Hotels, as a commercial example, who have described themselves as a “self-owned franchise”.  A hypothetical example from our sector could be a “self-owned intermediary”.

All these elements will give the Physio Co-op a commercial edge that is not just about size and scale, but which has to be about commercial innovation, as that is the challenge that everyone in business faces today, especially in private healthcare.

With regard to Physio First’s position in this, I am of course fully committed to achieving Goal 3 of our new Physio First business plan, i.e. “to formulate a strategic commercial relationship with the Physio Co-op as it develops from a start-up business”.

This obviously requires working out how all Physio First members will benefit from this Physio Co-op relationship, and what Physio First might gain in terms of resource. Certainly, the project itself i.e. looking at our marketplace through the lens of a new commercial entrant, will inform us all. As for the Physio Co-op it will almost certainly benefit from the advantages of being able to trade on quality through our Physio First QAP scheme.

In overall terms I do feel that this project is the personification of the wish-list of many members, some of whom have had the vision since the creation of Physio First (OCPPP) in 1952, to be part of an organisation that can take action in our marketplace, and that can trade confidently on the quality we know we represent.

In addition to this, I predict that the Physio Co-op will become a catalyst for putting practice principals/sole traders, who want to retire, in touch with Chartered physios who want to buy into a practice; something a cooperative can facilitate as part of member owners’ return on investment.

Finally, if for any reason we do not get the Physio Co-op off the ground this time, there is no bar on any group of members trying it again in the future. That said, in my view there has never been a better time to try it than now! And try it we will!”


Update on progress

For details of the schedule on this ambitions project, and Paul’s updates click here

Steps to success

Paul is also working on how to keep all who have registered an interest in the Physio Co-op informed of his thoughts and progress, and in finding a way of “allowing everyone to be involved”

Paul’s view in terms of the chances for the success of the Physio Co-op are that:

“…this is a good idea that has the greatest chance of being fulfilled through those of our members with the vision and appetite to engage with it. My career over the past, almost 20 years has been built on the ambition of helping Physio First members to extend their impact in the healthcare marketplace, beyond that which even a really well organised and devoted team of member volunteers can achieve as part of our Physio First “trade association”. We now have the chance to fulfil this ambition, and I am confident that other healthcare providers will follow, as the marketplace is ripe for this type of development!"