LIVE from the Annual Private Practice Section Meeting in Orlando, Florida, I welcome Lynn Steffes on the show to discuss physical therapy consulting. Lynn Steffes, PT, DPT is President/Consultant of Steffes & Associates a rehabilitation consulting serviced based in Wisconsin. She provides consulting services to rehab providers nation-wide.
In this episode, we discuss:
-How Lynn’s career evolved from treating clinician to consultant
-Common consultation inquiries and solutions regarding private practice
-Health and wellness advocacy within physical therapy
-The importance of building a strong network of experts within your field
-And so much more!
For more information on Lynn:
Lynn Steffes, PT, DPT is President/Consultant of Steffes & Associates a rehabilitation consulting serviced based in Wisconsin. She provides consulting services to rehab providers nation-wide. Ms. Steffes’ is a 1981 graduate of Northwestern University. She is Network Administrator for a group of 50+ private practice clinics where her primary responsibilities include marketing, payer and provider relations and contract management. She currently serves as the state-wide Reimbursement Specialist for the Wisconsin & Florida Physical Therapy Assns.
In addition to her work as consultant, Ms. Steffes works as an adjunct faculty member in the physical therapy program at the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse Physical Therapy Program, teaching professional referral relations, marketing and peer review. Lynn has addressed private practices, hospital systems, professional associations and therapy networks in forty states regarding Business Aspects of Physical Therapy. Ms. Steffes is active in her profession as a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and the Private Practice Section of APTA. She chairs the PPS Task Force for Educational Outreach, is a member of the Impact Editorial Board & the PPS Educational Institute. She is also active in the Wisconsin Chapter of APTA – serving as the Chapter’s Reimbursement Specialist, and on the WI Medicaid Committee.
Read the full transcript below:
Karen Litzy: 00:01 Hey everyone, welcome to the podcast. I am coming to you live from the private practice annual private practice section annual meeting in Orlando, Florida. And I have the distinct honor and privilege to be sitting here with Lynn Steffe’s. And I know I have a lot of questions for her and we’re going to get to a lot. But first, Lynn, can you just give the listeners a little bit more about where you are now with your business and what you’re doing.
Lynn Steffes: So thank you so much for having me, Karen. This is really fun and it’s especially fun because it’s absolutely gorgeous. So we’re sitting outside and we have, I know I’m from Milwaukee and we have six inches of snow on the ground, so I am loving this, but, awesome opportunity to communicate with a lot of PT. So I actually, I feel like I kind of do a variety of things, but I have a singular mission and vision for that, which I do.
Lynn Steffes: 00:53 And it’s all really surrounding, the promotion of physical therapy as an important health care provider and service, not only in rehabilitation and healing of people, but actually in lifestyle medicine, being healthy. You have a dentist, you have a doctor, you have maybe an accountant or a massage therapist while you need a PT. And that’s kind of me. So I promote physical therapy to all kinds of people. I teach at the university level, which I love. I speak all over the country. So I’ve had the privilege of speaking in 43 States, believe it or not. I do a lot of webinars, I do a lot of consulting and I work with practices as small as a guy where his mom does the billing when she feels like it. And I, by the way, don’t recommend that.
Lynn Steffes: 01:43 And then I also work with systems as large as Mayo clinic. So I have kind of a variety. And obviously when you graduated from physical therapy school, you were treating patients. And I know a lot of listeners here that are physical therapists. They graduate from PT school, they’re seeing patients. And oftentimes, I know this is the way I felt when I graduated as well. This is what I’m just going to be doing. I’m going to be treating patients until I retire. I didn’t have the foresight, I didn’t have the knowledge to say, wait, there are other things I can do.
Karen Litzy: So how did you go from treating patients to where you are now and at what point in your career did that shift happen?
Lynn Steffes: 02:26 Wow, I wish I had some big strategic plan to share with you that I had like this vision, but I really didn’t. When I graduated, I really did pediatric physical therapy. I graduated and worked for a private practice and I worked as a contract therapist in a school district and then moved on to a rehab facility and then opened outpatient pediatric clinics in a couple States. And I kind of, I love being a therapist. I always say, you know, I could still be a physical therapist if anyone would take me, but it’s been awhile. But as I was treating, I was seeing all these opportunities for physical therapy and kind of just, getting more and more experience opening businesses. And it was weird because I actually worked in a private practice and I love treating people and I love managing, I loved, but really everything I was doing, but there was just a lot of it.
Lynn Steffes: 03:20 And I think I started developing a little bit of an entrepreneurial, just like the sense that maybe I want to do some stuff on my own. I actually left the practice and interviewed with someone to become a pool therapist. And it was a PT I knew. And after I got done talking about everything I’d done, she was like, wow, Lynn. She was like, I can definitely sell you as a pool therapist, but I could, I’d love to sell you as a consultant. And I said, really? And she said, yeah. And I said, is there any reason I can’t sell myself as a consultant? And she said, absolutely not. And that was kind of like this big aha moment for me. And I actually thought I would just like do a little bit of consulting until I found someplace I wanted to work and then I’d just take a job. I always assumed I wanted a job. And so I started consulting and it kind of became quickly a multiplier. And then I started thinking, well, I gotta look for a job. And I said to my husband, I gotta start looking for a job. And he said, I’m pretty sure you have a job. And it’s consulting. And it’s so funny because that was a long time ago, over 20 years ago. And I still love it.
Karen Litzy: 04:27 And isn’t it amazing that so often it takes that person outside of ourselves, even maybe outside your family or even personal friend group to say, what are you doing? Like you can do this. So what’s interesting is you needed that person to give you the push. And now in your work you’re giving other people the push.
Lynn Steffes: 04:48 You know, I feel, I do, I feel super excited when I meet clinicians. And some of them are very young and some are also people who are kind of getting to a point in their career where they’re looking for something else. I feel super excited when they want to do consulting. Number one. I think there’s so much work to be done in, I don’t feel like a sense of competition. I’m just like thrilled that people are getting into promoting what we do and being a multiplier. I think of a consultant as a multiplier. I think like if a practice comes to me and they wanted to start, for example, you know, a running program, Oh my God, I’ve already worked with seven practices that have started running programs. Somebody comes to me and they want to revise their compensation plan. I can, you know, it’s like I kind of become a repository for everybody’s experience. I would say I’m a kid in a candy store and as I travel I like gather up wonderful people and just a lot of cool stuff that people do.
Karen Litzy: 05:52 And so what would you say are the people coming to you for your work as a consultant? What are the most common things that you are seeing that people are like, Hey, we really need help with this?
Lynn Steffes: 06:04 Well, I feel like everybody needs help with revenue and so anything to do with like marketing promotion, they need help with payer contracting and dealing with third party payers who seem to want to put up roadblocks all the time. And I just have, I have a unique, you know, perspective on that and I’ve worked with third party payers and I feel like I just am marketing to third party payers. I feel like people come when they look at, you know, how are we going to grow and how are we going to grow in the revenue? And I tap on the shoulder also and go, Hey, yet look at your expenses too. I feel like that’s a big thing. I also think compliance, I think we’re so burdened and so I try to work with people on what they need to do, but I do it in a different way than a lot of people. I think a lot of people are like into what I call the scary complaints. Like, Oh, you’re going to get in trouble. And I do mention that, but I also look at people and I say, you know what, you need to communicate your value in a better way. And if we did that, we’d be in better shape. So that’s kind of a variety. Starting cash programs is super fun.
Karen Litzy: 07:16 And do you mean cash programs within a traditional therapy clinics? So for people listening, there are a traditional clinics, I guess we can categorize them as such that are, they take your insurance. So if you call up a clinic and you say, I have blue cross blue shield, do they take it? Yes. Great. So when you say you help with cash programs, is that within a traditional clinic or within like an out of network or do you help establish a cash practice?
Lynn Steffes: 07:45 Both. So I feel like there are people who do, they’re excellent young therapists, consultants who have developed cash based programs and who, that’s all they really talk about. And so I definitely work with a lot of hybrid practices. So practices that have one foot on the dock where you know, the third party payment environment is and one foot in cash base and they’re developing other programs. Sometimes I’m working with people that are all cash. Sometimes I refer them to people that are focused on all cash. I also think like, I think we’ve kind of only just begun in the services we’re providing that would just third party payer covered is so limited for PT and there’s so much we can do if we just are willing to collect money.
Karen Litzy: 08:33 And, you know, I think in a traditional therapy setting, I think because physical therapy is always associated with the healthcare system, with the physician, we used to always need a physician referral. So the public’s expectation is we take insurance because no one would ever go to a massage therapist, a personal trainer, Pilates or yoga and expect them to be covered by their insurance.
Lynn Steffes: 08:56 I completely agree. But I have this thought. First of all, I’m just going to say out loud and I hope it’s not offending anyone, but I don’t like dentists because I just don’t like people messing around in my mouth. But I think dentists have figured it out. They have 100%. I feel like physical therapy as a profession has to grow up to be more like the dental profession. I mean, you know, a hundred years ago, dentists, like basically you saw them when you had to have a tooth knocked out and they were kind of that provider of last resort. They, they really were, a last resort kind of provider. And they have evolved being an amazing healthcare provider. They do prevention, they do treatment, they have specialties, they do cosmetics, they do performance. So there’s so many things that are parallel, and I don’t know about you, but when I go to the dentist, when I walk in and have something done, they tell me, well, this is what your insurance covers and this is not.
Karen Litzy: 09:49 Yeah. And I don’t have any dental coverage, but guess what I still do every year I go to the dentist. And PT is, so some of it is the consumer mentality. Like I paid a premium, it should cover PT, I don’t doubt that. But a lot of people have dental insurance and they still pay for other things. I think some of it is awesome.
Lynn Steffes: 10:11 It’s a mindset shift that we have to have. We have to say this is what your plan covers and these are other services that would benefit you that we recommend. So a lot of times that I’m promoting a program, like for example, the annual PT physical or I’m very interested in lifestyle medicine and brain health and the kind of things people go, well, which insurances cover it? And it’s like, okay, that shouldn’t be your first question. The first question should be, would this bring value to my patients and my community? And if it does, is there something that’s paid that’s an inappropriate question but not like who’s going to cover in it and if it’s not covered.
Lynn Steffes: 10:44 So some of the mentality shift is our own paradigm. So yeah, and I think there does need to be that shift of this is my expertise, this is what I offer looking around in my community. Would they benefit from XYZ program, a program on brain health, which I know, you have, right? So is this something my community would like because it’s not about us. We have to be worried about the end user, which is our client, our patient, however you want to, whatever kind of word you want to put for them. But I do think that from a profession wide standpoint, that that needs to shift. And I think if it can shift, I think you’re right, you’d be seeing a lot more hybrid practices where yeah, maybe you take insurance, but you have a brain health, you have a vestibular program, you have a wellness program that can happen. And I think that’s where, I mean I totally think there is a 100% place for all cash or all third party. But I think we all kind of went in with more of a hybrid idea.
Lynn Steffes: 11:54 We would be able to leverage what insurance pays for our patients. And honestly, a lot of people don’t want to do insurance cause they say, well it limits the number of visits. Well guess what? If it limits the number of visits, you still can do cash outside of that. You know what I mean? Like I’m always like, why can’t we see that? And so it’s interesting that I study like dental marketing and dental operations as a way of just having insight into a different provider even though they’re not my favorite healthcare provider. So yeah, I think it’s really interesting.
Karen Litzy: 12:28 And what advice would you have for someone listening who maybe wants to start shifting their practice? Going from being a treating physician, from being a treating physical therapist or physician or nurse practitioner or even a dentist. So how could they go from a full time treatment to consulting? Like, do you have to take extra classes? Do you need certifications? Do you, you know, all that kind of real practical stuff.
Lynn Steffes: 13:00 All right. So really good question. Well, I think first it’s a self examination of like what are you good at, passionate about, interested in, and a willingness to share. And, you know, when I first became a consultant I thought I had to know everything and I just realized I just have to like know enough and I have to know, I have to ask you questions so that I can learn what you need and then partner with you to create that to happen. So as a consultant, I did go take additional courses. I took courses through the small business administration through our local college. We have a local women’s college that has a business and evening business series. I did some of that. I talked to other consultants and actually I find that, you know, sometimes people come to me and they’ll say they want to be a consultant and then I’ll have a conversation with them and I’m kind of like, Hmm, okay.
Lynn Steffes: 13:48 There’s a couple of things you need to do, and you need to listen. I feel like that’s hard. I think some people think they just want to tell people what to do, but you kinda gotta listen to what they want and be able to do some diagnostics. I think, getting hands on experience, as much book knowledge and classes as you take in all of that, unless you can relate to somebody’s problems and say, yeah, I was kind of bad at that and I learned how to do it. Or, this is where I was and here are the steps. I just feel like that that would be a struggle. So I think getting hands on experience. If you’re working in a facility or practice, Hey, volunteer to run a project, get on a committee, take the lead, asked to be involved in interviews, asked to be the marketing person, asked to work with your billing and payment, get involved in the association because I’ve gotten a ton of contacts and I also, like, I always say it like if I’m the smartest person I talked to all day, that’s not good.
Lynn Steffes: 14:48 So I know so many people that are so smart, I feel like I can pick up the phone and call them. So they’re multipliers for what I’m able to help people with. I think there are steps in a big thing is hands-on, firsthand experience. Another thing is goal lists. Go take some extra classes, do some reading, but work with experienced people and kind of stick your neck out. I’ve been consulting for over 20 years and people will call me and say, Hey listen, I got this project, do you do this? And I’m like, you know, yeah, I guess I do, but I haven’t done it before but it sounds like fun and if I’m in too deep I just call people.
Karen Litzy: 15:27 Yeah. That’s great. So kind of look for those mentors or friends or like you said, colleagues, people in, I mean we’re here at PPS, so it might be people at PPS, it might be your neighbor, it might be, I always say to like, don’t overlook your family and your friends because there’s a wealth of knowledge there as well. I always tend to look out and I’m like, Oh, what about the person right in front of me who knows how to do X, Y, Z, why am I not asking them?
Lynn Steffes: 15:51 Well, it’s funny because I was working with a practice that wanted to work with more personal injury attorneys and those kinds of patients. That was something they were interested in doing. And I’m very skilled practitioner in working on spine and cervical issues. I thought, you know, this is a good fit. And he’s like, I just don’t know how to do it. And so I was like, okay, I know of someone who knows, you know, was an injury attorney who I respected and I just contacted her and I paid her for a couple hours and I interviewed her and spend time with her. Just going through like, what did you want? What’s important? All kinds of stuff. What about communications? What is, you know, what would discourage you from using a provider? How do you decide who’s a prefered? And it was weird because as soon as the interview was done, it wasn’t cheap, but it was so worth it. And she kind of said to me, she goes, you know, I need some good PTs. The more I ask, the more I talked to you, the more I realized like, I know what I need and I don’t know if I know who it is. And so it’s funny that you know, there are a lot of resources out there.
Karen Litzy: 16:55 Yeah. And so from what I’m hearing is one, don’t be shy, can’t be shy. Don’t be shy too. Don’t worry if you don’t know everything right now because you can learn it in a short amount of time. And this sounds so crazy coming from me as I’m interviewing you, but I love the idea of interviewing people, but I didn’t, I don’t know why I never even thought of that before to say why don’t really know this, but I know this person does. So let’s have a formal interview. Not just like a one or two emails, but really take, like you said, take the time, pay for the time if you need to so that you can really understand what that person needs to help your upcoming client like as you can. I guess you can always do the research so we don’t just have to stick to things that we think we know we can expand.
Lynn Steffes: 17:45 Well, and I think as a PT, I remember as a young PT had a patient once that had a child with osteogenesis imperfecta and I’d never seen it before. I was getting a referral for it and I was like, okay, I don’t know what I’m doing. So I just like went on the web and look for a PT that treated that. I found someone out at NIH, national Institute of health. I sent her an email and we set up a call and I went through everything. She sent me her protocols. It was like, and I just realized PTs are such incredibly generous people. A lot of people are generous. PTs are exceptionally generous with that. And that kind of taught me like, Hey, don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know. I have worked with or had exposure to people have worked with consultants who kind of know what all is.
Lynn Steffes: 18:35 And at some level people are like, Oh, we’re really excited about them. But it doesn’t create long term relationships if you don’t say, Hey, that’s a good question, let’s figure it out. You know? So I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers, but I sure love the questions. You know, I love that. Love it. That should be like my motto for life. I don’t really have any answers, but I love to have lots of answers. But I think what struck me from what you just said, is that we can use our skills as physical therapists. We know how to research, we know how to look up diagnoses and treatments and protocols so we can take those skills and transfer them into consultancy skills. Oh my God. So what I have as a process, when I work with practices, I call differential diagnosis.
Lynn Steffes: 19:27 For your practice. And I basically do diagnostics and then I have a hypothesis and then I write a plan. Then I work on implementing the plan and then we stop and measure and we figure out what’s working and what isn’t. And of course there are plans just like there are a few, if you treat a lot of knees, you have certain plans you use that usually work. And so over time you kind of accumulate solutions. But I still customize. I think some people like the canned solutions and it probably is more cost effective, but I still like working one on one.
Karen Litzy: I think this is great. Thank you so much. I’m like learning so much here. It seems like your career keeps evolving. Do you have anything coming up that’s kind of different than what you’re doing?
Lynn Steffes: 20:15 Wow, that’s a really good question. First of all, thank you for giving me opportunity to talk about this stuff, but so I have a really big birthday coming next week and I don’t need to share the number but it’s a pretty big one and a lot of my friends are retiring and I’m always kind of like, what am I going to do next? I’m still, I don’t know, I don’t know, I just the way I am, but I have been working in the area of brain health for awhile and, and have a signature turnkey brain health program and I have two. I have one thing I want to do with that program and that is to very specifically, instead of just going into the PT market with it, I want to actually start approaching active senior centers and working with their activity people and their exercise and fitness people.
Lynn Steffes: 21:07 Because I think the active senior centers have all the tools. They have all the mechanism, they have this captive audience but they don’t connect the dots, which is how cognition and wellness fit. So that’s something fun I want to do with brainiacs. And then the other thing is I really want to continue to push lifestyle medicine and PT and I want to connect with other like-minded PTs. There was a young PT that I’m kind of that’s just starting out. I want to mentor her. She is very interested in lifestyle medicine and exercise and how it relates specifically to anxiety and depression. I feel like we have so many opportunities we haven’t even tried to do. And so this year I came out early to go to lifestyle medicine conference, which was next, which was early. Yeah, it was on the front end. So how perfect. But next year I want to be talking at it.
Karen Litzy: 21:52 Perfect. We’ll get that pitch in there and talk at it. That’s awesome. And I have one more question that I ask everyone, but before we get to that, if you can talk a little bit more about just the basics of the foundations of the brainiacs program, just because you’d mentioned it and I just want people to understand what that is.
Lynn Steffes: 22:21 Sure. So I have always, you know, as a peds therapist and adult neuro therapists, I’ve always been into brain neurology and the flexibility and the adaptability and really the plasticity of the human brain. And I’ve seen back in the day when we didn’t think anything could change after childhood, I saw it could. And so I was always kind of like, yeah, we don’t know everything. And now we know much more. But unfortunately my parents both passed from Alzheimer’s disease. And so when that happens, when you have two parents diagnosed, it kind of scares you. And so I started doing research on brain health and what the literature showed and it’s very clear that, you know, prevention, mitigation, and cognitive fitness and health is not just a learning and study and you know, read a book to us to do code. It really is a physiological thing. And exercise probably has the strongest evidence. And so I started a turnkey program and with the basis of it BrainyEx.
Lynn Steffes: 23:24 And prescribed exercise at a certain level of walk around. The block is nice, but it doesn’t really do the whole job. And so how to prescribe and train someone to, you know, extra as at a proper level. And then I also added health and wellness education that’s evidenced based too, it’s nutrition, sleep hygiene, stress management, activity management, socialization. And so PTs, we’re constantly doing patient education where we’re like perfectly suited to do 100% instead of having people come and sit in a class, I’m like, okay, let’s work out and teach. And so it’s been pretty fun. I have clinics in 13 States doing it now, which I love.
Karen Litzy: 24:01 Yeah, that’s awesome. We’ll have a link to that on the website at podcast.healthywealthysmart.com if people want to find out more information because people aren’t getting any younger in this country. And so it’s really important and you’re right, PT’s I think are ideally positioned to be the ones to work with that population. So excellent program. Now, the question that I ask everyone, this is the last question. I probably should have prefaced this to you beforehand, but knowing where you are now in your business and in your life, what advice would you give to yourself as a new grad out of PT school?
Lynn Steffes: 24:42 That is such a good question. I honestly, it’s weird because I don’t think my expectations were high enough as a new grad. I get that. And I think similar to what you said, that everybody graduates from PT school and you kind of think you’re going to be a PT and I love being a PT and PT is such an incredible profession, but I never dreamed I would be traveling across the country writing chapters to books, developing my own programs, having an opportunity to speak in front of hundreds of PTs teaching at the university. I never thought of all the possibilities. So I guess as a PT I would say like open your eyes and look not only for what you can do one on one with patients, which is incredibly important, but look for opportunities that multiply our profession. And I think I would’ve told myself earlier on, like I feel like I started early doing it, but I still think I could have even had the vision earlier and you know, and just ask people for help. I love it when people come to me and say, this is something I want to do. Will you help me? I feel like it’s an honor, you know?
Karen Litzy: 25:59 Great, great advice. So great advice for all those students in school and just graduating from PT school or really any programs. So thanks so much. Where can people find you?
Lynn Steffes: 26:09 So I have a website, www.steffesandassociates.com and I also have a website for my brain health program, www.brainyex.com. You can always find me at all the meetings.
Karen Litzy: 26:29 Very true. So Lynn, thank you so much. And just so everyone knows, we’ll have links to everything in the show notes for this podcast on the website podcast.healthywealthysmart.com. So Lynn, thank you so much for taking the time out at a PPS and enjoying sitting outside in Orlando before both of us have to go back to our cold places. At least New York doesn’t have snow yet.
Lynn Steffes: Yeah, we have snow. Hopefully it’ll build. Thank you, Karen. You do a great job of, I think sharing a lot of good information and talking to people who are thought leaders and people who have different ideas. And I think that’s pretty important.
Karen Litzy: Thank you so much. And everyone listening, thanks so much for listening. Have a great couple of days and stay healthy, wealthy, and smart.
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