We invited the founders of Healthprac, Alpesh Shah and Penny Williams, to talk with us about how they they been created a successful health practice consulting firm.
A meeting with Healthprac
We sat down to meet with Al and Penny from Healthprac, an innovative business that consults and project manages the transformation of health services.
Healthprac assists these businesses by helping them to find properties, addressing leasing issues, looking at things from a legal capacity as well as helping set up systems within the health practice. From a project management perspective, they also work with dentists, doctors, and other health professionals.
- How would you describe what you do?
- How did you get started?
- How would you describe your working relationship?
- Al, what’s the biggest idea you’ve had and Penny, how were you able to reign him in?
- What are some of the common problems you've come across?
- What happens when you’re consulting for an existing business, but it becomes apparent that it’ll be more economical to move to a new location?
- How would you describe your customer service to your clients?
- You’ve talked about how you’ve been able to grow the business, is that all through word of mouth? What kind of marketing strategy do you have in place?
- What happens when someone comes to you and say they want to open a practice? How do they get started?
- Has anyone just not come back to you because their business plans didn’t go to, well, plan?
- For those people who do want to find you - where can they reach you?
How would you describe what you do?
Al: We provide end to end solutions. We get the leases organized, get buildings sorted out. But we also source builders, we source people to actually do the fit-outs, do the full internal fit out, and then eventually get all the internal sort of equipment and stuff that they require right to the point where they're gonna go and see their patients. So, it's not the half sort of solutions that are out there in the market at the moment, where people come in and go, “Yeah we'll set you up a practice” and then, the four walls go up with a few partitions inside, and then the next thing you know it's like, “Right guys, this is the four walls that you asked for, go ahead.” And then a lot of practitioners at that point sort of go, “Oh I thought I'd be seeing a patient tomorrow,” and they get stuck. So, that's where this sort of idea was born and it came from some of our friends who wanted that service and the idea was born.
How did you get started?
Al: Initially, I personally was approached by a few practitioners who were looking to do this, and Penny separately was also approached by health practitioners trying to do the same thing. So, we were just discussing this very casually at law school, which is where we met.
Penny: We're both health practitioners, originally. When we went back to uni and met at law school and thought, why not? So with our law training and health professional background, why not set up and help out our colleagues?
Al: Yeah, it was kind of both of us started and we put our heads together and said, “Well yeah. This is obviously a niche market that we haven't explored, and there is clearly a demand for it.” So the idea was born. Penny, she's got the eye for detail. I'm more of the other side where I look at a bigger picture and say, “Look we need to get there."
How would you describe your working relationship?
Penny: Al flies up in the clouds and I ground him. He has the ideas, and I go, “Now, how are we going to make that work?” So, then I put systems and processes in place to make it work. So Al's, he is a big thinker which is great, but you also need, you know, the other part of the team to make it happen. Make it work.
Al: Yes, Penny makes it happen very well. There's a lot of times where I've come in with an idea, and Penny will go, "Hang on, let us just round it off and let's go forward."
Penny: “Let's just take a step back.”, which is what we tell our clients, because they say, "I want to set up an HGP practice, and I want all this.", and we go, "That's doable, that's great, but there's a few things we need to get in place first.". That's how Al and I take away the stress from our clients because doctors are very good at doctoring, and health professionals are very good at caring, and they don't often have the time, or the business skills to set up a practice. That's why we take all that stress away from them. There's a lot of compliancies that people need to follow when you set up a practice, a good quality practice. So, yeah we really enjoy it, it's a lot of fun.
Al, what’s the biggest idea you’ve had and Penny, how were you able to reign him in?
Al: I guess when we first we were looking at the ideas of what Healthprac is going to sort of achieve, my first outburst was - “15, 20 practices across the whole of Western Australia, going to national, going international, London…“, you know big ideas, and Penny goes, "Let's do one first."
Penny: Al actually said we need to look at overseas doctors as well because they've got to follow certain rules that Australian practitioners don't have to. We help overseas doctors as well, set up their practices. And Al was saying, "Wow, what we need to do is market the west Australian lifestyle to overseas doctors." So you know the new flights? The non-stop journey flights to London? This was last year, Al was saying, they're coming out in March, we should book one of those flights, go to London and sell the WA lifestyle to overseas doctors. Then we can help them set up their practices, and I went, "Hey, just, whoa before you start being a poster boy for WA Beach, let's just not book flights to London just yet. Can we just get our ground set up over here first?", but we will.
What are some of the common problems you've come across?
Al: I will start with the fresh one, which is you find that people will tend to do it on their own, the practitioners themselves. The typical story that comes out is, "I wish we'd met you when we started this process because it has been an absolute nightmare." Wouldn't you agree, Penny? Isn't that the general theme that we've come across when we speak to people having, who've tried to do it on their own?
Penny: Health professionals are very good at caring, but they might not necessarily have the time or the business skills to help set up a business, or develop their own business. When you get married and you mention the wedding, the W word, the price of everything goes up. And we find that people, if they say that they're a doctor, or a GP, or a dentist, then there are people out there who say "Oh okay, so we can give them a different sort of a quote, whether it be for a lease, or for fit out, or something like that, then I'd give to somebody who wasn't a dentist or a doctor."
So, our clients, some of them would say yes to that, because they've got nothing to compare it to, and think "Oh that seems reasonable." Whereas we'll come along and go, "Actually, that's just a total rip off." So, I feel really strongly about health practitioners not getting ripped off.
What happens when you’re consulting for an existing business, but it becomes apparent that it’ll be more economical to move to a new location?
Al: That can arise sometimes when we are dealing with older practices that are there. They look at their viability in terms of whether they should stay there and renew their leases, whether it involves, the fit out needs a bit of work, so by the time you look at the investment that's required, we look at that and go, "Well, I think you guys would probably benefit with relocating to a better suited premises." Probably have more incentives from a leasing perspective, or where they to purchase the building, they would get it at a cheaper rate.
So, when you put it together as a package they go, "Well, actually that could work well." And there have been times where we've looked at practices where shifting the practice from one location to another, not only cost them nothing out of their bottom line, actually increased their patient numbers because they were in a better-suited location for what they were doing. And so eventually it was a win-win situation for the practice themselves, and also from a perspective of actual patient care because the new building had all of the new compliancy with Disability Access.
Maybe the old place wasn't compliant and had they been ordered for accreditation, they would have had to change that, and pay out of their own pockets to get it done. So, yes at the time, if they had done it themselves would have been a heavy process for them, and they're trying to see patients and do it at night. And by involving us, it removes that.
Penny: We just provide them with options. So, your options, you know, this is option A, this is option B, you can stay, you can expand, or you can move. And we just present them the options and then leave it up to them, so it's their business and it's their passion, and it's their love. So, we just provide them with the options.
It’s not just about saving the practitioner money, you’re actually thinking about their patients as well, to improve their visits.
Al: Of our backgrounds I guess, that sort of is inborn, because we have always been in patient care. And because patient care is priority, then we want that same feeling for that practitioner as well, as you said quite correctly, we look at it from that perspective. There's a lot of good providers out there as well, but there's a lot of providers that don't look at it from that perspective at all. They just look at it from a purely a building perspective, or a leasing perspective, which yeah, it saves them a bit of money, but does it look after the patient? In the end, that's the question.
Penny: And also most practices want to stay within the same area because that's where your patient base is. So, you know, if your practice is south of the river, most people wouldn't want to move north of the river, because you've already got your patient base, and your community built up. So, that's another thing you've got to take into consideration. Because most people have a good GP, or a good dentist they'll follow them. But maybe not, you know, not to far, but you still follow them, if they could.
How would you describe your customer service to your clients?
Al: One of the comments that one of the practitioners made to us was, "As much as we pay you, it's always nice to know that we have a friend at the end of a phone call. So, if anything was going on and they just needed to talk to us, we will provide, within boundaries of course, someone just to discuss an issue that may have come up, that potentially, out of the discussion, they got a solution which isn't something that we may have provided as from before.
It’s just something that comes out of that discussion, and the practitioner just feels like there's someone there that they can talk to afterwards, and give them some reassurance that whatever they're doing, or maybe some guidance in one way that we can ... and if we can't, we will source the person or people that they need to speak to to get that guidance or reassurance. So whatever that they require at that point within the knowledge that we have and obviously, try and look and provide that solution for them, when they can carry on and do what they do best, which is where we try and come in.
You’ve talked about how you’ve been able to grow the business, is that all through word of mouth? What kind of marketing strategy do you have in place?
Penny: Well, neither of us, our background's health, as we said. And so, I said to Al the other day, this has all been word of mouth, but now we need to market our business and we need to have a marketing plan. So, I sat down thinking, marketing plan. I'll drum up what, how, what do I? I've got this blank piece of paper with marketing plan at the top and going, "Why am I even trying this myself?" I know what we're good at. And we have designers and we have fit out guys. And we have lawyers that look over the conventional leases, and the sales, and things like that. So, the team and I just thought, "Why? Why am I even bothering? I have no idea. Why would I even start?" So, I said to Al, "This is my marketing plan. We need to develop this page a bit more than ..."
Al: I guess when we look at our marketing strategies and just some of the ideas that come to mind at the time, and what we were looking at is, touching on the similar to what you're saying is that, yes there is word of mouth, is how to propagate that word of mouth to further word of mouth out there. So, what is gonna make our client go to the next one and say, "Oh, Joan. These guys did such a great job for us. You guys should use it. Speak to them. Here's their card. Or have a chat to Al, Penny. See what we can get across for you." And then, we finish them and move forward or do they then propagate us next, sort of, where we don't know how to, that how."
Penny: Yeah, and also 'cause word of mouth, I think only goes so far as well. If you're working with health practitioners in particular regions so how do you get the word out to other regions. And to an extent, health practitioners are in competition with each other, sort of. But a lot of them have very loyal, trusted customer bases, and their patients keep coming back to them. So, even though they are in competition, they're not really. And I think, like Al said, it's the trust thing. And I think because we're help professionals, people trust us.
What happens when someone comes to you and say they want to open a practice? How do they get started?
Al: We ask them, “Do you want to have a three surgery practice, five surgery practice? Do you want to open up in a nearby location?”, for example. Or to the vicinity of where they're working at the moment. Whether they want to lease, they want to have a freehold. These are the kind of questions that they need to ask themselves before they come and see us.
Penny: Is it gonna be a partnership? Are you gonna set up a company? So, if you three want to set up a GP practice, are you gonna be equal partners in the practice? Are you gonna be directors of the company? Or is it gonna be a trust involved? Any trustees for the trust? So, when we just even start having those basic conversations with them, they go, "Whoa, we haven't even thought of any of that." So, we don't even get to what color carpet would you like in the fitting room. We don't even get to colors and design and layout because we just sort of stop them right back at, well what's the structure gonna look like with your colleagues before you even get to that stage. So, we just give them a lot of food for thought. We ask them to see their accountant first and set that up because we're not financial advisors, don't give financial advice. But you need to work out the business structure first.
You also need to ask yourself if you can work with this person you’re going into business with, for the next 10 years if your lease is 10 years. If you're a rotational GP for a couple of days a week, but this man or woman is gonna be your business partner for 10 years, which is a long time. So, just even those questions, when we have our initial chats with people, they're like, "Oh. We'll get back to you.".
Has anyone just not come back to you because their business plans didn’t go to, well, plan?
Al: We had one of our first clients want to open a practice with his best friend from high school. They'd gone through medical school together. They'd trained together. They went to the U.K. together and now, they moved to Australia together. They wanted to set up a GP practice together as partners.
I said, "Oh, that's brilliant. Great. So, what would you like us to do?"
Now, at that point, he called me up personally and goes, "Can you just come and speak to my accountant?"
I thought this was odd because we hadn’t even signed a contract yet. But since he was one of our first clients and we were testing the waters, we were trying to find out what's going on. I went to the accountant's office and what transpired is that his best friend wanted to open an eight to 12 mega GP practice, and then expand to four other locations. Him, on the other hand, wanted to have a two surgery family practice for him and his wife. And that was it.
The partnership that were envisioning ... Well, his best friend's saying, "Well, I need 50% of the company." He is going, "Well, it's me and my wife and you working there, so it's a third each." And the arguments started.
And the reason this argument started was because I brought up the question which was, “So how much percentage are you guys gonna share?”, and, immediately, they're like, "Oh, we didn't even think about that."
So, one person assumed it's gonna be 50/50 'cause you're a husband/wife team. It's just me, 50/50. These guys are like, "No, it's a third, third, third because we're two of us. We're GP's and so are you." So, how's this gonna work?
The guy said, "Well, I want an expansion. I need a location that's got 2,000 square meters so we can put in 26 car parking spaces and three stories."
And his friend said, "Well, I only need 76 square meters with four car parking spaces."
So, these are the kind of things that when they're starting off, it's a good time to say, if the thought comes into their mind to go, I want to open my own practice. That is probably the point where they go, "I think we need to talk to these guys and work out what is it that I want."
For those people who do want to find you - where can they reach you?
Penny: And I'm email@example.com
Josh, Jess and Rich would like to thank Al and Penny of Healthprac for joining us on the podcast!
If you know of other inspirational businesses like Healthprac that you'd like to hear from, or you'd like to nominate yourself as a guest on our show and you're in the Perth Metro area, get in touch with us by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org