Moreso than many industries, O&P offers the practitioner different
paths to practice and own a business. From owning a mom-and-pop shop to running
a Hanger affiliate and everything in between, the opportunities for
establishing a practice are only limited by a practitioner’s skills,
investment and vision.
Jeffrey Brandt, CPO and founder of Ability Prosthetics &
Orthotics, entered the field while in college in 1993 and continued in the
O&P program at Northwestern University in 1999. Afterward, he became
clinical director for a budding O&P division within a wound care company.
The experience taught him a lot about planning, marketing and networking
strategies, providing him some of the tools he needed to start his own O&P
Images: 3 Roads Communications
Building on ideas he had regarding inconsistencies throughout the
fabrication and clinical practices in O&P, formed while working as a
technician with his friend and colleague Jeffrey Quelet, CPO, Brandt
knew he wanted his practice to be different. He wanted to raise the bar in the
“Jeff and I brainstormed that if we ever started a practice of our
own, we would outsource because it would allow us to provide better patient
care. We could give the patient more time, better education and the best
“We needed to be professional,” Brandt told O&P
Business News. “We needed to dress the part and act the part, if we
were going to be perceived as being an integral part of the allied health
In 2004, Ability opened its first patient care center and company
headquarters in Gettysburg, Pa. Its second office, headed by Quelet, opened in
Hagerstown, Md., a year later.
For Brandt and Ability, it was only the beginning.
For the company’s first year, Brandt handled every job at Ability
on his own, so he could learn, understand and refine all the tasks required to
manage a business. It wasn’t easy.
“It takes multitasking skills. I lost a lot of sleep. I just had to
go until I was sure it was off the ground,” Brandt said.
In the beginning he did not have a lot of patient volume, which allowed
him more flexibility to see patients offsite. He made a contingency plan in the
event he was running late back to the office.
“I’d forward the phones, put a sign on the door and told
people I was starting a business. If we tell patients why, they’re very
understanding because they want to help you. I’d get in my car, see the
patient, and if my phone rang while I was with the patient, I’d answer it,
but apologize for taking the call…I did the dance for a year, and did
claims on the weekends. I did whatever it took.”
Brandt is a meticulous planner and an adroit business owner. He bobs and
weaves in the market, capitalizing on profitable trends to build a solid
foundation for smart company growth.
“I try to think like we’re a big company. Whatever phone
system or software we use, it needed to be something that can be built upon. It
had to be high quality and expandable if we kept growing.”
Although one office was good and two were better, Brandt began to think
ahead to three. And then maybe more.
“I had the opportunity to open one, and 6 to 9 months into it
… it was fun, it was exciting and challenging, and I thought if we can do
one, why can’t we do two? We didn’t think much beyond the two. And
then you start to feed into that, and then you think, maybe we could open a
Indeed, Ability now has 11 patient care centers located throughout
several states on the Eastern seaboard and Kentucky.
Ability employs about 37 people now across all locations. Each office
has at least one practitioner. Corporate administrative staff oversee billing,
authorizations and accounting.
Opening businesses without a marketing strategy is not a recipe for
success, Brandt said.
“From an early point it became obvious to me the field needed to be
marketed more…a big component of what we did was to make sure we had a
brand, an image and a way to get the message out, he said.”
One part of his strategy was right in front of him: his own patients. He
explained there is a human interest angle in patients’ stories, and if
they’re agreeable, their story could become one for the local media.
Ability’s offices, featuring newspaper and magazine articles about their
patients, are evidence of his marketing acumen.
Brandt and Quelet decided from the beginning that no family would be
involved with the business.
“I can understand why people go the family route, because
there’s a trust there. But in the end, I’ve seen so many businesses
in other industries where family is involved, and if it doesn’t go
perfectly it becomes awkward. I think we’ve earned the respect of our
employees by going this route.”
Another important business decision Brandt and his partners made was to
outsource fabrication. By doing so, practitioners can focus more on patient
care. Most devices can be designed, delivered and fit in about the same time as
“We can offer any device — both upper and lower — because
we outsource,” Brandt said.
Software ensures patient information is compiled efficiently, so
practitioners spend less overseeing staff and administrative duties, and more
time talking with patients.
“When people come into Ability, it’s like a consult,” he
said. “We take them into the boardroom to talk before we take them into
the patient room.” Practitioners have insurance counseling and financial
training so they can assist the patient in understanding insurance information.
“It shows some level of competency if you can sit in the room and
speak to the insurance ramifications with patients. We found that by taking
that out of the hands of the front desk person and allowing the practitioners
to discuss that with the patient, it sets up much more of a commitment with the
A personal touch
The way your office looks on the outside is how your patients will
perceive the kind of care they receive inside, Brandt said.
“If patients have a positive view of the office, they are likely to
assume you’re going to do a good job,” he said. Anything less and a
practitioner will be at a disadvantage before he or she even talks to the
Brandt stressed the importance of the interpersonal connection his
practitioners have with their patients. Practitioners use the front door to
enter the office, greet patients in the waiting room, and apologize directly if
they are late. “If we own up to it, the patient will relate to that and
give us a pass. If we act like patients should be thankful they are being seen,
we’ll go down the wrong road,” Brandt said.
It’s a small gesture, Brandt admits, but they offer freshly brewed
coffee to all in the waiting room.
“People were stopping by who didn’t have an appointment but
who had been there before, just to get a cup of coffee. This is what we’re
talking about: you’re successful if people are stopping by your O&P
office for a cup of coffee,” he joked. “That goes back to customer
care. It doesn’t cost much and it’s a nice, genuine gesture.”
Brandt estimated Ability practitioners spend from 30 minutes to 45
minutes per patient. He stressed the quality of the visit over the quantity of
visits per day. “I’d rather you see two patients and do a great job,
instead of eight who aren’t happy because they weren’t given the
proper amount of time needed to address their needs. If you’re good at
delivering quality, you end up getting quantity as well.” — by
Disclosure: Brandt is owner of Ability Prosthetics & Orthotics.