Thursday, February 15, 2018

Making a Difference: A physical therapist assistant becomes a healthcare entrepreneur

Part II
Guest blogger: Mary Morgan Saalman

Mary Morgan Saalman
I returned from my first John F. Barnes’ Myofascial Release® seminar—taught by John Barnes himself—and began using the techniques I had learned right away. It was beyond amazing, and my life shifted forever, as my understanding of the body, all bodies—even those of our animal friends—was finally clearer. The first person I treated using MFR was a man who had been with our clinic for months. He suffered terrible neck pain from a vehicle accident. We were ready to plan his discharge because he had “plateaued,” which means he had improved about 25% but had shown no progress beyond that for two weeks. Therefore, insurance dictated that he be discharged from therapy. However, he still experienced terrible pain and could not turn his head very far, which was a problem for him considering he was a truck driver. 

I asked him if I could use MFR to treat him during his last visit. He agreed. I worked on him for only thirty-five minutes. I discovered the problem was not in his neck, but rather, due to restrictions in his pelvis and lower back that were pulling on his fascial “web” all the way up to his neck. He was amazed when we finished. His pain went from an 8/10 to a 2/10, and he had full cervical range of motion. He was stunned. So was I. He was incredibly thankful but couldn’t help but feel discouraged by the fact that he had spent over $1,500 on his therapy over eight weeks during which he had to meet his deductible. Now, here I had helped him significantly in just one visit. This was the day I knew I had to find a way to open my own clinic so that I could practice the work I knew would help people, especially those who could not afford insurance or traditional medical care, but how would I accomplish that?

I was a physical therapist assistant so was required to practice with a physical therapist under my current license. After an entire year of using MFR to treat my patients and watching people improve and get their lives back more fully and quicker than traditional therapy, I knew I had to make a change. So, I bit the bullet and went to school to receive my massage therapy license. I had no desire to practice massage, which is not what I do. However, I needed the license in order to open my own clinic to practice what I know to be a much needed and affordable healing modality.

I am strictly cash based. I do not accept insurance. I refuse to be a prisoner to insurance companies ever again. I know what my clients need to heal. Insurance companies do not. You might think that people would find it difficult to pay for medical services out of pocket, that it would be unaffordable. However, this is not true. I currently charge $70 per hour. That may seem like a lot of money, right? Well, it is to many of us. However, here is the difference. People do not have to see their physician to get a referral to visit me, unlike other forms of physical, occupational, or speech therapy. Furthermore, since MFR is a full body and mind treatment, my clients improve with fewer treatments than with traditional therapies, which saves them a lot of money over the long run that they would have otherwise had to pay toward their deductibles. Their outcomes are better with MFR than they had been with traditional therapies.

Many of my clients have told me that they were so excited to tell their doctors about me and myofascial release, how it has changed their lives, and helped them to understand that their body is a complete unit, not merely “areas of pain.” They tell me that their doctors “don’t buy it.” This is frustrating for me. Still, some physicians have asked their client to bring them more information on MFR and my clinic because they are shocked at the incredible improvements their patient has made [with me] since their last visit. It’s changing one mind at a time, right?

My dream came true last August. After much hard work and faith, I opened my clinic, Advanced Healing Myofascial Release & Wellness, in Angola, Indiana. I cannot express how wonderful it feels to be able to help people heal and learn more about their bodies. I also teach my clients how to treat themselves at home. My goal is to decrease the number of times they visit my office by hastening the healing process so that they are not returning to me forever and spending their precious dollars. Many talk to me about how much money I have saved them, keeping them out of the revolving-healthcare door by helping them to heal their bodies, teaching them how to keep their bodies healthy, and more importantly, feeling much better.

I do not turn anyone away. I do my best to work out a payment plan for anyone who needs help. A traditional therapy clinic will rarely do that. If you do not have insurance or the money up front, they will not treat you. I consider that barbaric. Many of my clients have very little, but they do have enough to see me for a few visits to feel better and learn how to maintain the improvements made during treatment, saving them money in the long run. 

Many of my clients come to me because their physicians are pushing them to have surgery for, pick your problem: carpal tunnel, frozen shoulder, back/neck pain, hip pain, etc. These patients are looking for an alternative to surgery to help them feel better and function without the pain and/or the cost of going under the knife. I get results. 75% of my clients no longer need surgery after working with me.

Think about this on a larger scale. Any surgery is expensive. Now, think about the possibility that people receive alternative treatments, such as MFR, to address their health problems and the possibility that even 50% of these people no longer need surgery. Think about the cost savings to insurance companies, which in an alternative universe, would be put back in to the system to help lower insurance premiums and other healthcare costs. Think about the savings to people who no longer need surgery, considering that the average insurance deductible today is $3,000 with a 20% copay on charges above the deductible. Furthermore, most surgeries cost tens of thousands of dollars, depending on what needs to be done and if it is done on an inpatient or outpatient basis. My clients averaged paying $400 for my services. That seems like a deal to me.

The cash-based trend is growing in our country. Many therapists are slowly switching over to cash-based businesses, refusing insurance. It might seem that this would cost the client more, but it does not. There are also physicians who are experimenting with cash-based business models solely so that they can provide medical services to those who cannot afford insurance or to see a “traditional physician.” Those who have done so state that they now have time to care for their patients’ needs instead of tackling mounds of paperwork for insurance companies. Nor are they spending their time developing care plans based on insurance company requirements. They spend more time with their patients, better understanding their needs as opposed to adhering to the “conveyor belt” business model they were taught in medical school.

There are many ways to make healthcare more accessible for every person who needs it. Making healthcare affordable for every single American should be a priority. Most healthcare professionals sincerely care about their patients and want to help them heal. It is simply wrong to turn sick and hurt people away. The medical care professionals who are turning toward cash-based practices are at the forefront of a new business model that will make healthcare more accessible and affordable to all people. I am proud to be a part of that trend. 

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog post belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of A Better Tomorrow Media.