How to Start A Direct Primary Care Clinic Right Out of Residency

This week, I received a question from one of my followers on YouTube! Big shout out to everyone who follows/watches - I appreciate you! 

Anyways, the question is this: do you recommend starting a Direct Primary Care practice right out of Residency Training? And yes, I do! There are several ways to go about this, but it is better to start right out of residency than to wait until you have established fee-for-service patients or established insurance-based contracts.

Probably the best way to do this is to work for the first 6 months out of residence in an infusion center, urgent care, or hospital setting. Take one of these "moonlighting" jobs, work 40 - 60 hours a week, and spend the remaining 20 hours in your work week setting up your Direct Primary Care practice.

So, how do you set up a Direct primary care practice?

First, start with why. For more on this, read Simon Sinek's book of the same name. In short, you want to create a business that reflects your "why", or why are you doing this? For me, I wanted to create a healthy resource for the community that was affordable and accessible for all people. The name "Plum Health" reflects that mission. Plums are affordable and available to the community. You can buy them at nearby Eastern Market or from your local grocery store. They are also purple, representing inclusion, and health giving. 

Then, develop a brand and a website. You want to create a sleek, modern website with an easy-to-pronounce name. "Plum Health DPC" works for me for the following reasons: Plums are healthy, kind of like "an apple a day keeps the doctor away". Plums can be drawn by making two overlapping circles, for me symbolic of the doctor-patient relationship, which has greater overlap in my practice. Also, Plum Health DPC indicates that we're a Direct Primary Care practice - it says so in our name! Finally, the domain "PlumHealthDPC.com" was available, which is a must!

Try to avoid stuff like "Salubrious Health" or some similar SAT vocabulary word. Also avoid overly long names. Keep it simple! Other alternatives that would have worked well for me would have been "Plum Primary Care" or "Plum Family Medicine". If you live in a small town or are in a distinct neighborhood, you can highlight that neighborhood or town in your name. I am in the Corktown/Southwest Detroit neighborhood currently, so something like "Corktown Primary Care" or "Corktown Family Medicine" would have been reasonable, with a domain name like "CorktownPC.com", "CorktownFM.com" or "CorktownMD.com". But, choosing the name is contingent on the availability of the domain. 

The only downfall to naming your brand after a specific location is that if you decide to expand and open a second location, your brand will be incongruous with that second location. For me, I know that I wanted to be in Detroit to start and the goal is to expand regionally, so choosing a name that was not location-specific was important to me.

Your website is super important because it becomes a beta test for your market. If you are getting good traffic, engagement and responses from the community, these are positive signs. If not, it's not the end of the world, you may just have to be more proactive with your marketing efforts. 

Beyond Naming, branding, and websites

Beyond naming and branding, form an LLC, PLLC, or S-Corp. Consult with a lawyer on which is best for you. Perhaps hire that lawyer or set up a retainer agreement so that you can consult that lawyer as your business grows. Then, set up a business bank account. Link that business bank account to software like QuickBooks so that your expenses are tracked.

Everything that you spend on the practice stays within the practice, meaning that you should treat your business as a separate entity from your personal finances. You may infuse your business with your own capital and that's why working 40 - 60 hours/week makes sense for 6 months. This way you can make enough money to fund your DPC start-up.

Alternatively, you can get a business or medical practice loan from a bank like Wells Fargo or Bank of America. Next, you need to have someone review your expenditures, so hiring an accountant or having a retainer agreement with an accountant is a must. 

Choosing an Electronic medical record

Then, you should choose an Electronic Medical Record (EMR). Personally, I use ATLAS MD EMR because the platform is made by DPC doctors for DPC doctors. Also, ATLAS has a billing platform integrated into the EMR, which makes your life and your practice easier to manage. You can link your ATLAS MD account to your website and have people sign up directly on your site - these are called pre-enrollments. You can do this on a trial basis with ATLAS, and once you hit your start date, all those "pre-enrollments" will become paying customers when you hit "start" on the EMR side. At that point, your customers will start paying you for services and you will start paying ATLAS for the platform.

Other contracts

During this time, you should also be setting up contracts with your service providers. Internet, copy/fax machine, lab services, medication wholesaler, medical supplier, medical waste, shredding, general waste, etc... You should also be looking around for real estate options. A good way to test your model is to sublease from an existing doctor's office. Maybe you can find a general surgeon and you could sublease a few unused exam rooms - one to see patients and one to store meds, supplies, etc... If you are successful in that sublease location, you can look at expanding your business and setting up your own lease. 

Benefits to subleasing are numerous. You won't have to set up your own internet provider, copy machine, medical waste, shredding, and general waste contracts - they will likely be included in your lease agreement depending on what you negotiate for. 

Final thoughts

Setting up a Direct Primary Care practice is not easy, but it can be done successfully if you take measured risks as you grow. The website is your first test. For me, I started making house calls as a second test. As a third test, I subleased a one-room office from a local school. The next test for me will be to lease out my own office/building, and I'm just about at that point! 

Also in this vlog, I touch on Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs and the effect it may have on primary care doctors choosing Direct Primary Care practices. More on NPR's website.

Thanks for reading and watching, and have a wonderful day!

- Dr. Paul with Plum Health DPC