Franchising the Hearing Healthcare Industry
By Michele Fusco
The franchise model has allowed many small business owners to succeed, some beyond their wildest dreams. Franchising is not particularly new to healthcare, but it deserves a closer look as this industry forges forward. Perhaps it is time for the healthcare industry to take cues from a company deemed the antithesis of health: McDonald’s.
McDonald’s inspires images of french fries, Big Macs, and golden arches. Their theme is consistency. Most people know what is on the menu, the quantity and quality of the food, the wait time, how much the meal will cost, and the closest locations.
McDonald’s is not ideal as part of a daily diet, but it is the ultimate example of a franchise business model. The employees focus on service, not marketing or business, and franchise owners benefit from corporate support and brand visibility. Their model is consistent from top to bottom, and the healthcare industry can learn from this.
Today’s doctors are split between working in private practices or for large organizations such as Sutter Health or Kaiser Permanente. Doctors who work for large organizations can focus on their patients, but they are limited by structure when taking control of their careers. Private practices provide autonomy, but they go hand-in-hand with an overwhelming amount of responsibilities to keep them running.
The McDonald’s model is a happy medium because it has a structured franchise, assets, and corporate support for private practices. Ask any doctor about his education and background, and you are bound to hear about research and medical fields but nothing about business strategy, branding, or operations. The reason for that is simple: Doctors focus on their own specialties, not running a business.
The franchise model for healthcare will fill in gaps in many areas.
• Branding: Reputation goes a long way in the medical industry. How many times have you asked a friend or family member for a doctor recommendation? Having an established brand provides immediate recognition for franchise owners. The public may not know who a certain doctor is or what he does, but a nationally established brand instantly communicates who you are, what you do, and what you represent.
• Marketing: Marketing opportunities work hand-in-hand with franchise branding. The entry point for new customers is instant because of the brand’s reputation; beyond that, franchises benefit from corporate-wide marketing strategies and materials. Franchises are always welcome to initiate local marketing, but they will always be supported on a corporate level.
• Operations: From IT systems to appointments, the franchise model ensures the most up-to-date and consistent operational support to keep a business running smoothly. A corporate office should be prepared to answer questions, fix problems, and handle other support issues because the home office wants to keep things humming along. Systems are crucial in medical billing. Changing healthcare practices can be a costly undertaking, but the expense and headache can be alleviated when working with a trusted partner.
What are you left with if you take branding, marketing, and operations out of the equation? For a fast-food franchise like McDonald’s, it comes down to employees trying to fill orders as quickly as possible. In the healthcare sector, it allows doctors, nurses, and other staff to do what they do best — treat patients on a personal level while feeling confident in the safety net of corporate-level support. Franchising is the middle ground that can potentially revolutionize healthcare, and we’re on the cusp of it. Don’t worry; we won’t ask if you’d like fries with that.
Ms. Fusco is a senior vice president of medical business operations at Amplifon.