Private practice perspective: 4 Reno-Sparks medical businesses discuss impacts, trends during pandemic

RENO-SPARKS, Nev. — For nearly three months, Dr. Elizabeth Hutson was forced to do something — or rather, not do something — for the first time since she opened her private practice, My Women’s Center, in Sparks.

Hutson, an OBGYN and urogynecologist, didn’t step foot in an operating room.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing healthcare providers to shelve elective surgeries and procedures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 this spring, Hutson was one of many medical experts in the region who suddenly saw their surgical volume abruptly plummet to 0%.

“That’s a huge impact for my practice,” Hutson said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “That’s what I enjoy doing and that’s where I can make the biggest difference. So that was probably the biggest impact — and, of course, that had a financial impact, as well.”

While hospitals and health systems get much of the focus relative to COVID’s impacts on the healthcare industry, the fact is there are hundreds of private practices across the Silver State that have seen their businesses affected by the pandemic in ways big and small.

The NNBW spoke with a quartet of healthcare businesses in a variety of subsectors to get a look at how they’ve been impacted and what trends they see being brought on or accelerated by COVID-19.

Note: These interviews were edited and condensed for clarity.

My Women’s Center (Sparks)

Q: From a business perspective, how has the pandemic impacted My Women’s Center?

Dr. Elizabeth Hutson, owner: Revenue went down significantly. Just to put it in perspective, for two months, we had an eighth of our collections. Because it’s insurance-based medicine, your collections lag by about 30 to 90 days. So we did OK at the peak of it because we were collecting from the prior months. But then, once we got two to three months into it, we had no income coming in because we weren’t seeing patients, I wasn’t doing any surgeries. It was a pretty devastating affect, but it was delayed — which helped because by that time, we got the PPP loan.

Q: What major trends or changes in the industry do you see being brought on by the pandemic?

Dr. Hutson: I think a change as a result of COVID is it really makes you think about being a business owner rather than a physician. Your vulnerability in these times and the stress of ‘can I make it?’ I think it’s already a trend that physicians are signing up more with big health networks and being salaried positions or being a hospitalist or laborist or that kind of thing. I love having my own practice and doing things the way I want to do them, but I just wonder if this may push it a little bit more that direction so that there’s kind of (job) safety built in.

Dr. Daniel Welch of Northern Nevada Chiropractic said patient volume went down to by at least 75% at the height of the pandemic.

Northern Nevada Chiropractic (Reno)

Q: How has the pandemic impacted your business?

Dr. Daniel Welch, owner: March and the whole month of April, we were all very concerned to say the least. We really didn’t know what the future was going to hold. We weren’t seeing our immune compromised patients, we weren’t seeing any of our Medicare patients and elderly patients, so I would say the volume went down by at least 75%. In April, we were down almost 40% (in revenue). In September, it was about where were pre-COVID. It never really bounced back until at least July was when we started to see our normal retention again. As of October, outside of taking some precautions for health reasons, we’re pretty much almost at what businesses was in January in February (of 2020).

Q: What major trends or changes in the industry do you see being brought on by the pandemic?

Dr. Welch: I think our industry is flexible enough that we can navigate the waters — we’re not seeing people with flu-like symptoms like a primary doctor, so I have an easier go with it. The type of patient has been interesting. I was looking at our diagnosis cases, and we’re seeing a lot more ergonomic issues now, because you’re having the people that are working out of their kitchen tables instead of their nice ergonomic desks at their office. So, everyone’s posture is off and they’re stressed out at home, so you’re getting a lot of more of the repetitive motion injuries now instead of the skiing or exploring, biking and other injuries.

Alex Waller of Spine Nevada says that due to population growth in the Reno market, there’s more competition than ever for specialty medical work.

Spine Nevada (Reno-Sparks)

Q: How has the pandemic impacted your business?

Alex Waller, director of business development: When the pandemic first started, we did two months without surgery. We don’t make all of our money doing surgery, but that’s the meat and potatoes of revenue, obviously. We had patients that were like 10 out of 10 pain threshold. They’ve been waiting for months and months, and then all of a sudden, they need it, but they can’t get it because hospitals won’t let you do surgery.

Our referrals the first couple of months decreased by a little over 60%. At this point, we’re closer to about 30% reduction in referrals coming through. Money-wise, we’re not down 30% — we found other ways to make up the revenue streams for us to be efficient. Our surgeons worked extra days for months on end to try to make that up for patients that really needed to come in. Instead of surgeons working five days a week, they were doing seven days a week to get things caught up — and for revenue purposes and keeping staff employed.

Q: What major trends or changes in the industry do you see being brought on by the pandemic?

Waller: The industry is going to constantly improve. We’re going to constantly get better at healthcare. You’re always kind of looking for the next new way to be innovative. What’s a new procedure that we can do to save patient costs? So you’re always looking for that next thing, that next piece of equipment, that next surgery that cost less money.

It used to be where patients just kind of went and saw specialists they were referred by their primary care doctor and they just went with it. Things are more transparent now and patients are looking doctors up online to figure out what’s the cheapest option for them and who’s going to provide the best surgery. And that really does hold providers accountable and it makes peoples step up their game. In our growing Reno market, there’s more competition than ever for all services.

Dr. Karla Moore works with a client at NeuroFit Wellness & Physical Therapy in Reno.

NeuroFit Wellness & Physical Therapy (Reno)

Q: How has the pandemic impacted your business?

Dr. Karla Moore, owner: Revenue decreased by 25% from 2019. My situation is pretty unique that I am a sole provider and clinic owner and a U.S. Army Reservist, so mostly income was impacted by my mobilization with one of the Urban Augmentation Task Forces (UAMTFs). The clinic was closed the majority of March, all of April and May. My clients were all very understanding.

June and July was great — people were really ready to come back because I had that three months of being closed. The volume of clients was less in August and September but I think with the pandemic and unknowns with school played a big part based on conversations with my clients.

Q: What major trends or changes in the industry do you see being brought on by the pandemic?

Dr. Moore: The telehealth platform has grown rapidly because of the pandemic. Myself, I haven’t utilized it extensively, but I think as a profession it’s only getting bigger. It opens up a new marketplace for helping people globally and becoming more accepting of a treatment option. I think that’s a positive thing. I think it’s going to be a growing platform that will open up healthcare and wellness to more people that didn’t have it before.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment