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EP56 - Making an Impact with High Value, Low Cost Physical Therapy with Tim Spooner, PT

Trisha’s guest this week is Tim Spooner, physical therapist and president/CEO of Spooner Physical Therapy and Proactive MSD. He started Spooner Physical Therapy over 30 years ago, and it has now grown to 22 locations to serve the needs of his patients.  Along the way, where he has had to purchase or develop buildings, he has become a physician owner of real estate as a result. Tim has invested in his own sites and he is also a partner in multi-tenant medical buildings.

In this episode, we talk about…

[2:51] How Tim started Proactive MSD

Physical therapists help people with musculoskeletal dysfunction, which is very prevalent in our society. Tim would get frustrated when someone would come in to work with him due to acute low back pain, and it would be months after the initial injury. He started Proactive MSD to combat the wasteful overspending that happens and bring a solution to employers to help them control their healthcare costs.

You can see a physical therapist directly for your musculoskeletal pain, and that is something Tim wants to promote.  If patients have to navigate the medical system, they will be treated medically.  Musculoskeletal issues, however, are biomechanical in origin, and physical therapists are the medical experts in that area.  They know what to look for, and they are a high-value, low-cost alternative in the medical field.  You can get treated and resolve your symptoms for less than the cost of an MRI – not to mention the medication, office visits, and time that go into trying to resolve your musculoskeletal dysfunction through the medical system.

Proactive MSD allows Tim to bring a complete solution to employers to help them control their costs.  It is fun for him, and it is also fun for the employers because they get to deliver an improved benefit to their employees that they didn’t know existed, and it lowers their healthcare costs.  So everybody in the situation wins.  

[6:18] Why Tim was drawn to physical therapy

Tim was an athlete all through high school and college.  He knew he wanted to do something in medicine, and as a physical therapist he can educate and help people while also being active. He truly enjoys taking care of a community and helping them to feel better.

[7:08] Tim’s decision to go into private practice

Early in his career, he knew he wanted to develop an environment where he could deliver the service that he wanted, without other people’s input.  When he opened his own practice, he attracted other professionals that believed in caring for patients like he did.  He also attracted a lot of patients, and as a result, the practice has continued to grow.  Many medical professionals probably feel this way, but they may be stuck or hampered by the system that they are in.

Tim believes that above all, healthcare is local.  Efforts, wages, and treatments should be regional and poured back into the community.  This can be done through interventions, schools, and other activities that we do as professionals.

[8:35] The first site of Spooner Physical Therapy

Thirty years ago, Tim opened the first location of Spooner Physical Therapy. At that time, it was one of the only buildings in its region.  As he recalls, the freeway wasn’t even running through the area yet.  He has seen incredible growth for his practice over the years.

[9:04] The growth and expansion of Spooner Physical Therapy

Originally, Tim did not dream of building a big company.  He attracted another physical therapist as his practice grew, and they began to notice that several patients were traveling over 20 minutes to see them. As Tim developed his people, they grew into leaders and defined opportunities.  It was their goal to provide a community-based service that added value and allowed people to lead healthy, active lives.  In order to achieve this goal, they had to have locations that were convenient for their patients.

[10:21] Investing in real estate for private practice and partnering with other physician owners

While Tim did not set out to be a real estate investor, he did so out of necessity and out of the goal to provide that community-based service.  For his first project, he partnered with several dentists and rheumatologists to build a facility that encompassed their practices and had space to provide excellent care to the community.

Tim noted that some people may expect real estate investments to yield tens of thousands of dollars a month, and that is not typically true.  What you can do, however, is put a portion of your payment toward equity or toward principal.  You also have to balance that with the cash flow of the company. 

[12:36] The importance of surrounding yourself with a great team as a physician owner

It is important to surround yourself with a great team of experts, because at the end of the day, Tim wanted to go back into the clinic and see patients. That is what he wants to do all day. He needs, therefore, to have people in his corner that can handle the lending process and the building construction process in order to control the costs.

If you’re going to expand, you also need to understand your business process and business philosophy.  Consider whether the reason that you want to own property is to have multiple sites and build a real estate portfolio.  There are businesses that do that, and it is important to study them. For Tim, his primary goal was to open practices in different locations so that he could take care of the community. Sometimes he built a building and other times he leased, depending on his goals and the advice of trusted experts.

[15:48] Tim’s first job in the Youth Conservation Corps

Tim’s first job was in the Youth Conservation Corps, which was an offshoot of the Civilian Conservation Corps. With the Youth Conservation Corps, he helped build jungle gyms. He always had to make his own money growing up, so he did things like mowing lawns as well. 

[16:22] If he was not a physical therapist, Tim would be a teacher

Tim enjoys teaching and helping people grow. He has also learned so much from his patients over the years, and having successful people help him has been inspiring. He feels obligated and empowered to help others improve their lives.

[17:08] What Tim is reading for information and inspiration

Over the past year, Tim has turned off most of his social media. He gets on LinkedIn occasionally, and gets news from limited resources.  Recently, Tim has been reading and enjoying Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. 

As far as self-care, Tim focuses on movement. This could be getting his mind moving and being creative or physically moving his body.  He enjoys playing golf, and he tries to nourish his mind, body, and spirit on a daily basis.

[19:07] The desire to heal combined with training needed to fulfill that passion

Tim believes you have an innate passion and ability to be a healer, enhanced through your training.  He says that your skill set as a provider should take you deep into your passion.  If someone is really passionate about what they are doing, they’re going to be really good.  That is the essence of a clinician you would want to care for your own loved ones.

[21:13] Training for leadership

When asked about leadership, Tim shared that he believes leaders are trained.  A person without encouragement and education will not recognize their innate abilities. You don’t have to be the loudest person in the room to be a leader.  You can use your gifts to become an effective leader in different ways. 

[25:34] Advice for physicians looking to invest in or grow their first private practice office

Tim advises his colleagues to find a team; don’t do it alone.  There is a lot of information out there, so it is also important to make sure you understand real estate so you can make solid decisions. 

Links to resources:

Spooner Physical Therapy:

Proactive MSD:

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