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Community Story: Alicja Kniffen of Hands On Health

July 14, 2023

How a solo practitioner grew her practice to a thriving multidisciplinary city staple.

Meet Alicja Kniffen, registered massage therapist and entrepreneur from Port Colborne, Ontario and founder of Hands on Health. Established in 2008, Alicja and her team’s mission is to provide a therapeutic space for patients of all ages to experience relaxation, and to restore their health and well-being through massage therapy care.

Why did you become a massage therapist?

Initially, my background was in athletics and dance education. I chose massage therapy and helping people as a career having been inspired by my mother who was a registered nurse. I always had an interest in the health field so when I decided I wanted to expand on my career path in this direction, it felt like a natural progression for me.

Tell us about your journey to opening your own practice.

I started as a solo practitioner, renting a small office space in a local salon. An opportunity quickly presented to move from there and work in a chiropractor’s office with a multidisciplinary team. Learning through these experiences, I realized the need to promote the practice of massage therapy as an integral part of wellness and rehabilitation in the health field. That’s when I started to explore rental opportunities and began establishing the brand for Hands on Health.

This was the first massage therapy group practice within our community. It took a few years, sweat and tears but I decided to take the leap. Eventually, I found a great spot along the canal in downtown Port Colborne. As my team has grown, we moved further up West Street into a historical building right in the heart of the business district.

What were the reasons you decided to start a practice and began to hire staff?

I was aware of the physical demands of the profession and the importance of self-care. The average career span of an RMT is around five to ten years due to the physical strain it takes on our bodies, so I was determined to pace myself and ensure my well-being. Part of that was knowing that I couldn’t do it alone.

That led me to think about what I wanted for my future. I knew I wanted to expand my practice for the longevity of my career, but I also wanted to cultivate opportunities for other healthcare practitioners. My ultimate goal now is to create turnkey opportunities for practitioners to come and work in a beautiful space, with an established reputation, and a busy treatment schedule. Now, more than ever, the legwork and funding required to start a business are so prohibitive, so I’m grateful I can offer a space in a thriving practice to RMT’s in our healthcare community.

What advice would you give new massage graduates when deciding between opening their own business or joining an established clinic?

Everyone has their own ideas of what their career will be. Initially, I thought I wanted to work from home, but later realized I wanted to keep my professional and family life separate.

You don’t know what you want until you’ve decided what you don’t want. As a student therapist, I was told to go for as many massage treatments as I could and have that patient experience while familiarizing myself with as many practice facilities as possible. To gain exposure to a variety of operating methods and opportunities.

It’s important to have the right vibe and to feel comfortable with how and where you practice. This will translate into your patient care. Do you prefer the simplicity of leaving the clinic at the end of the last session and having the support of colleagues? Then maybe working at a clinic is the right fit for you. Does the idea of working alone sound more appealing to you? Then that work-from-home practice or room rental might be the path you take. You have to go through the whole process and be mindful of the variables to decide on the path you want to take.

A big part of the massage therapy experience is the relaxing atmosphere. What have you done to create that feeling at Hands on Health?

I definitely wanted to create a balanced atmosphere that feels warm and comfortable, like being at home yet following regulatory guidelines. What I found was the most challenging about achieving this feeling was balancing the clinical side of the experience. People prefer to relax immediately when they arrive for their appointments, they don’t want to spend session time completing paperwork or doing the wallet dance.

Jane allows us to maximize appointment time for treatment and helps us create that welcoming feeling in our practice.

With Jane’s help, we were able to streamline all of the administrative tasks like intake and consent forms, payments and insurance claims and make sure that the time patients spend with us is solely about their care and is relaxing from the start. All the paperwork and administrative services are taken care of before patient arrival, which really allows patients to simply focus on their physical care immediately.

📣 Jane Team Shoutout: Jane’s Intake Forms allow you to automatically send patients forms, and consents prior to their appointments, as well as their collect billing and insurance information. Automatic Intake Form reminders helps to ensure session time is spent helping your clients and not completing forms. Learn more about how Jane’s Intake Forms work here.

What are some of the difficulties you’ve experienced as a clinic owner?

As I mentioned, an RMT’s career span can be shorter than most, so high turnover rates are something most clinic owners in my discipline will identify with. We’ve been open now for 15 years and we’ve seen many therapists move in and out of the profession. When a lot of clinics had to close in 2020 we really saw a lot of therapists across the health and wellness industry sitting down and thinking about their motivations and whether they wanted to continue to practice.

Understandably, some therapists want to focus on maximizing earnings within the limited time their careers afford them. As a business owner, it can be challenging to find therapists whose goals align with the clinic’s values and long-term goals. We want to help our therapists thrive in their profession while also ensuring the success of a healthcare clinic where patient care, modern conveniences and affordable treatment fees align. As a business owner, that can be hard to navigate sometimes.

As a new practitioner, why is understanding the different roles in a practice crucial for success?

Whether you’re a patient, therapist, administrator, or owner, each role contributes to the bigger picture. Which is to help our patients achieve their goals.

For someone joining a group practice, gaining insight and an understanding of each role is so important. Each person contributes to the overall success of each team member. Conflicts can arise when boundaries are crossed or roles aren’t fully appreciated.

The role of an owner often goes unrecognized, despite their efforts in building a strong foundation and taking financial risks for the benefit of the practice and the staff. It’s important for aspiring therapists to approach working in a group practice with an open perspective, and respect for the value of each position, regardless of the practice type they choose.

What strategies have you used to market your business?

Word-of-mouth referrals from patients and community medical professionals has been an excellent source of growth and of course, always prioritizing convenience for our patients. After 15 years of establishing positive results for patients within a small community, this has greatly contributed to our success. We really have a great team of therapists working here. When we hire therapists for the clinic we focus on finding the right fit and mindset. That means spending time to get get to know our candidates and going through a thorough three-stage interview process.

We’ve also embraced the digital side of running a clinic. With Jane, we’ve been able to offer online scheduling, as well as direct billing to our patient’s insurance through Jane’s Telus integration.

How does your hiring processes help with ensuring the right fit with potential candidates?

I coordinate the therapist hiring process through email communication and phone chats. During our initial chat, I inquire about their background and what they are seeking. If we’re both interested in moving forward, I schedule a time for them to visit the clinic. I give them a tour to familiarize them with our operations and determine if it aligns with their expectations. I want them to recognize the supportive atmosphere and feel inspired to work on our team. If we are the right fit for them, then we move on to reviewing and negotiating their contract together. Currently, there is a high demand for RMTs, so prioritizing quality and compatibility with the team and our patients is always one of my main goals.

You moved to Jane 4 years ago, how was that experience?

I had previously been with two other EMRs and had a challenging time transitioning from one to the other only to find out that neither were as versatile as I had hoped. When we switched to Jane, the transition was seamless. Jane improved our clinic operations significantly.

Jane’s resources and customer service are exceptional, it allowed us to get that immediate support while we were setting up and has now streamlined every aspect of our practice.

What is one of your favourite Jane features?

Storing credit cards and implementing electronic payments with Jane Payments has helped us reduce our no-shows and enhanced commitment from our patients.

Jane’s payment system and policy enforcement have added a higher level of professionalism to our clinic. Not to mention the convenience to process cards on file for payments when in-clinic or working remotely which simplifies administrative duties, which are managed for my clinical staff.

We’ve also enabled Jane’s customized reminders which help to ensure our patients arrive on time for their appointments, or if they can’t attend, they are reaching out to give our therapists ample notice that they will not be able to attend their session.

Before we say goodbye, what advice would you like to share with other business owners and practitioners?

Self-care is crucial, but it can be challenging to prioritize it in the healthcare field. As caregivers and nurturers, we often find it difficult to say no. However, it’s important to remember that we can’t pour from an empty cup. We should practice what we preach and encourage a balanced wellness lifestyle for ourselves.

Remember to set healthy boundaries and maintain a professional relationship. Patients often confide in us and may be vulnerable during their sessions. While we listen and carefully accept this information, our therapeutic role must be acknowledged in this process. We shouldn’t ever feel compelled to share our own personal information, blurring the lines of professionalism. Therapists must always maintain a patient-centred treatment focus and striking the right balance is essential for successful patient care and for our own mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Our job is not only physically demanding but also carries significant emotional weight, as the need for compassionate care for the effects of mental health continues to grow in our society. Therefore, it is equally important to be aware of our own needs on all of these levels, to best serve and facilitate good health.


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