Would major league baseball player Mark McGwire have been remarkable if he hadn’t invested in his own success? Would we have known the genius of Pamela Anderson’s acting if she hadn’t put down good money—more than once—for what obviously was a very expensive dye job? You have to spend money to make money. Even actors and athletes get that. So what does it take to spur a little growth for physical medicine?

Nothing creates growth like research that leads to breakthrough treatment. Some of the biggest growth in medicine has rippled out from breakthroughs such as a polio vaccine, insulin treatment for diabetes, and a stem cell injection that heals spinal cord injuries (SCI). Oh, but wait, we’ve only got two out of three on that list. So what’s it going to take to move that third item closer to reality? If you answer “throw money at it!” you’re only half right. The other half is to find enough money to throw.

A landmark research breakthrough in physical medicine is overdue, but creating one requires lots of money. To get lots of money, the project will need a choir of voices unafraid to make a case, unafraid to ask for the dough, and unwilling to take “no” for an answer. This is the sort of effort that was thrown behind the development of medications to treat HIV. After 30 years of research, the prospects for HIV patients have largely shifted from that of impending doom to what the aids.gov Web site calls a manageable, chronic disease. Meanwhile advances in treatment for multiple sclerosis and SCI remain on the slow track.

For those who might say treatment approaches for HIV and SCI cannot be compared—that one is a systemic condition and the other the result of trauma—I respond with only this: your science is right, but your mindset is wrong.

When HIV research began, the disease seemed impervious. Advances to contain the disease occurred largely due to the unwavering stance of proponents of HIV research, who demanded a cure. HIV researchers are not smarter, taller or better looking than the scientists who work on SCI and MS research. The significant difference between the two groups is that HIV researchers are considerably better funded. How much better? Federal funding for HIV research stands at nearly $3 billion, while the combined total the government provides to SCI and MS is closer to $200 million.1 While the incidence of HIV in the United States is about double the combined incidence of SCI and MS, the amount of funding the federal government makes available to HIV research is more than six times the funding earmarked for SCI and MS. I do not begrudge HIV research, but rather look upon the treatments it has spawned with respect for what focus and investment can accomplish. From a dead stop they created something from nothing.

Gen George S. Patton said, “Make a decision, and do it like hell.” For any business seeking growth, this seems like good advice. Most private practices are too small to fund and carry out landmark research, but they can create their own avenues for growth. Reports of clinics that have rolled out new services or expanded with a new location appear routinely in our Rehab Today e-newsletter. Check the Rehab Today archive to learn more about these bold moves. While you’re reading, keep in mind that this Buyer’s Guide is easily accessible so that you can quickly refer back to products that are helping push some of those growth measures. Planning for growth is tough, and you may think you can’t grow your practice because you can’t risk the allocation of funds in a daunting financial climate. To this perception, I say only this: your accounting may be right, but your mindset is wrong.

—Frank Long

  1. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT). report.nih.gov/categorical_spending.aspx. Accessed April 18, 2012.