You'll need to find out if there is enough demand in your area for your osteopathic clinic. According to the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) there is anecdotal evidence that suggests that some areas of the UK are oversupplied with osteopaths, whereas numbers in others are very low. You can use the searchable register on the GOsC website to find out how many osteopaths are currently practising in your area - all osteopaths must be registered with the GOsC, so the register gives an accurate picture of the number of practitioners.
At 1 September 2018 the register listed 5357 registered osteopaths, with:
- 4584 in England
- 156 in Scotland
- 141 in Wales
- 25 in Northern Ireland
The remaining 451 were outside the UK.
The total number of registered osteopaths divides almost equally between male and female practitioners, and between them they see about 30,000 patients a day, an average of around six each a day.
A certain proportion of your patients will be referred to you by GP practices, so you may find it useful to talk to GPs in your area as they may be able to give you an idea of the number of patients they currently refer for osteopathic treatment. (Although at the moment it's rare for patients to have their osteopathic treatment funded by the NHS, many GPs are aware of the benefits of osteopathy and will refer patients, even though the patient will have to pay for the treatment themselves or through their private medical insurance.)
However, the main source of patients is those that self-refer - that is they do not go through a GP or specialist. Unless you have already worked in an osteopathic clinic in the area that your own clinic will be situated, you may find it difficult to assess the level of demand from this type of patient. It is possible that osteopaths with established clinics in your area will be prepared to give you some guidance with this and the statistics provided on the GOsC website may also be useful.
Try to assess the level of competition in your area. Your competitors will include:
- other osteopathic clinics
- other private practitioners - such as physiotherapists, chiropractors, masseurs and so on - who treat the same complaints as you do
- private hospitals
- GP practices with in-house physiotherapists or osteopaths
- a clinic attached to an authorised osteopathic training school. All of the eleven training schools (ten in England, one in Wales) have clinics where students train and that offer osteopathic treatment at a reduced rate
If you intend to specialise, for example by only treating sportspeople, you are likely to find that the number of direct competitors will be reduced, although the size of your potential client base is also likely to be smaller.
Patients tend to fall into the following categories:
- those that are covered by health insurance companies - private health insurance accounts for around 10% of payments for osteopathic treatment. The majority of these patients will be referred to you by a GP as this is often a requirement of insurance companies
- those that are referred by a GP and who will pay for the treatment themselves
- those that self-refer. These patients may be covered by insurance (some companies do not require a GP referral) or may be paying out of their own pockets
- those that are referred to you by a GP and are paid for by the NHS
You're likely to find that the vast majority of your patients (over 80%) are self-funded.
Why will patients choose you
You need to make sure that enough clients come to your practice so it's important to develop an effective advertising strategy to bring your clinic to the attention of patients that self-refer without first visiting a health professional (likely to be the majority of your patient base). It's also a good idea to build relationships with those health professionals and organisations who will refer patients to you or can give patients information about your clinic so they can self-refer. These will include:
- local GPs, consultants and rehabilitation departments in local hospitals (both NHS and private)
- large corporations. These are becoming increasingly aware that musculo-skeletal problems are very common and cost a great deal to industry in terms of days lost. Businesses located in your area may decide to offer their employees free osteopathic treatment to try to minimise the days lost through these types of complaints. Alternatively, businesses may engage an osteopath or similar professional to teach their employees how to prevent problems - by improving their posture for example
- nursing homes and retirement homes
- sports clubs
- leisure centres
As some of your patients will be referred by a GP, it makes sense to build relationships with the GP practices in your area. You could contact them in person and give them a brochure detailing exactly what you can offer and what prices you charge. The NHS Choices website includes details of osteopathy clinics registered to provide NHS services to patients in England and this is used by GPs and patients when deciding which provider to use.
Use the Record sheets to note down the results of your market research.