Entrepreneurship, though currently a buzzword, holds a distinctive relevance in the post-COVID era, as professionals across various sectors look for new solutions to old problems. Allied health professionals—now more than ever—have an imperative to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset driven by evolving professional landscapes, workforce demands, and the inefficiencies of traditional service models.
What is Entrepreneurship in Allied Health?
An allied health entrepreneur is characterised by their ability to:
- Recognise underlying issues and craft innovative resolutions.
- Devise new products or strategies to mitigate these challenges.
- Explore untapped markets or demographics for established solutions.
The imperative shift toward entrepreneurial thinking
On the one hand, the allied health professions are nimble and responsive to changing population health needs, with several new allied health professions having emerged in the past few decades, and the allied health professions responding quickly to crises such as COVID-19. Despite this, allied health profession training and service delivery is still overshadowed by medical hegemony, unidisciplinary hospital-based training, and one-to-one models of health care delivery. These traditional approaches to education and service delivery are increasingly misaligned with industry and economic realities.
The fallacy of hospital-centric training
Historically, allied health education has gravitated towards hospital-based learning, promoting a somewhat myopic view of professional opportunities. Yet, the burgeoning growth of platforms like the NDIS and revised aged care funding paradigms are rightfully pivoting healthcare services to primary and community care sectors. Our recent workforce surveys suggest that the proportion of allied health professionals who will ever work in a hospital is declining rapidly as new models of care and funding (such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Australia) create incentives for allied health professionals to work with clients in the community.
The business acumen gap
The current healthcare ecosystem often operates on a fee-for-service basis, particularly within primary and community health care. Whether in private practice, small businesses, or larger conglomerates, allied health practitioners navigate extremely complex funding structures with scant preparatory training from their academic backgrounds. This deficiency underscores the need for robust business education, preparing practitioners not only to thrive within these financial frameworks but also to innovate for sustainability and growth.
Escalating operational costs
Compounding the urgency for entrepreneurship are the disproportionate rises in the expenses involved in running small healthcare businesses which are not reflected by a similar increase in revenue. This financial imbalance necessitates a more innovative approach to maintain a viable practice.
The lack of scalability of conventional service delivery models
Traditional one-on-one service models, predominant in allied health, suffer from inherent limitations in scalability. Entrepreneurial endeavours help restructure these frameworks, advocating for versatile, scalable solutions adaptable to the fluctuating demands of the healthcare landscape.
Workforce shortages and new models of care
Compounding the escalating costs of running a practice are the significant workforce shortages across most allied health professions. This not only increases the costs of service delivery (due to increased employment costs of a scarce workforce), but increases the imperative to use skilled staff to the top of their level of skill, while delegating less technical tasks to other workers.
The allied health sector faces a glaring lack of comprehensive workforce planning data, a shortcoming made manifest amidst widespread personnel shortages. An entrepreneurial approach compensates for this scarcity by promoting optimised service delivery. Examples include online group sessions, self-management modules, and proactive health promotion services, all of which extend the reach of healthcare professionals.
To address workforce constraints and expand access, allied health professionals must endorse an appropriate division of labor. This strategy involves delegating tasks to different team members based on their qualifications, thereby maximising efficiency, scalability, and the unique skill sets of each practitioner.
Lack of allied health career pathways
One of the most common complaints of allied health professionals—across all professions—is the lack of career pathways. Professionals working in large organisations quickly reach a career ‘ceiling’ unless they want to pursue a career in healthcare management. Those working in traditional private sector, fee-for-service models also require some imagination and insight to create a varied workload. Yet as we illustrate in this article, there are myriad opportunities for allied health professionals to innovate, using their existing skill set—to reach new markets in different ways.
The allied health professions are, by nature, entrepreneurial. The evolution of new professions to respond to shifting population needs and/or new technologies is something that the allied health professions excel at. Examples of relatively new allied health professions that have developed to meet new markets include developmental educators, pedorthists, perfusionists, and exercise physiologists, to list just a few. However as allied health professionals, we have a tendency to wait for ‘permission’ to step outside our comfort zone and do things in new and interesting ways.
Entrepreneurship in allied health is an uncharted but necessary expedition, demanding a shift from conventional pathways and an embrace of innovation, adaptability, and foresight. The sector’s resilience and future relevance depend on its ability to reinvent its models, strategies, and mindsets in alignment with contemporary entrepreneurial principles. Through this transformation, allied health professionals can ensure sustainable, expansive, and efficient healthcare delivery for diverse populations.
Change is in the air for healthcare, and allied health professionals are right at the heart of it. It’s not just about doing business differently—it’s about thinking and acting in ways that truly make a difference. We’ve got the tools, the knowledge, and the passion. So, why wait for a green light to innovate? Let’s step outside what we know, challenge the usual way of doing things, and shape a brighter future for allied health. There’s no time like the present to mix things up and lead the way. Let’s get to it!
Read our series of articles on entrepreneurship in allied health. | We’ve recently launched the Empowering Allied Health Entrepreneurs Learning Community & Pre-Accelerator Program, designed to bridge the gap between clinical expertise and business acumen, helping you create a profitable service delivery model that empowers you to do more of the work you enjoy. If you wish to be part of our next cohort, please view our Expression of Interest form.