6 July 2016

Physiotherapist Nick Heywood-Smith and his marketing consultant wife Nikki’s Wellness and Lifestyles Australia (W&L) has grown into one of Australia’s largest one-stop shops for allied health services, employing 220 clinicians and has contracts to deliver physiotherapy, speech pathology, occupational therapy, podiatry, dietetics and professional development training to 350 aged care facilities nationally.

In 2003, physiotherapist Nick Heywood-Smith and his marketing consultant wife Nikki spotted a gap in the market for a provider of high-quality physiotherapy services to the aged care sector.

Thirteen years on, Wellness and Lifestyles Australia (W&L), the venture that began in the spare bedroom of the pair’s rented unit in Adelaide, has grown into one of the country’s largest one-stop shops for allied health services.

W&L employs 220 clinicians and has contracts to deliver physiotherapy, speech pathology, occupational therapy, podiatry, dietetics and professional development training to 350 aged care facilities nationwide.

Since 2011, a 21-strong team in The Philippines has provided the company with accounting services, graphic design, web development, search engine optimisation, database maintenance and recruitment support.

Centralising aged care

Historically, the provision of allied health services to the aged care sector was fragmented, according to Heywood-Smith.

“When we entered the market, most of the clients we were picking up were using a private physio from down the road who’d typically say, ‘I can give you a few hours a week’ or ‘I can come on an as needs basis’. They might come late on a Friday afternoon or whenever there was a gap in their schedule.

“It was the same with other services like speech and podiatry … they’d just call the local podiatry clinic if there was one. Often the clinician didn’t understand how care plans had to be documented or what paperwork was needed to meet the funding requirements of the Department of Health.

“So we came along and said, ‘This is all we do, we only do aged care, we understand how government funding works and we know all the documentation requirements’. It was a very easy sell, and we grew quite quickly.”

Expanding W&L’s suite of services beyond physiotherapy to include training and other allied health disciplines was a logical progression for the company, as clients increasingly expressed a preference for dealing with a single centralised provider.

Several years promoting his services as a jobbing physio in Europe and Canada provided him with enough confidence and commercial nous to have a crack at running his own show back home, according to Heywood-Smith.

“When you’re overseas you’re treating yourself like a business anyway,” he says.

“I was working via multiple locum agencies in the UK; I’d set up a business in the ski season in Austria offering massage and rehab … I’d been cold calling for work for five years around the world, ever since I finished my studies, so I felt pretty comfortable with that.

“Nikki comes from a family of business owners, and it was probably always the case that we were going to end up having our own. I was 28 when we decided to set up W&L. We thought, let’s do it while we’re young, let’s do it before we have kids. If it doesn’t work, I can go back to working in a practice and my wife can go back to a marketing role.

“We were like-minded – it was time to jump in.”

Future plans

The pair have been clients of NAB Health’s Medfin division since 2008. Set up to service the business needs of healthcare professionals, it provides specialist advice and a comprehensive suite of financial services to practice owners.

“As we were growing the business, Nikki and I were looking for somewhere to invest and we’d begun purchasing residential and commercial properties,” Heywood-Smith says. “With the help of our banker Craig Moore we ended up consolidating everything with NAB.

“NAB also has a strong aged care portfolio, so we managed to attend quite a few functions they put on and they were able to introduce us to some CEOs of aged care organisations and other players in this space.”

As the federal government steps up its focus on consumer-directed care, with the aim of keeping elderly Australians in their own homes for longer, developing an in-home service has become top of agenda for W&L, says Heywood-Smith..

“The focus for us will be around changing some of our marketing to target individuals and service providers,” he says. “We’ve had to be very strategic about keeping abreast of how funding is allocated to the aged care sector so when major changes or tweaks are made we know what they are, and we can respond proactively.”

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