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Business Observer Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021 6 months ago

Medical practice navigates growth and pandemic challenges

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Docs Outside the Box is knee-deep in a classic entrepreneurial conundrum: balancing growth without sacrificing service or care.
by: Elizabeth Djinis Contributor

St. Petersburg-based Docs Outside the Box was one of the rare medical practices in the region that actually had an encouraging 2020. 

In the past year, the holistic primary and urgent care provider has built on that growth. It’s opened a pediatric practice in the same building, hired five more employees and increased revenue 33%, from $1.5 million to $2 million in the span of a year. 

While the practice planned to move to a new building in 2021 with more space, a fit of serendipity opened up 1,700 square feet in their office building. That allowed it to start an offshoot practice, aptly named Kids Outside the Box, dedicated to taking care of children. Kids Outside the Box opened June 12 with a big open house celebration that included a petting zoo and a water slide. Attracting clients wasn’t hard — founders Dr. Leah Teekell-Taylor and Lana Garner built on the good reputation they’d formed with pre-existing clientele. 

“Our culture is right for this right now,” Garner says. “People want options and they don’t want to be forced into doing things. A patient will come in for urgent care and the whole family will sign up.”

The Delta variant threatened to upend some of the company’s progress when it hit nearly a month later in late July. In August, the provider treated more than 3,000 COVID-19 positive patients. They sent healthy, non-COVID-19 patients to the children’s clinic and saw between 30 and 40 COVID-19 patients a day at their main practice. They treated patients with medicine, intravenous treatments and even secured monoclonal antibody therapy. 

While COVID-19 numbers have slowed since the summer, Garner and Teekell-Taylor now find themselves treating people still suffering from the long-term effects of the virus. About a third of their scheduled patients for December, for example, were those dealing with residual impacts from COVID-19. 

“Even after the vaccine, we’re in a whole new world of subset of diseases without much guidance,” Teekell-Taylor says. “We’re formulating treatments and working with doctors on the cutting edge, but it’s just incredible the amount of patients that this has driven to the clinic.”

As a family practice, Docs Outside the Box has had the longevity to see patients before and after getting COVID-19 — often, it’s like treating two different people.

“A lot of the patients we know very well and we know they were normal before COVID and now they are having really bad problems,” Teekell-Taylor says. “We got to see people we knew well get chronic symptoms and become complete and utter strangers.” 

'If we could snap our fingers and put a Docs Outside the Box and Kids Outside the Box in Tampa and Sarasota and we could staff it, it would fill.’ Lana Garner, Docs Outside the Box

But the founders remain optimistic that they can, as Garner puts it, “crack the nut on this.” They’re focused on repairing immune systems and they’ve already seen glimmers of success and recovery with most of their patients. 

That dogged pursuit of a solution and the patient first mentality is what keeps people coming back to Docs Outside the Box. It’s what will allow them to hire another doctor and open a Tampa office — their goal is to do that within the first half of next year. 

“Our patients all say wholeheartedly that we listen to them,” Garner says. “We’re not forcing anything on anyone and we’re treating the patient with that kind of respect, so why wouldn’t they want to come here?

That interest is a double-edged sword. Docs Outside the Box’s physical growth has not kept up with its patient growth. The practice is already at the point of needing to expand once again. As COVID-19 ebbs and flows, so does their ability to focus on strategy. 

“If we could snap our fingers and put a Docs Outside the Box and Kids Outside the Box in Tampa and Sarasota and we could staff it, it would fill,” Garner says. “The pressure is quite great, but we’re taking it one step at a time. Each time the pandemic roars back up, we focus on the patients. When it settles down, we make the growth moves.”

 

In 2021, many companies discovered new ways to adjust to the pandemic. These nimble entrepreneurs believe that know-how — and guts — will be a key factor for continued success in 2022. Click the links below to read more about the Business Observer's 2021 newsmakers.

 

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