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Physiotherapy is extremely important in modern health — Ngozi Edozien, Founder, Physio Centers of Africa

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Many people consider healthy livelihood as a good way of living. It is said that physiotherapy is important in this aspect. Physiotherapy helps people with situations whereby their movement and functions are vulnerable due to the process of ageing, injury or being infected by a disease. This method of healing uses non-surgical methods in the treatment and/or management of numerous and physical conditions such as strokes, back pains, heart disorders, asthma and lifestyle conditions.

Physiotherapy comes a long way and its advancement to the present day owes much to research-based practice.

 “physiotherapy is extremely important in modern health”, says Ngozi Edozien, founder of Physio Centers of Africa, a holistic physiotherapy & wellness clinic. “People are often used to being treated with drug therapy and the reality is that in many issues your body can actually create healing within itself. And it’s important to balance drug therapy, surgery and physical physiotherapy in order to get better. So I would rate physiotherapy as one of the underutilized treatments that can help many conditions both physical and some even mental and also urological”.

Physio Centers of Africa came to be in July 2018 with a vision to  provide the highest standard of treatment, servicing a wide variety of clientele from elite level athletes to children or the elderly

CEO and Founder of Physio Centers of Africa, Ngozi Edozien talks about the state of wellness, engagement, what the future of wellness looks like and so much more!

 Growing up, were you always interested in sports and physical activity?

I always was. As a matter of fact, I have been an athlete pretty much my whole life. I started doing sports at a very young age. About 5-6. I started with swimming mostly because I was asthmatic, and my father wanted me to learn how to breathe properly and so he put me on the swimming team and most mornings during the weekends I would go for swimming team classes. I wasn’t a very good swimmer and I actually didn’t enjoy it very much so I eventually moved from swimming and about the age of 10 I joined a track and field team and I started running doing sprints and hurdles. Before that, I used to play soccer. So throughout elementary school, junior high school and my secondary school even university, I was a competitive athlete. My younger years it was track and field, football-not American football, football proper, basket-ball and then I eventually left the other two during University and concentrated on track and field where I did the 100 meters, 200 meters, 100-meter hurdles, 4 by 1, discus and the hammer throw.

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When did you know you wanted to work in health and therapy?

I have had an interesting career. My father as many of you may know is a medical doctor. He was one of Nigeria’s first chemical pathologist. He was the first Dean of University of Ibadan Medical school. University College Hospital (UCH) first indigenous Dean and my mother did radiology. So I have kind of grown up in the medical field with uncles who were doctors and all sorts and aunties who were nurses and so on at a very early age. I have always been interested in the healthcare field and then I volunteered at a hospital, spent some time with a forensic pathologist doing interviews and learning that work when I was a teenager and it was at that point that I thought well I like healthcare but I can’t be near sick people. So I didn’t do that and I ended up going into financial services and management consulting. And while I was consulting in Mckinsey company, I did a lot of work for the pharmaceutical industry and I realized that I really liked this combination of business and healthcare because 1) it was very technical, 2) it was very people-oriented, very social, 3) it was impactful, 4) it was very analytically driven and the business of healthcare is actually very interesting. And it encompasses all kinds of skills from marketing to human resources to finance and anything you can imagine to make it a very complete business.

What specifically drew you to the business of physiotherapy?

Well, I have never really worked in the physiotherapy area. I am not a physiotherapist. I am really a businessperson. But what drove me to launching Physio Centers of Africa was actually a personal situation. So my father had spine surgery and he was 92 when he had this surgery. We flew him out to the United States for the surgery and while I was there what we saw was what they did with the post-op in terms of the physiotherapy putting him into in-patient rehab, The physiotherapists who came on a daily basis to be able to get him out of bed etc. It’s one thing to have a successful surgery but the recovery from that successful surgery required physiotherapy. So I just observed all of these the whole time he was there for over a year; the impact the physio had on him and his recovery. And then my mum after some time got tired of being in the US, she really wanted to come home but my father still needed quite a lot of physio. So we started to look around and that’s when I realized we didn’t really have proper physiotherapy and rehab practices in Nigeria. We had some but it wasn’t really done in a very fulsome way as a full business in terms of what I had seen overseas and what I had personally also experienced not just from my father but as a recovering athlete from injuries and so I decided that it seemed like something I wanted to do and that is how I entered into this business of Physiotherapy.

If you ever personally needed physiotherapy, what 3 qualities would you want your physiotherapist to have?
Oh Wow! I think the first thing that is important to me about physiotherapy is that it is technical and I believe it is important for a good physiotherapist to have extraordinary medical knowledge in terms of physical issues and the neurological issues that lead to the body actually healing itself. So the technical knowledge is the first thing. And then the second thing that is really critical is their manual knowledge and the actual practice of the manual techniques which are necessary. And I have seen that create wonders. I think the third thing is that a good physiotherapist has to have very good bedside manners. That bedside manner is the ability to manage, listen, the ability to feel what the patient is feeling and understand how to encourage and motivate their patients to pursue their therapy and work through pain, work through the issues and actually get better. And I think that the last thing I want in my physiotherapist is follow-through and the ability to really document, follow up, change course of therapy as needs be, to actually evolve with your patient. That’s a lot of follow-throughs so I guess in summary, extraordinary knowledge and technical competence, extremely good bedside manners and the ability to motivate and then the last thing; the understanding of the follow-through the documentation so that you can adapt as your patient evolves.

A common question from potential physiotherapy patients is “how long does it take for physiotherapy to work?”. What is your response to this question?
That’s hard because it all depends. I think that physiotherapists are able to tell that certain conditions on average may require 10 different sessions especially if it’s like a general orthopaedic condition. And then could be topped up occasionally as you get better. But for someone who has had stroke, it is difficult to say because there is the alignment of the person, their compliance to the program, their ability to work through their issues and their pain, and just how quickly their own bodies respond. So I think it’s a very tough question to answer and each person has to see with their own physiotherapist.

Prospective PT patients often get overwhelmed when seeking out a physiotherapist or PT clinic if they have not been referred to one by their doctor. How should someone go about choosing a physiotherapy clinic?

I think there are many ways to find that out. You can look online to find different clinics, you can ask your doctor for a referral, you can also ask for referrals from previous patients but whichever way you find it out, I think you have to go and understand; 1) what is the technical competence of the people, 2) what kind of equipment do they have to actually be able to treat the patient and what has been their history and track record of outcomes. So you can always check their testimonials, you can always check their ratings and I think the last thing is that you also have to be able to trust your physiotherapist. When you meet the person and you talk to them about your condition, oftentimes you get a very good instinct as to whether or not you can work with that person.

How important is physiotherapy in modern health?

I think physiotherapy is extremely important in modern health because typically in Nigeria people are often used to being treated with drug therapy. And the reality is that in many issues your body can actually create healing within itself. And it’s important to balance drug therapy, surgery and physical physiotherapy in order to get better. So I would rate physiotherapy as one of the underutilized treatments that can help many conditions both physical and some even mental and also urological.

What is WellnessLiving? For those who have never heard of it, tell us something more?
I think many people have different definitions of what wellness is. I personally believe that wellness is a holistic approach to your healthcare. And that means taking care of your heart, body, your mind and soul. And when I say heart, It’s about doing things that actually make you happy and then give you that mental stimulation. It also is about physical activity and that is the link to the body. You have to work, do things that strengthen your body, give you flexibility, make sure you are resting, make sure you are eating properly. I think we underestimate diet as well because food is medicine and you are what you eat I think is very true. Physical exercise is very important, stretching is very important, weight-bearing exercise is also very important. The last thing is about the soul which is nurturing your own inner self.

How do you see the future of WellnessLiving in Nigeria?
I think that it is positive because I find that people are becoming more and more aware of that interplay between physical activity, diet, and mental care; that is some sleeping, being happy and some stress relief, all of that. So I think it’s up and up because more facilities exist, more practitioners exist and there is a whole lot more awareness amongst the populace as to what wellness is and the importance of it.

Who are your ideal clients? And why?

I can’t say that you can have ideal clients based on an age group because our ideal patient is just someone who needs to improve their physical capability either because they have suffered an orthopaedic injury, they have had a surgery, they may be suffering from the chronic disease of age, they may be suffering from pain, they may have had a stroke, they are no ideal patients in terms of age. There are many kinds of patients in terms of conditions and then there is an ideal patient in terms of compliance. And that’s the person who comes in and seeks therapy and pursues their therapy. Physiotherapy tells you three times a week, you do your three times a week. And you are compliant and you follow through with what you need to do. That’s an ideal patient.

You have raised the first round of equity within the Nigerian venture space. could you tell us more about it?
Sure. So I think that the business of healthcare is one which has huge growth potential in Nigeria and there are many business ideas out there. What we have to do is be sure we have viable business ideas that are scalable, and can actually get to break even relatively quickly because this is an economy where debt capital is quite frankly too expensive and too scarce and it is a high-risk approach for many businesses to take so what we did was we came up with a business plan that was addressing a real need and had scalability and we valued that at the appropriate level for first-round seed and we went out and found investors who were willing to put the money down but realize that they were also in for a longer-term  investment. They weren’t trying to get their return on investment in 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, but understood that they were on a journey to build a very skilled business. So you need patient investors. You need to value your business correctly, you need to have a business plan that you can follow through and execute appropriately.

Did you face any challenges in mobilizing your capital?

Not really. I think because we were very realistic about the value and we went to individuals who understood the business proposition and our plan was sufficiently detailed and believable that it was easy for them to see the value and see that the equity was sufficiently priced. We were transparent enough about what we could and what we couldn’t do and about the management team that we were going to put behind it.

What marketing strategies, platforms, and concepts must (health, fitness and wellness) companies like yours utilize to effectively and optimally engage their target markets?

I believe that the business of healthcare is no different from any business and the first thing you need to do is to segment your customer base. And we are a business that actually has to have both a B to C; a business to consumer approach and a B to B; a business to business approach. And under the business to consumer approach, we segment by recognizing who are those that are the potential  patients and purchasers of this service because in our business sometimes the purchasers of the service is not the necessarily the one benefiting from the service so you have to segment and understand the age categories, the economic groups, and then the media that actually reaches those two segments; the purchaser as well as the user of the service who in many cases may not be the same person. On the B2B side, we have a business that we have to market to those who are treating our patients and then our patients also can potentially visit. So that means that we are marketing to hospitals, we are marketing to doctors and other healthcare practitioners, we may also be marketing to the institutions that our patients frequent or leverage in order to pay, for example, insurance companies. And again, the way you market those is very different from the way you would be marketing to the consumer or direct to a patient. So we do utilize as you may see in medical marketing like detailing, we do contracting because we also have to go out agree and negotiate approaches with the insurance companies. So there is not one blanket strategy because it depends on the target, segment and the media by which you achieve those. So we do leverage digital marketing, we leverage detailing methodologies, we leverage contracting, we leverage key accounts marketing. So many different approaches and we use online and offline approaches as well.

What are your thoughts about employers getting frustrated with health insurance companies and with employees not engaging in wellness?

I think that the frustration with health insurance companies is valid, but it is also understandable. It is valid because oftentimes the levels of reimbursement that you can get from different health services is a bit too low to actually ensure that there is always quality and the healthcare provider is appropriately remunerated for what they do. It’s also valid in that the cycle time for reimbursement are very very long and so that means that you are actually putting your health care providers at risk because you are not getting enough working capital to support the services that they are providing. So it’s valid but on the other hand, it’s also understandable. Nigeria is a level where economically people and companies may not be earning enough to pay premiums that actually are aligned to the value of the services they are getting and if 1) the premium is not high enough and there are not enough lives covered under that insurance scheme, the insurer doesn’t actually have enough funding to actually remunerate the providers for the services they are giving. So it’s a bit of a complex problem but it is valid and we have to find a way of ensuring appropriate premiums are being paid. Healthcare providers are being paid for their services and money is coming at the right time. As far as employees and wellness, I think employees can take a lot more initiatives to ensure that they are managing their health appropriately. We are in a country where there is increasing incidence of cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and diabetes and a lot of that has to do with poor diet and the fact that people are simply not moving enough. So I think that employees can take better control of their healthcare and their health outcomes.

How do you differentiate Physio Centers of Africa from the competition?

I think that our value proposition is very different. 1) It’s in the level of competence and skill of our physiotherapists and we really focus on making sure that everyone has extraordinarily good manual skills and that we have people who have specialized in different areas of discipline; orthopaedics, neurology, paediatrics, and so forth and they are very well trained and the continued education in their training is actually there, so they are abreast of most of the new techniques that have actually come and we call that the PCA. I think the second thing that we are actually good at is our facilities. We make sure that we have standard facilities with the best equipment and the right kind of equipment to address the wide variety of conditions and ailments. So most of the time when people come to our facility they are impressed with the quality of our facility and as one of our elderly patients said to me once; ‘I feel like I am in the abroad’ you know that’s a big compliment I think. The third differentiating factor of Physios Centers of Africa is that we are full service. So we can not only provide the physio, we can provide the homecare, we can provide the equipment. We provide a grouping in one place of all of the things that you need to take care of your condition. And the last thing that we pride ourselves on is our extraordinary customer service. From the minute you walk in the door, to making an appointment, to check out and even just the way we try to work with just our families, doctors and our patients in making sure that your records are up to date, your documentation is up to date, we can share that information and we can talk you or your family member or your physician through what we are doing and adjust the program as much as possible. I think we have got a great bedside manner.

What’s your #1 health and wellness tip or piece of advice?

I think my number one is pretty simple. Wow! I guess it’s not one. I think perhaps the most important thing for all of us to remember is that we must keep our bodies active. It’s almost like a youth serum to exercise and to make sure that your muscles and your bones stay strong and healthy and by doing that you are also strengthening your internal organs. Keeping your heart healthy. I think my number one tip is to keep moving. And if I was allowed to give another one, I would say eat well; manage your diet appropriately and the last one would be please get enough sleep.

What are your personal markers for success? How can you tell you’ve been successful professionally?

I think my first marker for success in what I do professionally is that my work has an impact. And by impact it means that if there was a goal that has been set, I have achieved that goal and that is, therefore, having an impact either on my customer, or on my environment, or on my boss or on my company. If you are doing work and that impact of what you are doing is not meeting a goal and having a positive impact, I think that is the first sign of lack of success. If you are successful at having an impact then it is highly likely that your customer or your boss or those in your environment are going to praise you for performance. You have performed and if you are performing, that is the road to promotion, it is the road to making money, it is the road to the next level in your achievement so yeah Impact, performance and achievement.

And finally, what do you wake up looking forward to? What’s next for your career?

I have a very simple prayer that I say every day and one is thank you for what I have and the second one is give me the strength to achieve what I need to achieve and the third one is please help me do what I need to do to have the impact, and the performance and the success that I am seeking. That whatever I am doing right now that I achieve the end result I wish to achieve and then we move.

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