Find out all you need to know to open a mobile medical practice.
More and more medical professionals and healthcare providers are considering whether it makes sense to operate a costly brick-and-mortar healthcare operation, hospital, or doctorâs office â or if it could be a better move to open a mobile business.
This article will lay out the startup costs of opening a mobile medical service and explain the factors you must consider before investing in one.
Mobile medical units: Cost breakdown
According to M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks, a firm that customizes medical vehicles, a new basic mobile medical unit costs approximately $45,000. A modest buildout of that unit would add between $50,000 and $75,000 to the cost. Depending on the size, extras, amenities, and equipment added, a unit could cost anywhere between $175,000 and $375,000.
A unit that provides relatively simple services that require limited equipment, such as mental health care, would fall on the lower end of that range. One equipped to handle complex services, such as checkups, blood work, and surgery will fall on the high end.
If you want to do your own math, here are some costs for common medical equipment:
- General medical instruments: $10,000 to $20,000
- Medical kits: $500 to $2,000
- Oximeter: $100
- Pharmacy set-up: $10,000
- Portable dental x-ray unit: $1,000
- Scale: $100
- Stethoscope: $50 to $100
- Thermometer: $30 to $100
- Ultrasound machine: $3,000
- Vaccine transport box: $100
- Wheelchair: $500
Exterior detailing and marketing costs
Your mobile medical van should look like one and explain the services provided in the unit. Youâll need exterior finishing â which could include painting, a body wrap, or stickers â to do that. One of the key benefits of a mobile healthcare practice, when compared with a fixed location, is that you can market your business while working and traveling from place to place. You want to make the most of this opportunity.
The cost of a full-body wrap and other exterior detailing for the typical medical unit ranges from $12,000 to $25,000, depending on the size of the vehicle and the complexity of its design. These benchmark estimates include the design, graphics, materials, and labor. The price could go up if you decide to go with a wrap and detailing process guaranteed to last a long time.
Donât forget the taxes
Like everything else, you have to pay taxes on medical service vehicles. In the United States, youâll have to pay Federal Excise Tax (FET), which is similar to sales tax and adds 12 percent to the purchase price of your vehicle. The government requires FET on the initial retail sale of vans that weigh more than 26,000 pounds. The typical medical service van falls into this category.
There may also be state taxes youâll have to pay on your medical vehicle, and there could be tax exemptions depending on specific circumstances. You may also qualify for grants and other benefits if you use the van to serve a disadvantaged group of people. Consult with your tax expert before purchasing a mobile medical unit.
Top reasons for buying a medical van
Doctors, dental practices, and other healthcare operations have traditionally operated out of buildings like medical offices, hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics. Itâs how the health care system in the United States and most of the world has done business for a century or more.
In recent years, mobile medical vans and on-site vehicle medical clinics have become critical ways to deliver healthcare services across the United States and worldwide. Some of the reasons for their popularity include:
- Medical emergencies. When a community experiences a healthcare crisis, mobile medical practices are a great way to deliver targeted care to the people impacted quickly. An example of this is the early days of the pandemic when emergency medical care was sent to places like Westchester County and New York City to address the emerging novel coronavirus crisis. Medical vans have also been leveraged to expand COVID-19 testing and immunization capabilities, especially when traditional hospitals and doctor offices were overwhelmed by COVID patients. Medical vehicles are often sent into crises like the wildfires in California, especially when the nearest medical facility is a long distance away from an impacted community.
- Community health care initiatives. Community organizations can increase their reach by using mobile medical vehicles to bring health, medical, and dental care and social services to underserved low-income communities, homeless people, vulnerable populations, uninsured individuals and families, and those living in rural areas. The increase in the use of medical vans has improved healthcare for the poor, minorities, and people that live long distances from traditional healthcare practices.
- Patient ease and convenience. Many patients, especially the elderly, people with chronic diseases, and those with limited mobility, prefer to â or must â get healthcare services at home. Medical professionals who offer eldercare or physical therapy services often forgo opening an office and exclusively offer mobile healthcare services.
Before purchasing a mobile medical vehicle, speak with someone who already has one. Find out how (or if) itâs benefited their business, the pros and cons of the model they purchased, how they fitted it out, its operational costs, and their return on investment.
Types of mobile medical vans
No two healthcare practices are the same. The same is true of medical vehicles. Here are some common categories.
Mobile medical clinic
Mobile health clinics provide all types of services to outpatients. Mobile clinics are typically highly customized to meet the unique needs of a healthcare practice and its client base. A mobile general medical clinic provides a controlled, safe, and hygienic space for healthcare professionals to provide primary care, preventive care, and follow-up services to patients. The services can range from routine, preventative medicine to urgent emergency medical care. Clinics are usually customized with equipment to do blood tests, electrocardiography, and immunizations and support the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases.
Mobile dental practice
This type of vehicle serves as a dental clinic on wheels. These vans are typically heavy-duty, tough, and come with four-wheel drive so they can navigate rugged terrain in remote areas, even in inclement weather. This makes it possible for dentists and hygienists to provide care and treatment to the most isolated individuals and localities. Mobile dental facilities offer a safe, secure, and hygienic environment where dental professionals can evaluate, manage and treat oral illnesses, disorders, and conditions. They can also conduct dental checkups and offer prevention services. Mobile dental vehicles are tricked out to make it possible to provide tooth restoration services, extract or surgically remove teeth, scale teeth, and conduct root canals.
Mobile radiology facility
A mobile x-ray vehicle allows healthcare professionals to use x-ray equipment to look for conditions like Pneumothorax and Pneumoperitoneum, foreign objects, abdominal issues, lower respiratory tract infections (such as pneumonia or tuberculosis), kidney stones, and bone fractures.
Many of these vehicles can also be used to provide mobile MRI services, which requires a much higher level of customization.
Covid-19 mobile intensive care facility
Mobile medical vans have been used as covid-19 mobile ICU facilities. This is a relatively new use for these vehicles. Even though the coronavirus pandemic is waning, these facilities will be valuable in future pandemics and natural calamities. Theyâre also great for adding emergency room capacity during flu season and other busy periods. These highly designed and equipped medical units can better meet healthcare facility needs than makeshift hospitals in tents and warehouses.
Mobile laboratories function as full-service medical testing facilities. They can operate independently or be added to brick-and-mortar hospitals or clinics to supplement their laboratories. Virtually any type of test can be performed in a mobile laboratory if itâs outfitted properly.
Mobile surgical facility
Mobile surgical centers are much more than a surgical unit on wheels. Theyâre fully equipped with transportable surgical operating rooms. If designed correctly, a mobile surgical center can be set up and ready to handle any operation in less than an hour, whether itâs routine or emergency surgery.
Mobile dialysis center
Dialysis facilities can deliver the highest level of therapy to patients with kidney disease who cannot make it to regular dialysis centers. The quality of care provided by mobile centers and bricks-and-mortar ones is identical.
Mobile emergency room
Patients who need immediate urgent care because of a trauma or other life-threatening issue can often be treated in a mobile emergency room. (Think about it: Does it make more sense to get an ambulance to a patient to take them to an emergency room or bring the emergency room right to them?) The purpose of a mobile emergency room is to stabilize a patient before transferring them to a surgical facility or critical care center. Mobile emergency rooms often serve the secondary purpose of providing regular patient care.
Mobile hospital complexes are hospitals built from multiple mobile vehicles to treat illnesses and injuries. This type of hospital may include a mobile emergency room, surgical facility, x-ray unit, lab, and more. You can build a state-of-the-art health center that meets a communityâs healthcare needs quickly and at a relatively low cost.
These mobile facilities are ideal for responding to environmental and man-made catastrophes, such as earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, terrorist attacks, and war.
The most common type of mobile medical vehicle is an ambulance. Ambulances are intended primarily for emergencies to deal with immediate medical crises and safely transfer patients to hospital emergency departments or other facilities as needed.
How to: Purchase and operate a mobile medical vehicle
Hereâs what you need to know to get started.
Identify your target market.
Get information from patients and people in your community about their needs and the best way to address them. Preventative health, general care, mammography, dentistry, specialized medical care, homeless care, and many other services are all available through mobile medical vehicles all over the United States and the world. Tailor the services you offer to meet your communityâs most pressing needs. Once you do this, youâll be able to set up your mobile medical practice.
Setting up a mobile medical service isnât as expensive as opening a brick-and-mortar operation. Still, it takes more money than most people or organizations have. Make arrangements to secure financing to get your business off the ground.
Some common options include:
- SBA 7(a) loans. These are the most common business loans offered through the United States Small Business Administration (SBA). Theyâre among the best small business loan options available, but they are highly competitive, and it takes a relatively long time to apply for and receive them.
- Medical practice business loans from traditional lenders. Loans from traditional lenders generally come with attractive terms. However, it can be challenging to qualify for them unless you have impeccable credit and credentials.
- Loans from online lenders. Companies like ours here at Biz2Credit provide funding to mobile medical practices and other types of healthcare businesses. Interest rates from online lenders can be higher than for banks and other traditional lenders. However, if you shop around, you should be able to find competitive rates and terms. Another plus of loans from companies like Biz2Credit is that the application and approval processes are relatively fast and straightforward.
- Short-term loans. You may be able to use short-term loans to pay for unexpected business expenses, perhaps to purchase supplies in an emergency or get equipment repaired. However, it may not be a good option for the longer-term costs associated with setting up a mobile medical business.
- Business lines of credit. If you qualify, it could make sense for you to get a business line of credit. Youâll always have funds available to build your business. Plus, you only need to pay the money back after using it.
- Equipment financing. The Small Business Administration has a special financing program to help businesses purchase equipment. You may be able to use this type of financing to buy equipment for your mobile vehicle.
Get a vehicle and customize it to meet your needs.
This is a critical step in setting up a mobile medical business. You can either buy a new one or get a used one. If you decide to go used, have it inspected to ensure itâs mechanically sound and all the equipment works properly.
Hire the best people.
Some patients may be concerned about getting care from a mobile provider. You will be better able to change their minds if you have the best people on your team.
Brand your business.
Work with a branding agency to develop a novel way to make your business stand out from mobile and brick-and-mortar competitors. A solid brand will help you articulate what makes your operation different from â and better than â all the others.
Plan for payments.
Figure out how youâll accept Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance, and direct payments.
Get the word out.
Use social media and other marketing and communication tactics to get the word out about your mobile healthcare practice to people in your community.
Keep challenging yourself.
Never settle. Keep challenging yourself to provide more and better healthcare services to people in your community. Youâre taking a step into the future by offering mobile medical support to people, and you should never stop trying to provide more.