Making It

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By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, November 18, 2007

First, acupuncture changed Rockville resident Lisa Marie Price's life. Now, she's helping to change acupuncture.

Lisa Marie had endured seven years of pain after a car accident until she tried acupuncture. "Within a couple of months, I was pain-free," she says. " I thought, People need to know about this."

Lisa Marie, then an academic administrator in New Jersey, was so won over that she and her husband moved to Maryland in the late '90s, so she could study for a master's in acupuncture at Tai Sophia Institute, a graduate school in alternative medicine in Laurel. (She also started working part time as the dean of students at Tai Sophia, while her artist husband got his teaching certificate and a job with Montgomery County schools.)

After graduating and continuing to work two days a week at Tai Sophia, Lisa Marie, now 43, opened a part-time acupuncture practice in 2000. She tried a cash-only approach for a while, then began accepting insurance. But she soon found herself frustrated by the limitations insurance companies put on acupuncture: Some didn't cover it at all; some covered it for only certain conditions; some covered only a few sessions a year.

To address such problems and make acupuncture available to more people, a clinic in Oregon created the "community acupuncture model," which treats patients in groups and charges on a sliding scale. A network of clinics has sprung up across the country, and Lisa Marie decided to become one, opening Healthpointe Community Acupuncture late last year.

She rented space in Gaithersburg and set up a couple of treatment rooms, each with three or four recliners, fountains, soothing music and windows overlooking trees and gardens. Because Lisa Marie practices a method of acupuncture that mostly uses points in the hands and arms, patients don't need to undress. They pay what they think they can afford, on a scale ranging from $25 to $55 per visit, compared with $85 at traditional clinics in Montgomery County, she says. Though you might think that everyone would come in and pay the minimum, Lisa Marie says that she has "many more people paying at the high end of the scale than I anticipated."

While Lisa Marie isn't earning as much per patient, she is able to see more patients, because she can treat several at one time in the same room, and she is saving time and money because there's no insurance paperwork. As a result, Lisa Marie says, "I think I'm going to make more money with this business model than I would have otherwise."

Patient Norma Jovel of Clarksburg says that sitting in a recliner in a room with other patients doesn't bother her, and that she enjoys the soft music and the garden. "You can relax and then have your treatment," she says.

Since last year, the practice, which is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, has produced $42,000 in revenue. Lisa Marie has covered her monthly expenses from the beginning, has recouped her start-up costs and just started paying herself a small salary. She plans to eventually hire another acupuncturist so the center can be open six days a week.

"It's so much more satisfying treating like this," she says. "People are getting the treatment they need, they're cooperating with the treatment plan in a way I never saw before, and they're getting fantastic results."

Have you gone from customer to successful entrepreneur in a given field? E-mail changb@washpost.com.


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