How to Balance the Business of Medicine with Patient Care

The Doctor's Office, March 4, 2010

Believe it or not, there are some physicians out there who only want to practice medicine, the noble profession to which they've dedicated their entire lives. For some reason, claims coding updates, haggling with the fine folks at insurance companies, monitoring the poachers at the new walk-in clinic across the street, recruiting new partners to the practice, and developing relationships with referring physicians don't interest them.

Kenneth T. Hertz, a senior consultant at Alexandria, LA–based MGMA Health Care Consulting Group says it's important to make a distinction between the physicians' roles in the management and the governance of the practice. "Running the practice is management. Physicians don't run the practice. They provide the governance for the practice," he says. "It is their responsibility to set the vision, set the direction, and set the policies. But they hire people to manage the practice."

It's critical to spell out the business- and governance-side obligations to new physicians before they're hired, Hertz says.

"In the interview process, when a practice goes to recruit new docs, it is where they have conversations with them, and they discuss what is going to be involved in being part of the business," Hertz says. " 'Dr. Smith, you are going to be expected to serve on the board and attend meetings and help market your practice.' If the candidate says, 'I'm not interested in that,' you can decide to hire the doc and run into upset down the road, or you make a decision that maybe this doc doesn't mesh with the practice."

But in this age of physician shortages, perhaps your practice can't be that choosy. So be flexible, but also be clear. "If we find Dr. Jones is absolutely perfect in every way except that he says, 'I just want to be an employed doc; I don't want to be an owner; I don't want to do this, that, and the other thing,' it is incumbent on us to be creative and find a way to make it work if we think that Dr. Jones will add that much to the practice," Hertz says.

David R. Neiblum, MD, says the up-front discussions about business responsibilities during the interview process have helped West Chester Gastrointestinal Group, an an eight-physician practice in PA, avoid friction down the road. New doctors need to know that it's not all going to be Marcus Welby.

Neiblum says West Chester Gastrointestinal Group compensates him for taking extra time to address business issues beyond his normal practice schedule. "We have a good staff who do most of the things, and that is 90% of the battle, and I keep an eye on things globally, doing some things on my own but often delegating," he says.

Neiblum warns that sometimes it's possible for practice partners to be too involved in business operations. "We have a good structure, but maybe a little too much of the too-many-cooks-spoil-the-brew mentality," he says. "On some things, it's best where I would just make a decision and let's move on. Sometimes we sit down and say this is what we want to do, and all of a sudden you start getting dissenting opinions and it becomes a big issue when before it wasn't. But besides that, the structure is pretty good."

This article was adapted from one that originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of The Doctor's Office, a HealthLeaders Media publication.
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