Adding a New Physician to Your Practice

July 11, 2012

A natural solution to an increased workload is to recruit for a new physician. Having a plan makes the process much more effective for both the new recruit and your practice.

Some practices are struggling with meeting patient demands. There is a real shortage of physicians in a number of specialties; and this can tax many practices, making it difficult to meet and/or manage demand. The problem becomes more pressing if there are senior physicians in your practice who plan to reduce their hours or retire in the next year or so. 

A natural solution is to recruit for young physicians just coming out of training. The recruitment process may seem fairly clear - seek the help of a professional recruiter or your hospital to help you recruit a physician, and determine a competitive pay rate. Then go through the typical interview process to see if the needs of the physician are reasonable and the package you offer has appeal. However it is a good idea to keep the following points in mind:

It's a matter of fit. Assuring a good fit is the most challenging aspect of recruiting, because you really don't know each other until you start working together. Let's take a look at what it takes to bring in a new physician, make a smooth transition, and help "Dr. Newbie" succeed.

First of all, think about what you want in a new physician. Perhaps your specialty has changed in recent years and there are some procedures your existing physicians have not been trained to perform. If there is a need in your community, it would make sense to seek a new physician who has not only learned how to perform these procedures, but enjoys doing them - which will add a new revenue source to your practice. So it is smart to define what you want in a physician and what your expectations are in terms of workload. Then develop a job description that makes these things clear. Use these tools to measure candidates' fit with your practice and to give them an understanding of the job responsibilities.

Share your practice philosophy. This begins with discussing your practice's mission and vision for the future, and what drives the physician owners. Are they more interested in being a leader in their specialty and focusing on staying up with changing times, or do they want to preserve the quality of life and have more time off to spend with family and dedicate to personal pursuits? Some physicians are even reinventing their practice, looking for ways to create a stronger economic position. They may have plans to become bigger and more forceful in the community by buying up ailing practices, expanding into outlying areas, or adding a broad line of services that aren't typical of their specialty. It would be important to share this information with a physician who is considering joining the practice.

Manage the transition. Once you make a decision and select a new physician to join you it is important to allow plenty of planning time. There is much to be accomplished to make a smooth transition and it will involve both management and staff. This includes everything from credentialing the new physician to announcing her arrival to making sure there is adequate staff and space to accommodate the new doctor. Also, the physician will need to be trained in advance on using the computer system; time allotments for seeing both new and established patients; and managing workflow - including how much lag time is acceptable for documenting a patient's visit or responding to a patient's phone call. It's important that Dr. Newbie knows how many patients you expect him to see in a day, and how long it should take him to reach this benchmark.

Spread the word. Then there is marketing, which is not an insignificant matter. The old days where Dr. Newbie met all the referring physicians at the hospital don't exist anymore. So many hospitalists are managing inpatient care and many physicians do not have offices in professional buildings on the hospital campus, but are scattered through the community. This makes it more challenging to meet the physicians who will be important in growing a strong patient base. Also, there is a growing trend of referrals coming directly from other patients by word-of-mouth and patients self-referring by looking up physicians who participate with their insurance plan.

Market visibility, practice support, and the new physician's own appeal will determine how quickly she fits into the community and grows a healthy patient base. The smart practice will prepare a marketing plan and budget for the finances essential to help Dr. Newbie create a desirable presence. This includes offering community lectures, personal meetings with potential referring sources, and actively being involved in the medical community. Dr. Newbie will need to have time to pursue these activities and the practice will need to dedicate time and funds for marketing and promotion, starting with a professional marketing plan.

Have a plan. A creative marketing plan will not only examine the demographics and define the ideal target market, it will provide specific strategies that can be executed and measured. Too often practices do not pay enough attention to the importance of marketing. Doing it right means hiring a consultant who specializes in marketing. This will provide the practice and Dr. Newbie with the support and expertise to get on track and stay on track, by promoting the practice and growing a desired patient base. There really isn't a better way to give Dr. Newbie the tools to succeed and make your practice a front-runner in the community.

Judy Capko is a healthcare consultant and author of the popular books “Secrets of the Best Run Practices,”2nd edition, and “Take Back Time.” Based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., she is a national speaker on healthcare topics. She can be reached at judy@capko.com.