Frankenstein’s Bride, er, New Physician

March 6, 2008

When bringing another physician onboard, you have a comparatively short time to judge her qualities and make a decision that will affect your practice for many years to come.

Who hasn’t seen a movie where the groom is standing at the altar awaiting his bride -- a lovely woman with a veil over her face -- and he asks himself, “Do I really know this person? Am I making a mistake?”

He’s not alone. Many others have asked that same question and later concluded that they did indeed make the wrong choice.

The same is true when you bring another physician into your practice. As in dating, a physician will put his best foot forward. You’ll have a comparatively short time to judge his qualities and make a decision that will affect your practice for many years to come -- for better or for worse. And once you have made your choice, you must live with his inherent strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies. Sometimes the match is “made in heaven,” while other times it’s made in a more southern zip code. How can you tell which way it will go before it’s too late?

Here are some ways to minimize your chance of a mismatch:

  • Do not rely on first impressions. While there may be some who are truly good at sizing people up, quick assessments are usually based on things that have little bearing on the realities of working with another physician.

 

 

  • Spend some time to get to know your candidate. Take time to have multiple conversations on the phone and visits in person to really find out the truth about your candidate’s personality traits -- both the positive and the negative.

 

 

  • Ask personal questions. Chances are you will spend more time with your new colleague than with your own family, so you will need to have some things in common and be able to at least tolerate each other’s company. Ask about beliefs, tastes in music and food, family heritage, philosophy of practice, and religious and political views. While you should not discriminate solely on any of these areas, it is good for both you and your candidate to know now where major areas of incompatibility may be lurking.

 

 

  • Get many perspectives. If my wife does not care for a candidate, I shy away quickly. She has a sense about people that I don’t have. So I make an effort to get her opinion on people. Pull in others during the assessment phase, and get their opinions. A diversity of perspectives will safeguard you from being blind to someone’s faults.

Note that once you have chosen the “right” physician to add to your practice, your work is still not done. Just as a good marriage needs attention to thrive, there are important steps to take to ensure that an initially good professional match doesn’t go sour:

  • Train her properly. Have the new doctor spend some time at the front desk, greeting patients and answering phones; follow the nurses as they room patients; and shadow a physician (if possible) so she can see how things are done at your practice. If you have an EMR, provide training on that as well. It is in the beginning of this acclimation process that you’ll have the greatest chance of getting your new physician to adopt the overall philosophy of your practice.

 

 

  • Continue to get to know him. Once you have hired your new physician, don’t let the courtship stop; ask him over to dinner or suggest a trip to the local art museum. In order to build a sound working relationship, you’ll both need to continue learning about each other. This will make communication easier in the long run.

 

 

  • Give him feedback. Establish and follow a system where your new physician regularly receives honest, objective feedback on his clinical and administrative skills. One of the worst mistakes is to keep quiet and then broadside a rookie physician with a slew of complaints.

 

 

  • Let her go if necessary. It’s your practice, and you must reserve the right to change your mind. As hard as this is, it trumps the alternative.

Hopefully, after you take these steps you will be able to add not only a physician, but a future partner in your business, and perhaps even a personal friend -- a goal worthy of careful relationship-building.

 

Robert Lamberts, MD, is a primary care physician with Evans Medical Group, in Evans, Georgia. He is board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics and specializes in the care of adults, pediatrics, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, preventative medicine, attention deficit disorder, and emotional/behavior disorders. Dr. Lamberts serves on multiple committees at several national organizations for the promotion of computerized health records, for which he is a recognized national speaker. He can be reached at rob.lamberts@gmail.com.