Independent Practice to Hospital Employment: Smoother Transitions

November 3, 2011
Aubrey Westgate

As more physicians become hospital employed, they may be able to retain some of the professional traits they enjoyed in private practice.

As more physicians become hospital employed, they may be able to retain some of the professional traits they enjoyed in private practice - such as independence (to a degree) and leadership.

A recent Becker's Hospital Review article argues that if hospitals are unwilling to compromise with their newly employed physicians, tensions increase, productivity decreases, communication falters, and coordination and collaboration suffers (the very opposite of integration goals).

“Providing [physicians] with some level of control over their situation and a sense of autonomy will improve career satisfaction and retention,” Bryan Warren, manager of Select International's Healthcare Solutions division said in this article. “If you can engage them in a meaningful way, you are far more likely to see higher levels of efficiency, productivity, and patient outcomes."

As more hospital officials recognize the value of striking a balance between their physicians’ needs and their own desires, perhaps more physicians will see smoother and more positive transitions into hospital employment.

One such hospital is Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Ind. Until recently, tensions between the hospital and local physicians were so strained that the two entities were essentially at “war,” according to Muncie’s Star Press.

But when the hospital began communicating and listening to area physicians, relations improved, finances improved, and physicians became more comfortable joining the hospital, according to hospital officials.

Ball Memorial now employs about 94 physicians. They are attracted to the “camaraderie” the hospital offers and because the hospital “puts patient care first,” Jeff Bird, a local physician and chief medical officer for the hospital told the Star Press.

Here are some of the ways Becker's suggests hospitals can allow recently employed physicians to retain some of their private practice characteristics.

Physicians as Partners

Independent physicians are, for the most part, accustomed to partnering with fellow physicians. Viewing the hospital as their partner, and vice versa, will help them transition to the new structure.

Hospitals should attempt to “engage physicians,” and recognize that they are “partners” in obtaining the hospital’s long-term objectives - to improve patient care and reduce cost of care, according to the article.

Physicians as Leaders

Independent physicians are accustomed to working hard to keep their practice and their patients thriving.

Hospitals should embrace this work ethic and communicate to physicians about how necessary they are to the hospital’s success, according to Becker’s.

The hospital needs to foster a “shared objectives” mentality.

Physicians as Decision Makers

Physicians need to have a seat at the hospital table when major decisions are made. By giving physicians a voice, the hospital can ensure that both the physicians’ needs and the hospital’s needs are met.

Also, if physicians are part of major decisions, they will better understand and accept why certain policies are implemented.

According to the article, successful integration “can only be achieved if hospital executives are willing to share control of parts of hospital operations.”

What do you think? As a result of health reform and as hospitals rush to acquire physicians, do you think hospitals will be forced to adapt more physician-friendly transition strategies?

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