Spouse Role In Practice Management

April 1, 2008

I am co-owner of a practice (50/50). Our office runs very well with the expert help of a wonderful office manager. I take a large part of the day-to-day operations, but my partner does not, though he takes part in any major decisions. Just lately his wife has decided she wants to come in and “volunteer.” She sits in on our provider meetings, and feels like it is OK to question our practice manager about things. It has become very uncomfortable. It has totally changed the mood of the office, and I am about to scream. How can we get her out of here without it turning into a huge fiasco?

Question: I am co-owner of a practice (50/50). Our office runs very well with the expert help of a wonderful office manager.

I take a large part of the day-to-day operations, but my partner does not, though he takes part in any major decisions. Just lately his wife has decided she wants to come in and “volunteer.” She sits in on our provider meetings, and feels like it is OK to question our practice manager about things. It has become very uncomfortable. It has totally changed the mood of the office, and I am about to scream. How can we get her out of here without it turning into a huge fiasco?

Answer: I’ve heard lots of horror stories about spousal involvement in practices. In an undefined role, it leaves the staff wondering who is in charge.

You need to have a closed-door, open-hearted session with your partner.

Explain that you are not comfortable having someone in an ill-defined role functioning in a managerial position, that you think it is confusing the staff, and that it’s difficult for you. If you and she disagree, how can you civilly work it out given that she doesn’t have a set role and is his wife? Say you feel awkward. In classic Dr. Phil style, this is about you, not a debate on the attributes of his wife or his approach.

Then, say you need to understand better what the spouse or the physician is trying to accomplish so that you can work something out that helps everyone. Ask questions:

Why is the spouse suddenly involved?

Does the physician feel like he’s missing out on managerial decisions because he hasn’t played a role?

What does he imagine his wife’s role to be, if he had to put a title or job description on it? If you need another staffer, would the spouse be the best person for the job? (This is tough, I know.)

Get at his needs so that you can negotiate a solution that works for all.

Above all, this is about making the practice the best it can be. It’s business. Try not to feel like screaming.