Thinking About Partnership

October 15, 2009

Wondering about taking on a partner? Think twice before signing on the dotted line.

Wondering about taking on a partner? Think twice! Don’t jump into partnership until you clearly understand what you are getting into. Partnership can be like a marriage - the engagement is easy, but marriage is hard work and requires a lot of give and take. For a physician who’s used to running his or her own show this can be a challenge.

Your colleague is someone who you admire and respect. You are both in solo practice: You’ve been in the same call group for years, shared interesting cases, and respect each other’s clinical knowledge and treatment, but that doesn’t mean he would make a great partner.

Here are the basics to consider:

Trust. The tenets of a long-term working partnership begin with trust. A partnership is upfront and personal. Trusting someone’s clinical expertise is just one piece of the pie. How much do you know about his ability to handle finances responsibly, and his personal integrity? Will he skirt issues or manipulate the truth to get his way?

Personality. Character traits must be aligned and complement each physician’s working style for a partnership to succeed. Does your colleague respect other people and treat staff fairly? And how about his temperament - does he blow off the handle easily and say unkind things? How does he work under pressure? Is he reliable? And, is he consistent when given responsibilities and deadlines?

Decision making. You need to know how flexible your proposed partner is in sharing decision making, and be able to assess your own ability to do the same. The “my way or the highway” school of thought just won’t cut it. That can be difficult for a physician who has built a practice from the ground up and thinks things run “just right” the way they are now.

Change will come in a hurry when you take on a partner - lots of it. Think about the many things you’ve made decisions about based on your own standards and beliefs:

Employee pay rates and benefit packages

Quality of staff and willingness to invest in continuing education

Timeliness in completing your own work

Handling finances responsibly

Investing in equipment and technology

Retirement planning

A casual business friendship with a colleague is not enough to make for a good partnership. Take the time to explore all the issues that may present conflict before you get started.

Of course, there are many more important details to tend to that will require the assistance of lawyers and accountants. But before you take the leap, work with a healthcare consultant and invest in a feasibility study that deals with all these personal style and integrity issues. It just may keep you from making a big mistake.

Judy Capko is a healthcare consultant and author of the popular books Secrets of the Best Run Practices and Take Back Time. Based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., she is a national speaker on healthcare topics. She can be reached at 805 499 9203 or judy@capko.com.