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Today's Practice | Apr 2010

BONUS FEATURE: Managing the Opportunities and Challenges of Group Practice

Special considerations are needed when building a team and a service portfolio.

Similar to the partnerships, joint ventures, and cooperatives found in industry, a group practice approach is an effective strategy for a medical setting. By sharing costs, overhead, management responsibilities, and general administration, practitioners can dedicate more time to their patients and the quality of services they provide. One of the biggest challenges to group practice, however, is managing your partners' expectations.

A group practice presents an opportunity to combine specialties to offer an extensive portfolio of services and solutions to patients. It also stimulates active referrals among colleagues who are conveniently located in the same building. Furthermore, group practices create opportunities for cross-fertilization and peer assessment.

A multipractice medical center is the up-and-coming model of group practice. It brings together a range of doctors and specialists under the same roof. Other practices, medical or paramedical, can also be combined at the same location or within the same facility. Additional services, even those commercial in nature such as a pharmacy, optical shop, beauty center, or coffee shop, can be added to the portfolio, offering customers the ability to satisfy a variety of needs at one location.

For example, an efficient administration can schedule visits for patients to multiple physicians on the same morning or afternoon. When finished, the patient can enjoy a facial treatment and pick up prescriptions at the in-house pharmacy.

It goes without saying that an organization like this creates many possibilities and opportunities. Instead of grouping specialists from one or more fields, the group practice creates a pallette of services related to a certain theme, such as wellness, quality of life, or antiaging. Members of the practice can work together to develop a joint marketing strategy to promote the center and to organize workshops and events.

Managing a group practice is not only a financial and organizational challenge but also a diplomatic one. Fully benefitting from a group practice requires managing the expectations of the members of the practice. This just as important as the daily management of the services offered to clients. More people mean more opinions, ideas, and priorities. For the practice to be a true success, all partners must agree on the basic principles, guidelines, and strategy for the venture. Making clear and firm the terms of an employment agreement will help avoid conflicts, frustrations, or impasses with colleagues. However, this does not mean that your partners will not have input and opinions to share over time. To help manage their expectations, it is helpful to set up an executive committee that takes into account all points of view.

Once the group practice is financially strong, it is wise to hire a general manager to oversee all aspects of the business. This relieves the physicians from attending to nonmedical tasks and issues that compete for their time with patients. Group practices that choose not to work with a dedicated general manager can introduce frequent meetings where decisions are made as a group on case-by-case bases, or they can elect a managing partner to serve for a period of time or as part of a rotation scheme. (This latter scenario is not ideal because it requires a physician to manage his peers.)

The general manager oversees administrative tasks and the staff. He can organize the board and management meetings and guard, steer, and evaluate the established policies of the practice. He should also have expertise in finance, human resources, information and communication technologies, and even marketing.

There are significantly more challenges for the management team in a multipractice medical center than in a single-specialty practice. But creating the right governance model and setting up an efficient communication and consultation structure among the parties involved is key to success for any group practice.

Koen Faes is the General Manager of Medipolis, Antwerp, Belgium. He states that he has no financial interest in the material presented in this article. Mr. Faes may be reached at tel: +32 3 828 29 49; e-mail: k.faes@medipolis.be.