Tips on 3 big medical practice transitions


In the medical practice environment, some changes are welcomed by personnel: raises, office decor updates, technology improvements and others. But bigger transitions can be hard for physicians and employees to embrace. Some people just don’t like change.

Three of the toughest transitions doctors and administrators face are physician retirement, office relocation and practice acquisition. As healthcare professionals navigate these big shifts, they sometimes overlook or neglect important aspects of their operations.

Don’t let that happen to you. Avoid common pitfalls as your business evolves by adhering to the following advice.

Facing physician retirement? Give patients direction.

Thanks to the troubled economy, many physicians are practicing well past retirement age. Around 20 percent of today’s U.S. doctors are over age 65.

But that doesn’t mean providers aren’t retiring. While I was working at a five-doctor internal medicine practice not long ago, the office struggled when a beloved physician stopped practicing.

The retiring internist had founded the practice with a colleague who was still working side-by-side with him nearly 40 years later. Most all of the retiring doc’s patients wanted to be transferred to the partner doc’s care. The problem? That physician was planning to retire soon, too, and wasn’t accepting new patients.

The burden of explaining that fell on the front-desk staffers, who were tasked with urging patients to sign up with another of three in-office providers or the new doc coming aboard to replace the one departing.

The situation was disorganized; the patients had too many other doctors to choose from and little guidance on the matter from their long-trusted physician. The office lost a significant amount of patients as a result.

If one of your practice’s physicians is retiring, encourage him or her to discuss it frankly with patients and give them direction on where to go from there. A recommendation from the doctor may carry more weight than one from the scheduler at checkout.

Facing office relocation? Be mindful of security.

Like moving a residence, moving a practice is a fraught prospect in which it’s easy for items to get lost in the shuffle. Think about how it is at home. How long did it take you to find your remote after your last move?

In the medical practice, misplaced items can incite major headaches, since they carry a lot more risk should they make it into the wrong hands during a move.

According to research from the Ponemon Institute, lost or stolen equipment accounted for 49 percent of health data breaches in 2011.

Additionally, employee mistakes, negligence or actions – with and without malicious intent – played a part in 64 percent of all incidents. Relocating can create a hotbed for those kinds of troubles.

Most practices count on their staffers to help with a move. Relying on employees to pack things up gives them license to touch and transport a lot of sensitive material – a prime opportunity for fraudulence, like embezzlement.

Plus if your staff is spread thin on time, your files and equipment may not get inventoried and could be tough to track down after the move is completed. It’s not that big of a deal if a stapler comes up missing after you unpack; it’s a very big deal if a patient chart does.

Avoid security issues by hiring professionals with experience moving medical offices. Putting pros in charge gives you time to lock up sensitive files and financial information yourself, and inventory their whereabouts properly.

Facing acquisition? Prepare to negotiate.

Being purchased by a hospital system makes many doctors accustomed to private practice feel powerless, thinking that so long as they’re willing to be acquired, the business dealings associated with acquisition are boilerplate.

That shouldn’t be the case. True, acquisitions are highly structured arrangements. But if it’s posed to you as a firmly standardized transaction in which you can’t negotiate on your business’ behalf, you’re being misled.

Acquisition by a hospital or other large healthcare entity should start in a planning stage and move to a valuation stage. To enter that second phase in an empowered position, you should have your practice appraised before you ever begin planning.

Armed with the asking price information your appraiser provides you – as well as estimates for reasonable acceptable variations – you should enter your valuation prepared to play hardball.

And it’s not just about the purchase price. What aspects of your practice do you feel most strongly about maintaining once you’re hospital-owned? Many physicians want to retain control of hiring decisions or keep current staff as is.

Your buyer may not agree or be willing to sign off on such concerns in your contracts, but it’s your right to voice your requests on these matters and have them taken into account. The same goes for compensation rates, patient-load expectations and technology infrastructure changes.

If you (or your legal counsel) don’t negotiate on your behalf, you may end up resentful of the strictures placed on your practice down the line. Work as hard as you can to protect the pieces of your business that are most important to you to make acquisition as seamless as possible.

How have you handled big changes at your practice?

Madelyn Young is a content writer for CareCloud who specializes in covering practice management, medical billing, HIPAA 5010, ICD-10 and revenue cycle management. You can read her work on Power Your Practice and the CareCloud Blog.