Practice Points: Business Through the Practice Lens

Edition: March 2012 - Vol 20 Number 03
Article#: 3931
Author: Laurie Morgan, Capko & Company

Recently, there has been a lot of attention paid to the notion that doctors need formal business training – even an MBA – to manage in the current healthcare environment. The business side of medicine is getting so complex, the argument goes, that doctors need advanced business training just to keep up.

As practice management consultants, we spend a lot of time talking with doctors, learning their views on their own businesses and the healthcare industry in general. It’s not unusual for doctors to tell us that they truly dislike the business side of private practice – and that avoiding business and technology were part of the reason they went into medicine in the first place. Little did they know that entering a private practice would mean learning to run a relatively complex small business. (Or, if they joined a large system, how important it would be to master the internal politics, understand the motivations of administrators and learn to promote themselves inside the organization.)

These essential skills are so habitual to business people, and developed so early in a business career, you almost forget that they’re skills! Yet to physicians, acquiring them can be like learning a whole new language – while simultaneously performing the complex, stressful, all-consuming work of caring for patients.

For most doctors, MBA training is an unduly formal, academic and expensive reaction to the problem. The key thing is for physicians to start to understand how their orientation to the field of medicine differs from that of a businessperson. And for business people who want to work well with doctors, it’s naturally helpful to try to see things from the physician’s perspective.

Strategy, down to the minute

Consider planning and strategy, for example. A typical businessperson’s day is scheduled in hourly blocks, and goals are measured in months, quarters, and, most importantly, years. A doctor’s day, on the other hand, is scheduled in blocks of minutes. When you’re presenting a new device or protocol, you may already be thinking about how much benefit your client could gain from it over the long-term – but his focus will be, what would I have to stop doing to add this new element to our process? Not gumming up the works – and especially not compromising functioning patient care protocols – will always take priority. Your opportunity is to help your client see the forest for the trees – how over time your product will help more patients and create long-term profit for the practice that will justify changing workflow. (Incidentally, this applies after the sale, too – because sometimes physicians don’t realize that planning is needed to get the most out of new equipment or technology. Helping them map out the process and train up staff can earn their appreciation and loyalty – and head off unnecessary frustration or dissatisfaction.)

Negotiating is another area where physicians have different instincts from business people. To a certain degree, business people are always negotiating. Some physicians, on the other hand, almost never do, instead assuming that everyone they interact with approaches the world with the same analytical, straightforward, evidence-parsing perspective they do. In a traditional business-to-business sales setting, objections may signal the start of negotiations – a good sign. But when a doctor says, “I prescribe an alternative because my patients find your drug too costly,” a defense of your pricing is unlikely to persuade her – because she’s not going to negotiate the matter with her patients. No amount of brilliant reasoning will persuade her to buy – she needs you to solve the problem.

There may also be situations in which physicians simply reject your product outright because they didn’t realize they could negotiate. For example, a technology product for which a lower level license might be available, but isn’t offered in your literature. Getting the doctor talking – learning what he or she took at face value from your materials – can open opportunities to negotiate that might not have been apparent.

For salespeople, perhaps no business skill comes more naturally – or is more important – than networking. Salespeople instinctively keep their ears to the ground to know what’s happening in their markets and what’s coming down the road. With their highly scheduled workdays and years of studying and working on their own, doctors are challenged by this seemingly simple task. This gap presents an opportunity for you to serve your clients better by sharing information. Little tidbits like news about companies setting up operations nearby (so much the better if you know which insurers they offer employees), doctors retiring, or practices or healthcare organizations entering and leaving the area could slip by your busy physician clients – and you’d help them a lot by sharing.


Judy Capko is a healthcare consultant, speaker and author of the popular books; Secrets of the Best Run Practice, 2006 and Take Back Time: Bringing time management to medicine, 2008. She is a popular speaker at national and regional conferences. Judy is the owner of Capko & Company, < a href="http://www.capko.com">www.capko.com, and is based in Thousand Oaks, Calif.