Fundamental Reasons Why Physician Groups Need Leadership

Leadership is Needed

Here’s one simple reason why physician groups need leadership: Solid leadership unlocks a practice’s potential. It’s possible to run a physician group practice without a designated physician leader, but the group probably won’t perform nearly as well as it could or should. Although leaders serve myriad functions in any given group, I believe all physician groups should invest in this role for four primary reasons:

To Provide Order for the Physician Group

The larger the group, the more critical a focal point the physician leader serves. It becomes very difficult for a manager or administrator to have six or seven physician bosses because every­one might have a different agenda. Who’s the real boss here?

Having central leadership not only makes daily opera­tions smoother for physicians, but also provides a line of command for staff when they have requests or prob­lems. An administrator can’t just go to their favorite doctor; it’s not meant to create a mini bureaucracy - it’s meant to give order.

And this order may benefit physicians in ways they don’t realize. I remember working with two groups considering a merger. Practice A had a physician leader, and practice B did not. At practice A, all of the doctors consistently arrived at 8 a.m. and left by 5:30 p.m. At practice B, doctors and staff constantly left late in the evenings and ran up staff over­time. They didn’t have a leader who could impose dis­cipline on the group.

To Enhance Teamwork

Strong leadership allows the whole practice to function more effectively as a team. Even for practices with top-performing administrators, physicians need a peer leader to tend to elements of practice only another doctor can truly understand.

A physician leader, working with a good prac­tice manager, can ensure that the practice has a strategic plan, knows where it’s headed, and doesn’t get caught off‑guard with outdated infrastructure and disgruntled staff.

To Provide Perspective for the Physician Group

One constant in medical practice “business” is that it’s always changing. By having a physician leader who keeps abreast of developments in the national and local healthcare picture, a practice is better prepared to react. Many practices allow leaders extra time away from clini­cal practice to attend conferences or seminars.

Leaders also must look at the practice itself as a whole — how each physician’s actions cumulatively affect the practice. For example, each member probably knows the number of patients he or she sees each day, but the leader should be aware of the differences among physicians.

Often in practices without active leadership, the physi­cians just go on their merry way assuming everything’s taken care of. They don’t recognize the talents they need, responsibilities people take on, burdens they have, and they don’t necessarily reward and acknowledge the contributions of other people the way they could to get even better results.

To Facilitate Forward Momentum

Medical groups without a designated physician leader can do fine. However, most will just meander along without being at the top of their game. They often lack an edge that could and almost does cost them significant dollars.

For example, I’ve worked with practices in which the founder/leader facilitated numerous initiatives (e.g., introduced new services, improved managed-care payment, branched out into another specialty) that have handsomely benefited everyone in the practice. In these cases, I know for a fact the partners make more money than he or she would otherwise. That’s what leadership can do for any physician group practice. A trusted leader can pull a group out of its comfort zone—or even a rut—to explore new opportunities that often turn out profitable and exciting.

And don’t forget that when practices are in trouble, it’s often because due to a lack of real leadership. I have seen either complacency on the part of the practice manager while doctors simply yield to that person without really taking control or an interest in the forward movement of the practice.

Final Thoughts on Physician Group Leadership

A good physician leader is someone who can inspire a group to get together, col­laborate, and stretch themselves to go where they haven’t been interested or thought they could go in the past. Whether there’s a feeling that the medical group is not reaching its potential, its business is sliding, or troublesome changes exist or are on the horizon, it’s never too late to establish physician leadership. It’s so easy for groups to get on a downward slippery slope where nobody’s minding the store and find themselves in a heap at the bottom. Rather than expending the time, energy, and money to pick you up, true leader­ship can prevent a group practice from getting to that point in the first place.

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