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Employing Physicians: Challenges and Tips

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Employing physicians is becoming ever more popular in healthcare, and many markets are competitively seeking out physicians for employment.

At the Becker's Hospital Review 4th Annual Meeting in Chicago on May 9, Dean Thomas, vice president of clinical service line business development for Scottsdale (Ariz.) Healthcare, and Imran Andrabi, MD, senior vice president and chief physician executive officer for Mercy Health Partners in Toledo, Ohio, discussed challenges surrounding employing physicians and tips for success in the model. Kate Carow, MB, FACHE, the principal of Carow Consulting, moderated the session.

While both Scottsdale Healthcare and Mercy are on journeys to physician employment, they are at different stages in that journey. Mercy currently employs roughly 300 physicians, according to Dr. Andrabi. On the other hand, Scottsdale Healthcare has about 80 employed physicians with approximately 800 total physicians in its clinically integrated entity. When Mr. Thomas joined Scottsdale Healthcare in 2004, the system had no employed physicians.

Major challenges

Though the two health systems are in different places on the employment journey, both Dr. Andrabi and Mr. Thomas agreed on one main challenge to physician employment: getting started. "Developing the infrastructure and convincing physicians we know what we're doing…to be successful [was challenging]," Mr. Thomas said. Developing infrastructure requires a large investment early in the process, which can be hard to obtain since the payoff can be far down the road. "Putting investment in it is tough," he said.

Best-suited specialties

Mr. Thomas and Dr. Andrabi then discussed if some physicians are better to target for employment than others. Scottsdale Healthcare employs some subspecialists to cover the hospital, as well as some surgeons, such as trauma surgeons and oncologic surgeons. "The key, I would say, to what works best is those [physicians] aligned in the health system around a program or service line," Mr. Thomas said. "That's where we've gotten the most success."

Beyond specific types of specialists, there is one trait hospitals and health systems should look for in physicians they want to employ – willingness. "It really depends on if the physicians want to be employed" Dr. Andrabi said. "If they're not interested or ready to be employed, it just doesn't work."

So, even though employing physicians can be a challenging journey, it just takes the right investment and a willing group of physicians to get started.

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