A human-interest story about a Cincinnati doctor made the rounds in the national media not long ago. The physician profiled runs an internal medicine practice in the community he grew up in. Though he works just three days a week and has only one employee, he still makes house calls for his longtime, loyal patients.
Oh, and he’s 100 years old. Dr. Fred Goldman is the oldest licensed physician practicing medicine in the state of Ohio.
Few of us can imagine living to 100, let alone continuing to work at that age, which is why Dr. Goldman’s perseverance got me thinking about longevity. What lessons can doctors learn from this centenarian about keeping their practices around for the long haul?
Adapt to Thrive
There’s no denying that healthcare is in a challenging time of transition. As new regulations and mandates emerge, the industry’s landscape may be vastly different ten years from now. That’s scaring many physicians into thinking that the future looks bleak.
But today’s doctors aren’t the first to be faced with changing parameters. Consider how different the business of medicine is today from the healthcare system Dr. Goldman graduated into in 1935. Even Medicare’s only been around since 1965.
You may feel there’s no way to keep your private practice afloat in this uncertain healthcare environment. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with moving over to hospital ownership, if you so choose.
But if you want to stay in control of your practice, you can’t do it by remaining rigidly attached to your own “rules.” It’s a whole lot easier to swim with the current than against it.
Take advantage of emerging opportunities – think ACOs, patient-centered medical homes, and the Independence at Home Project, among others – to adapt and evolve along with the larger healthcare system.
Check out the “survival tactics” from The Physicians Foundation to learn how other doctors manage to thrive as independent practitioners in today’s healthcare environment. Better yet, contract with professional consultants who specialize in long-range planning, such as The Physicians Practice S.O.S. Group.
Quality matters. A major reason why patients choose to stay with a specific physician long-term is because they see him or her as a good doctor – plain and simple.
“People ask me why do you go to a doctor who’s 100?” said Patti Levine, a fourth-generation patient of Dr. Goldman. “I tell them, because he’s seen it all and he knows everything.”
But keeping a practice afloat – and continually profitable – requires more than just being a “good doctor.” Plenty of excellent physicians experience patient turnover for reasons unrelated to their clinical skills.
Earning your patients’ loyalty requires that you meet their needs as not just patients, but people. A 2006 study found that patients want their doctors to be “confident, empathetic, humane, personal, forthright, respectful and thorough” – the same qualities most of us expect from the friends, family members and colleagues we choose to be loyal to.
Yet loyalty must be present from other sources, too. Long-running practices tend to have long-term employees supporting them, as it’s easier to move forward when a staff’s infrastructure is on solid ground.
When hiring, think about whether a potential worker is a fit with your practice’s culture and has the potential to care about your success. Once they’re on board, treat existing hires as the valuable assets that they are. Don’t just pay a living wage; reward excellence, solicit feedback and motivate employees to do their best.
Sticking around takes commitment – and some doctors these days just don’t have it.
A recent, high-profile survey from Jackson Healthcare found that 34 percent of physicians are planning to leave medicine within the next ten years. Even more worringly, 16 percent said they were planning on or “strongly considering” quitting within the year.
“The majority of the folks that were considering leaving medicine or planning to leave medicine this year were under 55 years old,” Sheri Sorrell of Jackson Healthcare told HealthLeaders Media. “The key takeaway is that they’re not retiring; they’re quitting.”
Docs cited the state of the economy and healthcare reform as their reasons for leaving (or wanting to).
Physicians are entitled to feel that way, but it’s unsettling – and those sentiments could backfire on them. After all, it’s unlikely that an entire 16 percent of doctors will up and leave the profession before January. Many will continue to practice but do so with a decreased sense of dedication to their jobs.
Success is bred from commitment. Like a marriage, running a practice will have its good times and its bad times, but sticking to it when the going gets rough is the only way to make it last.
That’s a principle Dr. Goldman exuded with confidence.
“I never regretted for a minute going into medicine,” he said from his office on his 100th birthday. “And I have no plans of getting out of it.”
Here’s hoping you don’t either.
What do you think are the keys to longevity in running a medical practice?Tweet