The group also keeps administrative stakeholders updated to make sure everyone is on the same page. Other groups might delineate in a contract what thresholds need to be met for expansion to be viable.
“It needs to be agreed upon,” Dr. Alhadeff says. “I like the flexibility of being able to determine within our company what we’re doing. But in answer to that, there are unintentional consequences. If we determine that we’re going to bring on someone else, and then we see after a few months that there is not enough volume to support this new physician, we could run into a problem. We will then have to make a financial decision, and the worst thing is to have to fire someone.”
Dr. Alhadeff also worries about the flipside: failing to hire when staff is overworked.
“We run that risk also,” he says. “We are walking a tightrope all the time, and we need to balance that tightrope.”
When you’re putting out fires every day, you don’t have the luxury and the time to look out there and see what’s happening and know everything that’s going on. [Group leaders] need to understand the importance of [long-term analysis] and how all the pieces tie in together.
—Kenneth Hertz, FACMPE, principal, Medical Group Management Association Health Care Consulting Group, Denver
The Long View
Another tightrope is timing. Kenneth Hertz, FACMPE, principal of the Medical Group Management Association’s Health Care Consulting Group, says that it can take six months or longer to hire a physician, which means group leaders need to have a continual focus on whether growth is needed or will soon be needed. He suggests forecasting at least 12 to 18 months in advance to stay ahead of staffing needs.
Unfortunately, he says, analysis often gets put on hold in the shuffle of dealing with daily duties. “This is kind of generic to practice administrators, who are putting out fires almost every day. And when you’re putting out fires every day, you don’t have the luxury and the time to look out there and see what’s happening and know everything that’s going on,” he says. “They need to understand the importance of it and how all the pieces tie in together.”
Brian Hazen, MD, medical director of Inova Fairfax Hospital Group in Fairfax, Va., says an important approach is to realize growth isn’t always a good thing. HM group leaders often want to grow before they have stabilized their existing business lines, he says, and that can be the worst tack to take. He also notes that a group leader should ingratiate their program into the fabric of their hospital and not just rely on data to make the argument of the group’s value. That means putting hospitalists on committees, spearheading safety programs, and being seen as a partner in the institution.
“Job One is always patient safety and physician sanity,” he says. “If you are careful about growth and buy-in, and you do the committee work and support everybody so that you’re firmly entrenched in the hospital as a value, it’s much safer to grow. Growing for the sake of growing, you risk overexpansion, and that’s dangerous.”
Many hospitalist groups looking to grow will use locum tenens to bridge the staffing gap while they hire new employees (see “No Strings Attached,” December 2012, p. 36), but Dr. Hazen says without a longer view, that only serves as a Band-Aid.
Hertz, the consultant, often uses an analogy to show how important it is to be constantly planning ahead of the growth curve.