Six common situations in a physician practice should get you thinking about calling in a management consultant:
- The practice experiences an uncontrolled, persistent drop in profitability—flat or declining revenue and rising costs.
- Practice performance seems stalled in a year- after-year flatness.
- You feel you’ve gone as far as possible, but you suspect you can still do better.
- You are about to start a major project in unknown territory—for example, buildings, information systems, practice mergers and acquisitions.
- Your current manager is spread too thinly to address a significant problem seriously.
- You face sensitive, often physician-to-physician issues requiring the objectivity an outsider can bring.
Some physicians use outside experts almost constantly—and for some, this may be the right decision, especially if you feel that your manager lacks the skills and resources for taking your practice where you want to go. On the other hand, it would make a lot of sense to compare how much you spend on consultants with how much it would cost you to hire a higher level administrator or business manager.
At the other extreme, we find doctors who look at consultants with a jaded eye, seeing them as high-priced salespeople who don’t bring much value for their exorbitant fees. An unfair generalization like this probably came from a bad experience or two. More specifically, unhappy clients sometimes accuse consultants of failing to offer substantive advice and substituting the following:
- Simply telling their clients what they want to hear;
- Bringing their “pat answers” to problems without really understanding the client’s unique situation;
- Interviewing their clients and just “repackaging” the clients’ ideas into fancy reports and slick PowerPoint presentations; and
- Using the initial engagement to generate more work—and more fees.
- Reference check. Call several clients who have used the proposed consultant for similar projects. Look specifically for clients in your state or region, of similar size and specialty.
- Preplanning. Make sure that you and your consultant understand the total scope of the project, the particular problems to be addressed, and an expected time frame and cost limit.
- Cooperation. Access is a significant key for effective consulting. Make yourself available, and instruct your manager and staff that “full disclosure” is the standard of cooperation you expect.
- Practical results. Make it clear to your consultants that you expect more than an analysis of the problems—you want a practical plan of action.
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