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Are Doctors Terrible At Business?

You've heard it over and over again..."Doctors are terrible business people". I disagree.

Firstly, what do people mean when they say "businesspeople"? My definition is someone who runs a business and can sustain it profitably. Most docs I know who run their own practices (admittedly fewer and fewer as more gravitate to employed positions) do an admirable job keeping all the balls in the air, with minimal training, and seem to take home a paycheck every month.

Second, in addition to how successful physicians are as self-employed owners, the term "business person" also applies to physicians as entrepreneurs, leaders, and investors. Again, while lots of us suffered from the recent economic downturn with a hit to our pensions plans and investments, I haven't seen any evidence that docs did any worse than anyone else.

Finallly, there is considerable overlap between business skills and clinical skills-data acquisition and analysis, risk assessment, problem solving, interpersonal skills, accumulating "clinical judgement" i.e. learning from your mistakes, and lots of others. Docs inherently have business heads that overlap with their clinical heads.

People think doctors are lousy business people because practitioners place patient interests above the bottom line. The result is delivering services that don't generate a profit or inefficiencies in practice management. As more and more doctors pursue non-clinical interests, some for a profit, the unintended consequence and the good news will be a recognition of how good physicians actually are at business when that's the first priority. Unfortunately, it's also the bad news if you are looking for someone to manage your diabetes.

Arlen D. Meyers MD MBA is a professor and physician entrepreneur who blogs at Freelance MD.

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Reader Comments (1)

That still begs the question of how Dell Perot can provide the same kind of consulting services to small practices that large groups and hospital systems pay big bucks for. Coffin notes that Dell has had a lot of experience in computerizing small businesses. Both Dell and Perot, before and after their merger, have also worked with many hospitals, including most of the 2,000 facilities that use Meditech information systems.
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01.3 | Registered CommenterAuton nz

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