Problem Partner? 8 Tips to Protect Your Practice

A full schedule is great—mostly. The downside is that when you get to the point where patients must wait too long for an appointment, they’re likely to go elsewhere. That’s business that you’ve just lost. In our last post, we explained how too-busy eye care providers can decide if hiring more staff, an associate physician, or taking on partner is the best answer. In this post, we’re explaining how to deal if a partner becomes a liability in your practice.

Partnership Pitfalls

Ideal partners will bring a combination of clinical skill, business savvy, and a strong work ethic to your practice. They also bring their outsize egos, conflicting opinions on everything from your ophthalmology EMR to your hours, their pet goals, emotional baggage, and sometimes even serious behavioral problems.

Even if you do your due diligence when vetting candidates for partnership, you can’t predict every possible outcome, notes healthcare attorney Robert J. Landau, who regularly speaks at AAO and other industry meetings. In a past meeting, he spoke about the particular problems that partners can cause.

Despite your best effort you may encounter garden-variety problem partners like substance abusers, sexual harassers, out of control or angry personalities, non-compliant, distracted, or just plain lazy partners, he continues. “Unfortunately these are all possibilities even if you act correctly,” he says.

Problem partners can lead to issues like:

  • Litigation (contract claims, defamation suits, protected class claims)
  • Personal and professional liability
  • Criminal investigations
  • Reduced productivity
  • Bad press
  • Divided staff
  • Angry patients and colleagues

Problem employee? Fire them. Problem partner? Not so fast.

In a group practice, try to identify as many bad behaviors as possible and formulate an approach to handling such problems in advance, advises Landau.

“Most group practice agreements are only marginally helpful with the disastrous partner because they only deal with easily foreseeable problems.”— Robert J. Landau

Spell out the consequences in your buy-sell agreements or partnership contracts. He offers these suggestions:

  • Research extensively before hiring. Consider carefully before offering partnership and evaluate the consequences of tenure on any existing partners and the practice as a whole.
  • Establish and formalize clear expectations through contracts, policy manuals, and written memos.
  • Model the right behavior.
  • If a problem arises, act early and send the message that problem behaviors have consequences.
  • Your group may want to use an indemnification clause to ensure you can collect financially from a problem partner for any fines or losses due to his or her actions.
  • Some groups implement policies that allow the group to impose financial penalties or make adjustments to compensation shares in the event of continued problematic behavior.
  • Other options include suspension, buy-back of stock/ownership interest, reduction of payout, and requiring problem partners to undergo counseling.
  • Partnership agreements shouldn’t hinder the group’s discretion to deal with issues as they arise. For example, your agreements may allow for a change in compensation as a remedy. In that case, they should not also require that compensation arrangements must be changed by a unanimous vote of all the partners.

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