THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PHYSICIAN-OWNED BUSINESSES
By: Kane Harrison, Founder & CEO
Published: March 15, 2019
If you are a physician and you own and run your business, I’m going to challenge you to take the way you were taught to think when diagnosing patients and apply that same style of thinking to your business. This advice will not only protect the health of your business, but it might also save your life. Bare with me...
While traveling across the US over the last few years building our Vision Care Connect brand (a patient acquisition service in the Ophthalmology space), I have often been confronted by some of the smartest minds in medicine, unable or unwilling to analyze their business from different perspectives. Physician leadership in medicine is critical for the health of the patient, but physician leadership in a physician-owned business is just as critical for the health of the business. I can't help but wonder if these physicians are thinking about their business — our just reacting to the economic challenges?
Physician education (in Ophthalmology specifically) is focused on making them remarkable surgeons, not CEO’s so let me be completely clear when I say that this is not the fault of the physician.
In the current economic climate, it is very enticing to own your own business in elective medicine. They are largely a cash-driven business with relatively predictable overheads. Owning a cash-driven business with all the prestige that comes with being a surgeon sounds incredible right? You can create your own hours (or so you think), you are your own boss (or so you think) and in Ophthalmology, there is a seemly endless supply of patients (or so you think). The truth is that pressure felt by physician-owned business leaders is immense and often unmanageable.
There is so much that falls on the shoulders of the physician as the business owner. The world is moving as fast as our culture can push it, which leaves them faced with the ever-shifting consumer focus. Equity firms are condensing market share and commoditizing elective procedures. Physician-owned business leaders are now asked to be CEO, CMO, CFO, conduct consultations, and complete highly sophisticated surgeries all day with the now educated public expecting often better than perfect outcomes.
The medical profession relies on the premise that doctors are conditioned to clock long hours and ignore fatigue and the emotional toll of their work. Then add the pressures of running a business, supporting a family, supporting employees and their families and dare I say it, no succession plan. (I’ll save that one for another blog) We are now about as far from two days a week on the golf course and chartered yachts as we could be.
Day-In-Day-Out stress can lead to crippling depression. It is one reason doctors are far more likely than the general population to die by suicide. An estimated 300 to 400 doctors kill themselves each year, a rate of 28 to 40 per 100,000 or more than double that of the general population. (That is according to a review of 10 years of literature on the subject presented at the American Psychiatry Association annual meeting in May.)
There is hope. There is now a new layer to leadership which has become more crucial now than ever and this may just be the saving grace for these physician-owned business leaders; Enter critical thinking. Unlike the average business owner who is now forced to learn to think this way, physicians have been trained to think this way. Physicians apply critical thinking to diagnose medical outcomes hundreds of times a year but rarely think to apply that same level of thinking directly to their business.
TAKE A LOOK AT THESE 7 CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF DIAGNOSING A PATIENT’S CONDITION:
Separating or breaking a whole into parts to discover their nature, functional and relationships.
Judging according to established personal, professional, or social rules or criteria.
Recognizing differences and similarities among things or situations and distinguishing carefully as to category or rank.
Searching for evidence, facts, or knowledge by identifying relevant sources and gathering objective, subjective, historical, and current data from those sources.
Drawing inferences or conclusions that are supported in or justified by the evidence.
Envisioning a plan and its consequences.
Changing or converting the condition, nature, form, or function of concepts among contexts.
It makes perfect sense. We can apply this exact thinking to every aspect of our business to prevent, diagnose and predict the current and future health of our business.
In the book How Doctors Think, Jerome Groopman states that on average, a physician will interrupt a patient describing their symptoms within eighteen seconds. In that short time, many doctors decide on the likely diagnosis and best treatment. Often, decisions made this way are correct, but at crucial moments they can also be wrong -- with catastrophic consequences.
I’m here to tell you that if you are applying this style of non-critical thinking to your business, the story will end the same way -- with catastrophic consequences.
I’m often asked how I reshape the way I look at things. I start by looking at situations from as many different perspectives as I can and completely resist the urge to be reactive. By design, this style of thinking helps us to unveil the un-obvious. Let's kick start the change today with a story you can share with your team.
During WWII, the Navy tried to determine where they needed to armor their aircraft to ensure they came back home. They ran an analysis of where planes had been shot up, and came up with this.
Obviously the places that needed to be up-armored are the wingtips, the central body, and the elevators. That’s where the planes were all getting shot up.
Abraham Wald, a statistician, disagreed. He thought they should better armor the nose area, engines, and mid-body. Which was crazy, of course. That’s not where the planes were getting shot, except Mr. Wald realized what the others didn’t. The planes were getting shot there too, but they weren’t making it home.
What the Navy thought it had done was analyze where aircraft were suffering the most damage. What they had actually done was analyze where aircraft could suffer the most damage without catastrophic failure. But what about the places that were not hit? Those planes had been shot there and crashed. The Navy was not looking at the whole sample set, only the survivors.
We tend to focus on the obvious, it’s natural, it’s easy and often it’s the path of least resistance. But what do you think you might unveil in your business or more importantly your patient base if you started to look for the things you can’t see? I promise what you find will be game-changing.
If you naturally apply critical thinking to diagnose your patients and you start to apply the same level of critical thinking to your business, you will discover things about your patients, employees and yes, you will discover more about your leadership. Most importantly you will begin to predict and control business outcomes.
It is possible to be both doctor and successful business owner but knowing your business as intimately as you know your patients is crucial. The objective information critical thinking reveals, empowers us to make not just ‘smart’ decisions but the ‘right’ decisions to steer your business through ever-changing environments (critical to business health) and it will arm you with objective reassurance and clear direction (critical to your mental health). Most importantly, by applying critical thinking will help you to protect your patients’ greatest asset and your business’ greatest asset - you.