(A Business Advice Column)

A conversation between VSA Consulting Group's Senior Consultant Dominick Valenti and Ortho Funding Group co-founder Ed Mann about what it takes to run a successful medical practice.

Ed: Dominick, what does a young doctor just out of medical school need to master to run a successful practice?

Dominick Valenti: A doctor needs to be a master the skill of handling people who are walking in sick and upset, which is the state of most the patients in his waiting room. As a medical professional, being able to manage that patient's mood on his or her own is a highly useful skill set.

Ed: What are some of the common mistakes that you see young surgeons make early in his or her career?

Dominick Valenti: Doctors are a knowledge profession; what they've done is they spent many years becoming an expert at something. Now they're going to use that expertise in business, but no one has actually trained them in business. They know how to work in the business, but not on the business. Working on the business takes on a new dimension around marketing, staff development, client retention and client satisfaction, which is different from all the expertise they've been trained on.

Ed: Most surgeons don't take business classes in medical school, so where would they start if they want to successfully run their own practice?

Dominick Valenti: That surgeon really needs to look into phoning, mailing, networking, conferences and even a web presence. There's a whole new business marketing and sales plan that's necessary and needs to be implemented. It_s not easy for a lot of professionals, because it's outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes his or her immediate response is to hire someone to do it, but I've learned that isn't always the best option.

Ed: What do doctors have to understand that they may not have learned in medical school?

Dominick Valenti: They have to understand that their job is to more than just being a surgeon; it's actually their job to run a successful business, too. Now if they can find a partner, maybe that's an easier route to go, but even then one has to accept the responsibility of running a business. One also have to give up not wanting to be a novice, after spending 12-15 years in the medical field, that person may be uncomfortable dealing in areas like marketing.

Ed: Why can't a doctor just hire a manager to handle those duties?

Dominick Valenti: Even if you do have a manager, how do you know if he's any good if one don't have a business sense? In a small business, one has to get in it. That person may be able to turn it over down the road, but at that point they have to know what good is and what great is because they_ve already done the job themselves.

Ed: How can one gain that type of experience?

Dominick Valenti: In the beginning, one may not have the resources to delegate everything. Even if one joins an established practice, that doesn_t mean it_s being run well as a business. We find there_s a lot of dysfunction in small businesses: no accountability, very little follow up, good enough is good enough. Good is the enemy of great, and if things get good enough people stop. I don_t want a surgeon who_s good enough; I want him to be great. So they may be great in the surgery room, but it_s barely passable in the front office.

Ed: What's the difference between good and great?

Dominick Valenti: I think it_s a different level of engaging the community and one_s clients; the amount of patients that one can actually impact; the quality of service both before and after the event; the ability the office and the staff to follow up and treat people. Great companies make a lot more money and people are actually happy to work there. Retention is not an issue, patients rave about their treatment and the service of the staff and everything is impeccable. The only problem is that people stop at good enough.

Ed: So would you say that the doctor has a responsibility to get involved in these aspects of his practice?

Dominick Valenti: Absolutely. If he thinks he the best, he should be out there in the marketplace saying that! Otherwise patients will find a doctor who believes is the best. There_s a sense of reluctance whether one is a doctor or anyone else in business to _ask_ for the business, because there_s a misperception that people might view you as needy or desperate. Because of this, so many doctors are afraid to ask. So the first thing doctors have to do is make a lot of requests in the marketplace... requests for advice, support, mentoring, support, referrals, for everything.

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