Article Date: 1/1/2006

fix this practice
How to Create A Partnership
Making the marriage of two strong O.D.s work takes careful planning.
RICHARD S. KATTOUF, O.D., D.O.S.

Q: After practicing for fifteen years, I sold 50% of my practice to a partner. The partnership is now five years old and we are at odds on a number of issues. What should I have done to prevent this impasse and what can be done to solve the problem?

Dr. J. V. Skiffey Via e-mail

A: The partnership of a practice is as difficult a relationship as a marriage. In both there must be trust, mutual respect, honesty, loyalty, dedication, flexibility and compassion. The problem is that we, as human beings, fall short on one or more of these qualities. In business relationships, it's definitely easier if you plan ahead and gear your legal contracts to allow for possible "log jams." Following are some preventive measures you could have taken:

The right set-up

►Maintain 51% ownership. The senior O.D. now has the authority to control the direction of the practice. This solution takes a mature senior doctor who only uses the "power" when absolutely necessary. Bottom-line with this method: Pick your battles carefully.

►When you develop the buy-sell agreement, think of it as a blank canvas. The agreement may contain anything that both parties agree upon. As you paint on the canvas (negotiate), you can add preventive clauses that will alleviate the development of "log jams." 

Butting heads

My company has been involved in many situations similar to yours. By the time these offices retain my services, the partners have developed high stress levels and low morale.

Dr. Lu's practice needed help in a number of areas. During our interview, he informed me that his 50% partner of ten years, Dr. King, did not want to hire a consultant. Dr. King felt that a "hot shot" consultant would suggest raising fees and cause patient erosion. The practice had many staffing issues, low net income, high staff turnover and a need for more private pay (non-managed care) patients.

Even after two telephone conferences and written reports, Dr. King still resisted hiring a consultant. It became clear that the two had deep personal issues. Many partners get into "black and white" posturing. Dr. Lu says "black," Dr. King says "white." This pattern creates stress throughout the entire organization. The doctors were not aware of the extent of the problem until I demonstrated it. I interviewed the office manager to support or dispute my hypothesis. She assured me that the owners continually butted heads.

The grey area

After negotiating, Dr. Lu agreed to have me develop a written agreement that stated if the practice did not meet my financial projections in a two-year period, Dr. Lu would reimburse the practice, out of his personal income, for the consulting and management fees. The agreement stated clearly that both doctors had to implement new procedures. Otherwise, the agreement was null and void.

The practice exhibited the growth I projected. I made both owners understand the damage their relationship issues were doing to the entire organization. The change in behavioral patterns was key to the success of this practice.

Many times what appears to be a problem in the practice is actually an issue stemming from personal relationships. If you attack the practice issues prior to correcting the relationship problems, you will not have the success you seek. OM

DR. KATTOUF IS PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF TWO MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING COMPANIES. FOR NFORMATION, CALL (800) 745-EYES OR E-MAIL HIM AT ADVANCEDEYECARE@HOTMAIL.COM. THE INFORMATION IN THIS COLUMN IS BASED ON ACTUAL CONSULTING FILES.



Optometric Management, Issue: January 2006