Read This Before Your Next Physician Contract Negotiation

Negotiations with physicians can be difficult no matter how positive the relationship between the physician and the organization may be. Conversations about compensation take time and effort to plan and do not always go as anticipated. By preparing carefully for these discussions, you can take strides to achieve the best possible outcome for all parties.

Review all prior and existing agreements

Start by reviewing the contract that is up for negotiation as well as prior contracts with the group or individual. If it is a current agreement that is expiring, review the key terms and scope of services. If it is a new arrangement, familiarize yourself with what has already been offered to the provider and the proposed scope of services. Check and see if additional contracts exist for the physician or group in question. Multiple contracts with the same physician or group could result in overpayment that is sometimes referred to as “stacking”. It may be reasonable to have multiple agreements with the same physician for different services, but you should keep careful documentation of total payments to ensure that the aggregate amount does not exceed market rate compensation for an individual. For example, if an oncologist with a clinical practice is paid to be the medical director of an infusion service as well as the chief of staff and the director of the cancer center and the aggregate hospital payments exceeds the compensation for a full time oncologist, there could be an issue if her clinical revenues reflect a full time practice as well.

Establish goals and objectives

Before beginning a contract negotiation, determine the ideal outcome of the contract in terms of payment and work expectations. Know when you can compromise and when you can’t before any talks with the other party begin. Strategize with others to determine what the physician or group’s goals are; set realistic expectations for the arrangement. Are the expected number of hours realistic? Does the physician have the leadership skills needed to be effective?

Research the Market

Always perform due diligence before starting negotiations. Commercial reasonableness is an important aspect of physician contracting, especially for a new position. Consider if the position is truly necessary for your organization or results in measurable quality improvement, and that it makes good business sense independent of any referrals by the physician or group.

Know reasonable payment rates for the specialty and the service in question. High quality market data is a great resource. While you should be familiar with the entire range, we recommend targeting rates between the 25th and 75th percentiles of market data. It is important to remember that statistically someone must be paid above the 90th percentile and someone must be below the 25th – and there should be reasons and documentation for those payment levels. You should enter the negotiation with quantitative evidence of the range you can support, as well as how your institution and the particular physician(s) compare to the ‘typical’ provider. Factors such as hospital size and trauma status can make a difference in the appropriate payment rate, as can national reputation and the credentials of a particular physician.

Consider alternatives

In many negotiations, you will encounter pushback. Think about alternative payment options and how you can compromise. Prepare several alternatives for obtaining and paying for the service that satisfy your goals and objectives. Discussing alternative approaches can often yield savings or more efficient ways of achieving the same objectives, and provides an opportunity to discuss each party’s objectives and challenges.

Document compliance

Documenting compliance is essential for your compliance program; however, fair market value rate documentation can also facilitate negotiations. Demonstrating that you take compliance seriously and reminding physicians that they too can be investigated and fined for Stark and Anti-Kickback violations, can earn the respect of your physicians, administration, and board.

Review your organization’s contracting and compliance guidelines

If your organization has written compliance guidelines for payment rates, review them so that both you and the physicians with whom you negotiate know the ground rules. If your organization doesn’t have written guidelines, consider creating them. Many organizations don’t pay above the 50th or 75th percentile without a rigorous approval process. Having guidelines creates an objective standard of payment and limits feelings of favoritism among physicians.

Gather all documents you may need in one place

Depending on the size of your organization or the time of year, you may be preparing for many contract negotiations. By keeping all the documentation and notes for each contract together, you can stay organized and reduce confusion and unnecessary missteps. Since many of these documents also support compliance, keeping them centralized can streamline the compliance process after the contract is signed.

Have a draft job description and contract prepared

Creating or reviewing the job expectations internally with staff who will be involved in the program helps to define expectations and parameters for effective leadership. It helps the physician to understand what the position entails and can preclude conflicts during negotiations or later when time records are reviewed.

If you would like to learn more about physician contracting best practices, we have many more resources here.

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