Leading by Partnering

Rick Johnson, for HealthLeaders Media , April 8, 2008

According to the World Health Organization, there are 2.4 million too few clinicians to meet the world's essential health needs. Most of this is in the southern hemisphere, where Africa alone has only 3% of the world's healthcare workers. However, when you talk to hospital leaders anywhere, they have specific needs for highly sought after specialists and sub-specialists, including neuro and cardiac surgeons, oncologists, and endocrinologists.

While the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe are seeking physicians to attend to their aging populations, hospitals in many emerging and developing countries are seeing new levels of demand and competition that are creating a burden only qualified physicians can fill.

For instance, in Abu Dhabi a new program that provides insurance for all workers has also brought demand healthcare services to previously unseen levels, says David L. Printy, president and CEO of Oasis Hospital in the city of Al Ain. Oasis is aggressively recruiting physicians from the U.S., Europe, and Arab regions.

For entirely different reasons, Dharminder Nagar, MD, CEO, of Paras Hospital, in Gurgaon, says hospitals in India are experiencing an immense shortage of physicians, with up to 20% vacant positions. The dearth of physicians there is not because of an outflow of doctors to wealthier countries, as one might expect, but due to the surge of private hospitals competing not only for patients, but also for in-demand specialists.

Hospital leaders across the globe might have regional challenges that press the need to recruit and retain physicians, but responses to this problem often cut across geography. More and more global hospitals realize the value of the brand and reputation, says Ted Merhoff, vice president for HCCA International. Take, for example, the recent trend by some hospitals to align with well-known academic medical centers as a way of instantly adding prestige to draw in patients and physicians.

In Gurgaon, Nagar points out that good contracts and access to the latest technology are a given, so the deciding factor about where a doctor practices often comes down to the hospital's brand among fellow physicians. But it also helps to offer security in the form of long-term contracts with minimum guaranteed incomes.

Printy sees physicians placing a premium on satisfaction and empowerment. He notes they want more of a say in both clinical and operational improvements. Oasis Hospital's affiliation with the UAE Medical School gives it prominence, and Printy is especially eager to provide his medical staff with ongoing professional growth as a way to keep them satisfied and engaged in the organization.

We're not likely to see a decline in the worldwide competition for physicians any time soon. But we are starting to see some key strategies take hold that align with the changing desires of today's physicians. Hospital leaders who succeed in partnering with physicians will be those that share not only revenue, but also key management functions that give doctors more control of their professional destinies.

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Rick Johnson is senior online editor of HealthLeaders Media. He may be reached at rjohnson@healthleadersmedia.com.
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