All physician partnerships are not created equal. While there are many ways to work with independent physicians, some arrangements are better than others. In our conversations with executives, we've found that the most successful partnerships are strategic ones. Strategic partnerships more effectively advance shared goals and make both sides more loyal (and ideally, indispensable) to the other. Here are four ways to tell whether your partnership is truly strategic—or just another transaction.
1. You embrace "coopetition."
As physician groups become larger and more sophisticated, they are acting as competitors too. Independent physicians have long competed with hospitals but we're also seeing them set up MSOs, sell services, and act as pay-viders to compete with other entities including vendors and plans. In the past, organizations have viewed their relationships with independent physicians as strictly competitive or cooperative.
But today's reality is "coopetition." Strategic partners simultaneously embrace competitive and cooperative elements by identifying specific markets, goals, or other scoped areas where they will work together—and then completing the same exercise for where they will compete. As long as there is a shared goal, even the biggest competitors can partner together.
2. You gain more from working together than alone.
Ask yourself: Can I better achieve my goals working together than I can separately? For a partnership to be strategic, the answer to this litmus test must be yes. And importantly, your goal cannot just be more referrals or sales. Organizations can expect to accrue financial benefits from partnerships that work well—but arrangements that are only about profits are transactions, not strategic partnerships.
According to our research, the best partnership goals are pre-determined and demonstrate transferable benefit to the community. Like any strategic initiative, executives should define metrics of success upfront in order to measure whether these goals are met and quantify the value of partnership. And again: these metrics can't be solely financial.
3. You accept unequal benefits—and risks.
Partnership isn't about winning. Organizations must enter negotiations willing to make tradeoffs. Very rarely do both sides leave with their entire wish list fulfilled—but that isn't a bad thing. Strategic partners realize it is often worth giving something up, even a competitive advantage, for the benefits that come from successful partnership.
While it is common for negotiations to include conversations around goals and benefits, outlining tradeoffs and risks are just as important. Partners shouldn't leave the negotiating table until they're able to fully articulate what the other side has at stake in the arrangement. Failing to acknowledge these realities upfront degrades trust between partners.
4. You proactively look for opportunities to strengthen relationships.
Strategic partners embed partnership considerations into everything they do. While most organizations set up dedicated work streams around independent physician relations, truly strategic ones apply it as a filter to every strategic priority.
Organizations should examine their existing goals for areas where there may be benefits for the other party that are non-obvious or an easy give. We've also talked to organizations who begin with the intention to partner and then identify a shared problem to solve. Either order of operations works but organizations shouldn't partner just for the sake of partnership—importantly, it always needs to solve a shared business challenge.