Practice Notes

Phased retirement: How to cut physician hours while saving patient relationships

by Daniel Kuzmanovich

According to last week's report from The Physicians Foundation, 48% of physicians plan to cut back their hours, retire, or leave clinical practice due to the changes taking place in health care. As a result, many medical groups are considering formal, phased retirement plans for their employed physicians.

In phased retirement, physicians work part-time, practicing fewer hours while still retaining employment and benefits. The medical group profits from this by keeping valued physicians and their patient relationships. However, phased retirement still requires space and overhead for those physicians, and can make it more challenging for new physicians in the medical group to build up their practices.

As a result, when developing a formal phased retirement plan, there are some important steps medical groups should take:

  • Determine if phased retirement is an option. Workforce regulations can vary by state, are subject to change, and can have multiple interpretations. It's important to check with your legal team to see if phased retirement is even a possibility.

  • Consider concierge medicine as an alternative. Many medical groups are allowing their older physicians to change their workflow by deploying them in concierge medicine.

  • Develop a formal protocol for physicians in part-time practice. You want to create a policy that is both consistent with your group's culture and approved by your legal team. The plan should be compelling to your physicians but should ensure that phased retirement is a privilege reserved for those physicians who have earned it by meeting tenure requirements and productivity, service, and quality benchmarks.

  • Require sufficient advance notice of retirement. Phased retirement can extend the amount of time a physician practices in the medical group, but the medical group still needs ample time to identify and recruit a replacement. It's wise to require a year's minimum advance notice for an impending retirement—full or partial. If possible, think even farther out: begin developing physician retirement plans three to five years in advance or even working retirement considerations into physicians' employment agreements.

  • Communicate the policy clearly so no one is caught off guard. Letting physicians know the protocol for phased retirement and eligibility requirements well in advance is critical to implementing a new phased retirement plan successfully.

  • Review physicians' retirement plans periodically. A robust physician workforce is critical to meeting patient needs, maintaining access, and retaining market share. Regularly reviewing retirement plans allows the medical group more time and leeway to adjust its workforce planning to meet these demands.

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