What's A Doctor Worth To A Hospital?

     In the ongoing symbiotic relationship between hospitals and members of their medical staffs, it is understood that the physicians generate hospital revenue by admitting their patients and ordering tests and procedures. But exactly how much is any doctor "worth" in this sense? Thanks to the HealthLaw Prof Blog, I saw that James A. White recently covered this issue in the Wall Street Journal Health Blog. Citing to a study of 114 U.S.hospitals by physician recruiters Merritt Hawkins, the WSJ produced a chart listing average hospital net inpatient and outpatient dollars derived from referrals, tests and procedures done in the hospital.

     The chart showed average hospital revenue ranging from a low of $696,888 (from nephrology) to a high of $2,815,650 (for neurosurgery). The average for internal medicine was $1,678,341. The article doesn't talk about the hospitals' costs to provide the services that resulted in the hospital revenue described. Although some costs are evenly distributed among all patients, some are not.

     Any hospital administrator will tell you that not many days go by without some physician on staff reminding the administrator of how much his or her presence is "worth" to the hospital. Unlike most other fields of endeavor, physicians by law cannot be paid by the hospital for what they are "worth" in business generation. But that doesn't mean physicians will not expect to be compensated for that value in some way. Nor does it mean that hospitals can afford to be oblivious to this calculation of value.

     Whether in negotiating employment compensation, the structure of a joint venture, or the terms of a services agreement, a hospital should know what the physician across the table is worth in hospital revenue. Although this is not the only value of the physician to be assessed, and the hospital cannot base its offer on the value of physician business generation, the potential loss or absence of that hospital business is certainly a major factor in calculating what mediators call the hospital's WATNA (worst alternative to a negotiated agreement).

     This analysis is complicated, and may yield unexpected results. But failing to do it is like ignoring the size of the pot on the table. You will end up paying too much, or folding on deals the hospital can't afford to lose. 

[Image: Hole cards in a game of Texas hold'em, by Thomas van de Weerd, September 2, 2006]

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