In making a decision to pursue medicine and healthcare as a livelihood, it is likely that most physicians today did not contemplate the extent to which legally binding contracts would govern and impact their professional lives. Few other careers carry the same potential for commitment to so much paper and binding agreements that simultaneously foster professional opportunities and create hazardous legal and professional risks (for example, a non-compete agreement that bars future employment needed to avoid selling the house and moving; a contract with a hospital system that memorializes a compensation arrangement but, unbeknownst to the doctor when he signs, violates STARK law). In this day, all physicians should be mindful of the critical importance of good contracting principles and practices.
The healthcare industry, perhaps more dramatically than other industries, is prone to changes, trends, and developments. A sustained trend has been physician employment (versus private practice ownership). In the 1990s, with the evolution of HMOs, the industry trended toward high levels of physician employment, a trend that petered out some during the 2000s with decreasing physician employment as HMOs dissolved. In recent years, however, the healthcare industry returned to a strong trend toward physician employment driven by numerous factors derived from healthcare “reform.” Whether the current physician employment trend is more permanent than the last one is unknown, but some experts predict that the high level of physician employment is here to stay. As reported last year in the Dallas/Forth Worth Healthcare Daily, some experts believe that physicians’ need for stability with regard to future income will drive a lasting employment trend.