Do I need the selling doctor to stay on in the practice?
In some cases, doctors who sell their practices are contractually obligated to stay and work in the practice for several weeks or months after the sale to provide treatment and “introduce the patients to the new doctor”.
The benefits of such an arrangement may seem clear, even obvious. It makes sense to keep the selling doctor around for a while to talk to the patients and introduce them to the buyer, right?
In my opinion, short-term work-backs just for the sake of “introducing the new doctor” typically do more harm than good. In fact, they can be a real disaster for the buyer if the patients see Dr. Seller in the office treating some patients since they’ll wait for him or her rather than seeing Dr. Buyer.
This can complicate the transition, causing problems with team members and confusing patients. If the Seller becomes an associate and helps produce dentistry for the new doctor, then it can be an ideal situation. Here, context matters most.
Team Loyalty: It is difficult for the team to transfer their loyalty to the buying doctor when the selling doctor is still around. Even though the team knows that the practice has sold, the de facto leadership will always remain with the seller. The staff will ‘double-check’ on instructions with Dr. Seller, and it only takes a slight eye roll, or a muttered “Well that’s not what I would have done…” to lower your credibility in the eyes of your new team.
For the new doctor to assume the leadership role in the practice, it is easiest for the selling doctor to make him or herself scarce, even right after the sale. It is important for the selling doctor to be available by phone and during the non-patient time to answer questions, but if they are around the practice too often, especially when patients are there, it can cause problems.
Patient Loyalty: With patients, the selling doctor’s presence can cause even more problems. Even if the buying doctor can see a patient tomorrow, they’ll wait for months to see Dr. Seller, the one with whom they’re comfortable and often “the best dentist in the world”. Furthermore, when patients schedule an appointment to see the new doctor and, while in the office, see Dr. Seller walking down the hall, they may feel cheated. They thought Dr. Seller retired and they didn’t understand that they had an option to see her.
The outright sale is almost always the best option for a clean transition. There are a number of important strategies for transferring goodwill, like a well-crafted letter to patients and thoughtful reactivation telephone scripts, that do a much better job than a work-back arrangement.
What if the selling doctor wants to keep working? What I’m talking about here is not the same as the transition scenario where the seller stays on as an associate for several years or where the buyer and seller form a partnership (partial sale) for the foreseeable future. Such arrangements – when carefully planned out ahead of time – can be mutually beneficial.