Partnering with a Physician: What You Need to Know

You’re ready to start looking for the perfect space for your private practice – congrats! You’ll want to ensure the space that you select is inviting, comfortable and most importantly, HIPAA-compliant so as to protect your clients’ privacy. But let’s face it, renting your own private practice space can be pricey! You could consider teaming up with a local physician and share office space to not only save on rent, but to provide a more holistic network of care, to provide mutual referrals and more. Let’s take a look at the pros, cons and considerations.

Pros: Potential Cost Savings, Holistic Care and Mutual Referrals

Sharing an office space with a physician can result in cost savings to you, should you rent a space from him/her or opt to be hired on as an employee of his/her practice. Paying rent on your own for an office (in addition to your current apartment rent or home mortgage) can add up! 

Another positive of the MD/RDN partnership is that your teamwork can result in more holistic care for your client, instead of having two like-minded healthcare providers operating apart from one another in separate offices.  Sharing an office with an MD reduces the barrier of entry for clients – they don’t have to schedule a separate appointment with you to come to your office across town; you’re just down the hall!

Third, teaming up with an area physician puts you in a great position to share his/her clients. Be strategic about teaming up with an MD who shares your philosophy and your niche. Are you interested in weight management counseling? GI issues? Bariatric? Seek a physician partner that makes sense for your career path and interests. 

Cons: Potential Reduced Flexibility and Sense of Ownership

If operating as a sole practitioner is your dream, then partnering with an MD (or other healthcare pro) isn’t necessarily for you. You’ll potentially miss out on some of the independence, flexibility and sense of ownership that comes from operating as a sole RDN, in your own space. But if you don’t mind having an MD help fill your schedule – then consider becoming a team! 

Partnership Structure and Billing

Determine whether you will become an employee of the physician’s practice, or whether you are coming on as an independent contractor. As always, have your attorney review that contract. Determine what your fee and payment structure will look like as well. You should be paid for the counseling services that you perform, whether through your receiving reimbursement directly from insurance companies, or via the physician billing for your time (depending on how your participating provider agreements with payers are structured). This allows you both to avoid fee splitting, or sharing of income among a team where all parties may not have been involved in client care. Fee splitting tends to be prohibited in most states, but laws vary state to state.  

Note that while we’re using the term “partnership” here to describe an arrangement between you and a physician, that word technically has legal implications. In this case, we’re using it to describe the nature of a sharing arrangement, rather than in its pure legalistic sense.

Insurance Considerations 

If you are already contracted under your own practice’s tax ID with the insurance companies you intend to bill, you’re set to see clients. However, if you’re not yet contracted with private insurance, and you are an employee of the physician’s office, the MD should revisit his/her contracts with insurance companies so that he/she can bill for your nutrition counseling sessions. Note that you may need to secure and provide your National Provider Identifier (NPI) as part of this process; some insurance companies may require that your NPI be used, while others may opt to use the physician’s NPI.    

As always, if you have questions about teaming up with a physician, reach out to us here at Healthy Bytes. We look forward to helping you strategize what’s best for your practice!