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    November 18, 2021

    Do the Hustle

    The adage in New York is, ‘you know we are in a bubble when the cab drivers start giving stock tips.’

    I think we are in the same place with crypto because twice this past week I was at a dinner where passionate crypto advocates – redundant, I know – went deep into the weeds on blockchains; the philosophical fight among crypt-heads between the Bitcoin maximalists and those who think the 13,000  current digital currencies (real number) is a good idea; and whether using crypto in the metaverse is ‘really real,’ like how two negatives make a positive in math.  And both guys are within spitting distance of their 60th birthday, not youngsters playing The Beatles looking for a revolution.

    I just have one question:  Can I use my Shiba Inu to buy some Dogecoin?

    If you have no idea what that question even means, I am guessing you still have an actual $20 bill in your wallet.  Heck, you still have a wallet.

    I really don’t want to talk about crypto (Are you disappointed or glad? Tells you how you are going to navigate the Thanksgiving conversation with Crazy Uncle Joe, who you know is going to ruin someone’s holiday with conspiracy rant that Satoshi is some dude at the CIA.), but a different type of weird exchange going on these days.

    Random pivot…

    Last week I was talking to a friend who is an anesthesiologist.  He is in a big group that covers most every hospital in town, so he is a source of intel for me about how things are going in the ORs, the outlook on elective cases, and the future of Telsa sales to orthopedic surgeons.

    A few weeks ago, he noted how staffing shortages, not COVID protocols, had some facilities working at less than full room capacity.  ORs are money machines for hospitals, so that is a problem.

    Invariably, organizations start throwing money at the issue.  I happened to get my hands on a recent email from the CEO of one of the health systems he covers.  It went to all their employees and laid out what they were doing to increase employee pay.  The grab bag of goodies and incentives had more stuff thrown in there than a piece of Biden legislation.

    The other day he shared another tidbit with an ironic twist.

    Nurses from Hospital A, part of one big health system, were missing from Hospital A, but showing up at Hospital B, part of a competing system.  Likewise, nurses from Hospital B were now working at Hospital A.

    This was not some collaborative cultural exchange between competitors, but some savvy nurses taking advantage of the moment.

    They were reducing their hours at their primary employer and working as a traveling nurse at the other place, just a couple miles down the road.  Both hospitals are paying a steep premium for temporary travelers, but the net capacity added to the system was zero, if not a tad negative.

    How’s that for a side hustle?

    Tim Coan

    CEO and founder

    Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog weekly about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.
    November 11, 2021

    Free Tip for the Anti-Trust Crusaders

    I don’t know a lot about the publishing industry, but years ago a friend of mine was thinking about getting into the book writing business.  He was a shrink who didn’t have enough business sense to run a lemonade stand, so he asked for a little help.  I learned that unless you are a celebrity and your goal is to make money, writing a book is a dumb idea.  Minimum wage laws don’t apply and most likely the author will end up making far below that.  And there are no tips.

    Authors who sell their manuscripts to a publishing house get an advance, a payment for the rights to publish the book.  Royalties to the author don’t kick in until sales exceed the projections the publisher built to calculate the advance.  Most authors don’t ever sell enough to get into the royalties.  Most advances are less than $10,000.  Calculate the payment per word in an 80,000-word novel and you get…. depressed.

    I told my shrink friend he’d make more money treating the depressed than being depressed.

    So it was with a little personal interest that I noted the DOJ was challenging the planned acquisition of publisher Simon and Schuster by Penguin Random House on anti-competitive grounds.  Specifically, Justice said this tie-up would not be good for authors trying to negotiate their book advances.

    A quick catch up in case you are a bit rusty on your book industry metrics.  There are five major publishing houses and Penguin Random House is the largest of the five with annual revenues of about $2.4 billion. Simon and Schuster is fourth at $760 million.  The proposed purchase price is about $2.2 billion.

    As noted, the advance offers for most authors are already paltry, so taking one of five likely bidders off the market could make it slightly worse, but once you get to zero, you’re at zero.  Highly anticipated books, like a former president’s biography or collection of greatest hits from Twitter only needs two bidders to create a frenzy, so those folks are fine.  J.K. Rowling is not going to be injured here.

    President Biden came into office and promised a tough anti-competitive stance and if you look at the backgrounds of the people he has put up for key roles in this space, we would expect aggressive action against behemoths.  Opposition to Random House gobbling up S/S is right on message, a great example of the administration fighting for the little guy.

    We’d just like to offer a little tip for the trustbusters, that is if existential threats in the book world are not consuming every available moment.

    There is this little company in Minnesota – UnitedHealth Group in case you can’t find them on Google – about to buy Change Healthcare for $13 billion.  Let’s just say a bigger consolidation of the healthcare data analytics behind negotiated provider reimbursement rates might cause a little market harm.

    Justice is at least looking into it.  We’d hope they look hard.

    Tim Coan

    CEO and founder

    Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog weekly about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.
    October 28, 2021

    Christmas Price Hikes

    On a recent trip to Los Angeles, my plane circled out over the water to land from the west.  There below was the picture behind the headlines – about 65-70 container ships anchored off the port, waiting to get waved in to unload.  Thousands of stuffed animals from China and techno-gizmos from Taiwan, doing nothing but accumulating cost day by day.

    Kids, unless you are getting some Bitcoin for Christmas (no, son, mom and I are not giving you a bitcoin in your stocking), inflation is going to take a bite out of what is under the tree this year.

    It is not just consumer goods that are affected.  In recent Q3 earnings calls, multiple healthcare equipment and device manufacturers cited ‘supply chain issues’ impacting the quarter and their future outlook.

    But there is another part of the healthcare supply chain that is a bigger worry, one that is not going to get fixed anytime soon, even if the President magically kept the Port of LA open 30 hours a day.

    We are about to experience a real and significant provider shortage…doctors and nurses.  This type of thing has been forecasted for years based on simple demographics.  This population, aging at this rate, needs that many providers and we just are not producing enough.  And those we are pushing out of the educational and training pipeline are not properly distributed across specialties and geographies.

    We have known that we are facing a large wave of coming nurse retirements.  A young nurse who graduated in 1982 is now over 60.  Yes, yes, I am good at easy math.  But after the past two years, even the 40-somethings are fried.   Many physicians feel the same way, contemplating hanging it up early out of sheer exhaustion. Thank you COVID.

    The short-term solution to the problem is making the long-term problem worse.  Many healthcare organizations, desperate for help, are turning to locum tenens physicians and traveling nurses.  They have no choice – there is not a crate full of these folks off the coast of California that will be unloaded in a week or so.  But the premium being paid to those who step in to help means that many providers are now signing up for the gig approach permanently.

    One surgeon, on his way to cover the ER in a small town for a four-day weekend shift, told me he could do this twice a month and make what he made in his regular practice.  Technically, he has not retired, but we lost 60% of his capacity.  Traveling nurses are making the same calculation.  Multiply that by several thousand providers – no shame on them for making their own best decision – and it starts to show up.

    An argument against single-payer healthcare has been to point to the wait times in places like Canada.  We are about to get to experience that directly.

    Christmas greetings from Scrooge, huh?

    Tim Coan

    CEO and founder

    Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog weekly about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.
    October 21, 2021

    In Praise of Mixed Motives

    Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH) is one of the most influential firms in the world but flies under the radar.   The carefully discreet investment bank, founded originally in 1818, is the epitome of the ‘establishment elite.’  BBH kids went to the same exclusive prep schools, attended Yale together, intermarried, joined the same country clubs, and, of course, did business together.  One of the partners, Prescott Bush – well, you know he had both a son and then a grandson occupy the Oval Office, so you get the point.

    The history of BBH is about as conflicted as you can imagine.  It was publicly against slavery and worked for its elimination, all while profiting from it directly.  The firm literally helped form and shape the United Nations, the CIA, and the Pentagon – and then made a lot of money selling to all of them.  It directly underwrote the development of many railroads, stepping into a role that should have been done by the government – creating a public good, but also profiting from the ensuing trade that the transcontinental lines created.  BBH prompted the government to send the military into certain countries to overthrow despot dictators – a move for democracy that just so happened to also protect commercial interests BBH had there.  We could go on.

    Without doubt, BBH embraces what some see as conflicted motives of doing social good while also making a lot of money for the partnership.  Many reject the notion that these goals can coexist; the continued success of BBH at least challenges that premise.

    Which gets me to last weekend.

    I attended a clinical conference.  Yeah, I did not understand about 75% of what was presented. Physician after physician rattled off polysyllabic words of Latin origin while pointing at statistical charts and showed close-ups of body parts exposed during a surgical procedure.  I did a lot of nodding as I secretly Googled trying to figure out what some of the big words meant.

    But I got the gist of the meeting.

    Presentation after presentation talked about real advances in care that are improving outcomes for patients and lowering costs. Conflicting points of view about how to treat conditions were debated with data and research.  This was the very best of US medicine, the innovation process lurching forward.

    The presenters were mostly private practice physicians (there were a few academics and a couple of government docs thrown in), and yes, they benefit financially from this work – some hold patents, some are advisors to manufacturers, most get paid when they do these procedures.  And yes, much of the research is funded in part by ‘industry,’ the code word for the device and pharma companies that make stuff that is used in these new treatments.

    For many, that conflict of interest is unacceptable.  But I am guessing that the patients who now have a better life don’t care that those who took the risks necessary to drive the innovations also benefited financially.

    ALN has long been an unabashed advocate for the role independent physician practices play in the US healthcare system. This is just one more reason we hold that position.

    Tim Coan

    CEO and founder

    Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog weekly about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.
    October 14, 2021

    Rolling with Willie

    Willie Nelson starred in his first leading role in the 1980 film Honeysuckle Rose, a story about musician getting long in the tooth and still chasing fame.  During a flight shortly after signing, Nelson was asked by the executive producer to write a theme song for the movie.  Nelson pulled the barf bag out of the seat pocket and quickly penned the words to ‘On the Road Again,’ which hit number one and became one of his most popular songs of all time.

    Ain’t that story quintessential Willie?

    I did not write poetry on airline paper goods, but I did hit the road last week.  This cooped up extrovert was out and about, getting to meet with multiple people across many segments of the physician services landscape.  Both my wife and our dog encouraged me to use up a lot of my excessive supply of words in those meetings and dinners. I am not exactly sure how I was to take that, but yes, I did heed that counsel.

    Multiple of the conversations turned, one way or another, to the subject of physician practice consolidation – either groups getting together on their own to achieve some scale or outside equity sponsors facilitating the process by throwing cash around.  The big question was, ‘Will it work?’

    The dialogues dove into the pro’s and con’s of various models, the unique challenges of consolidating physician practices, the hard reality that operational scale requires standardization (and, by definition, some loss of autonomy) that independent-minded physicians find hard to accept at times.

    Let’s see the dessert menu…we still have problems to solve.

    One particular topic was the physician ‘income scrape’ that often comes with a sale of the practice to a financial backer, the reduction in physician income in order to ‘create’ the profitability that buyers require before they invest.  The joke started with, ‘How long does it take before the physicians forget the big check they got at closing and start complaining about their now below-market wages?’ The debate seemed to be between the first subsequent partner meeting a month later or maybe the second.  ‘Not long’ was the easy consensus.

    There are two take-aways for anyone – physician, investor, practice executive – contemplating this option.

    First, physicians may not be rational here (some finance nerd was trying to make the case for getting multiple years of advanced payment, taxed at capital gains rates instead of ordinary income; the time value of money…the rest of us threw our dinner rolls at his theoretical ivory tower), but they are normal humans.  ‘That big check’ is parked over there somewhere in their minds (or docked at the shore), but the monthly income is more real.

    Second, if that is all, or even most, of the upside to the future financial model, that is going to be tough sledding for everyone involved. If that is all you’ve got, you don’t have the answer yet.

    Like a band of gypsies, keep rolling down the highway until you find something more real and sustainable.

    Tim Coan

    CEO and founder

    Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog weekly about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.
    October 7, 2021

    Tim Coan on the Breakfast Leadership Podcast with Michael Levitt

    While there is no blog this week we encourage you to listen to Tim’s recent appearance on the Breakfast Leadership Podcast!  On this podcast, Tim speaks with host Michael Levitt about why he is bullish on the future of independently owned medical practices, and how they can make the case for offering the best actual value in the market to patients and payers alike. Tim also touches on major strategic shifts underway in healthcare – what, why, implications, and how to go forward.  At just over 22 minutes, this is a quick listen that tackles these big ideas efficiently.

    Listen below!

    iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/interview-with-tim-coan/id1207338410?i=1000536698723

    Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/3A8klew0ShHAeIfLshmCBR?si=DbJVzWVzRJavjWuafqIvdQ&dl_branch=1

    Amazon (Audible):   https://www.audible.com/pd/Interview-with-TIm-Coan-Podcast/B09GQTPKTH?ref=a_pd_Breakf_c3_lAsin_0_1&pf_rd_p=625c212d-b95a-47db-8d56-d35a359de6e9&pf_rd_r=HYMSW5VM2VX6K36ARSG0

    Tim Coan

    CEO and founder

    Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog weekly about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.