Becker's recently connected with three physicians to hear their perspectives on the impact noncompete agreements can have on physicians and their ability to practice.
Editor's note: These responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Scott Huitink, MD. Pediatrician at Compass Pediatrics (Gallatin, Tenn.):
There are positives and negatives with physician noncompetes. The employer's investment in a physician requires one to three years before getting a positive return financially for the security and stability of an agreed-upon income provided to the physician. Employers cannot predict the future and must be able to protect against investing in a physician who benefits from sign-on bonuses and other guarantees with a noncompete.
However, employers often sell themselves much differently than they operate. Physicians assume if they do good work and are productive, their efforts will be rewarded. When employers prevent good physicians from being able to go elsewhere within the community, this negative power over physicians results in good physicians having to leave the community because of a bad employer. Physicians often do not have the capital to challenge large employers who do not operate according to the manner in which they agreed or sold themselves to the physician.
As a result, noncompetes often force physicians to leave patients they have great relationships with not because of failure to fulfill their obligations to their employer but because of an employer's bad behavior toward a physician that ultimately forces a physician to pack up and go elsewhere. In many scenarios, the biggest loss is to the patients of the community. A physician in a good culture who has rooted his/her family in the community will not want to leave, whether or not there is a noncompete in effect.
John Nelson, MD. Pathologist at Merit Health Biloxi (Mo.):
It absolutely causes strife and stress in physician's lives and limits fair market competition. Physicians are not versed enough coming out to realize these issues.
L. Dade Lunsford, MD. Physician and the Lars Leksell Professor and Distinguished Professor at the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh:
It is certainly widespread among regional competing medical centers and is a known component of current contracts. Many have specific geographical restrictions so that a violation would be employment by a competitor within a certain mileage of any hospital or healthcare facility of the currently employed physician. This requires some physicians to move outside of a wide region in hospital systems that have multiple healthcare entities scattered over a wide geographic region. Thus, when a physician resigns, the noncompete enforcement can be very disruptive not only to providing healthcare for that doctor's patients but disruptive to his family as they will need to move. Hospitals believe that the patients cared for by their doctors belong to the hospital, not the doctor providing care. In fact, most patients still select their healthcare providers based on the doctor, not the doctor's employer.