The best consultants should have a huge realm of experience

Management consultants can help your practice fix its business problems. Find out what you need to think about when looking for one.

Q: We've been considering hiring a management consultant to improve some of our business practices. How can a management consultant typically help a practice, and what factors should we think about when evaluating prospective ones?

According to an old joke, a management consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you what time it is. That's actually not too far off the mark, because when a consultant comes up with good ideas for change in a practice, the ideas are often self-evident. When a consultant comes up with esoteric solutions that you wouldn't have considered in a million years, beware. Good ideas should be unmistakable to everyone.

The best management consultants get their good results by applying a huge array of experience to the facts and circumstances of your situation in a fresh and unbiased way. This means that spending 10 years' time as a clinical administrator for a single group practice won't be enough to do a credible job of consulting. Actually, 1 year of employment in 10 different settings for a total of 10 years' experience would be much better. The fact is that management consultants get better as they get older and more experienced. Consulting is not an entry-level job.

Answers to readers' questions were provided by Judy Bee, Practice Performance Group, La Jolla, California. She is also an editorial consultant for Medical Economics. Send your practice management questions to Also engage at and