In economic and ecological terms, the “tragedy of the commons” describes a situation in which those participating in a shared or common benefit, such as grazing rights on a traditional British or American colonial “commons,” abuse the fact that they are each entitled to the benefit of use but bear only a proportionate share of the upkeep or downside.
The same concept also applies to professional firms such as medical groups.
Each member seeks to engage in more of the activity that is directly and temporally tied to increasing his or her income, such as generating more compensable work units or minutes.On the other hand, there is no immediately obvious benefit from time and effort spent on group strategy, policy, management and other long-term issues. Each participant considers that someone else’s job — someone else will take care of that.
Just as the traditional British commons suffered from overuse and under-care, so, too, does a medical group’s fate suffer from the failure of its members to devote the proper care to its longer-term future.
Solutions to avoid the tragedy include establishing proper group governance structures, selecting the right leaders who are not only charged with the power to lead but with the ability to make decisions as well, and establishing compensation systems that reward for time devoted to not simply day to day management but to charting the group’s course into the future, as well.