In response to the development of alternative payment systems, provider networks are forming at a frenetic pace. If you are like most of my physician clients, you have been or will shortly be presented with network participation agreements for review (or in many cases, signature with very little opportunity to review) and consideration. In evaluating potential network affiliations, consider these basic contract review pointers:

1. Although it may seem obvious, I often have to remind physicians that they should carefully read and understand each element of contracts presented to them before signing. Not surprisingly, given the volume of paperwork put in front of them on a daily basis, many physicians skip this most critical step on the assumption that they will have no bargaining power in any case. However, even if a contract cannot be negotiated, it is important to understand what you are signing.

2. Ask for and review all relevant supporting documentation. Many network agreements I have seen refer to policies, procedures and clinical protocols. Participating providers will be expected to abide by these documents so it is important to request and review them as part of the overall analysis of the affiliation. These supporting documents can impose material obligations on participating providers so if they have not yet been created at the time of presentation of the participation agreement, physicians should ensure that they have an opportunity to withdraw from the network without penalty once these documents are developed.

3. Pay close attention to the economic terms and be sure you understand how they will impact your practice. Physicians should request examples of how complex economic formulas would work and ideally should try to model the economic terms using real practice data.

4. Finally, chances are that more than one network will form in your market, and you could be faced with having to choose one over another. For this reason, it is important to evaluate whether a proposed affiliation requires exclusivity and how difficult it would be to withdraw (and take your patients with you) should you need to change affiliations.

Obviously, there are many other legal and business considerations that should go into the evaluation of potential network affiliations. However, doing some basic legwork on your own may help you to distinguish between those affiliations that are most likely to get off the ground, those not quite ready for prime time but worth keeping an eye on, and those that can or should be ignored.