Management Fads: How to Resist Shiny Object Syndrome

By Laura Hills, DA
November 17, 2021

Healthcare leaders may be drawn to the latest management fads, and with good reason. Fads are exciting. They get a lot of press and airtime, are simple to grasp, appeal to our common sense, and lure us with the promise of fantastic outcomes. However, management fads rarely work as well as we think they will, and, instead, waste our time and valuable resources. They also distract leaders from their goals and can even sabotage their leadership. This article defines “shiny object syndrome” and argues that management fads are simply shiny objects in disguise. It describes the nine characteristics of management fads and provides a five-question quiz to help healthcare leaders assess whether they have fallen prey to shiny object syndrome. It then describes 15 effective strategies for preventing and curing shiny object syndrome so healthcare leaders can avoid management fads. Finally, this article suggests what readers can do if they have employees or bosses who are distracted by management fads and other shiny objects.


Do you know what’s fun and exciting? New. We love new ideas and projects, and go gaga over the latest gadgets and gizmos. We love “it” concepts, “it” strategies, and “it” technologies that everyone is talking, writing, blogging, podcasting, and swooning about. Fresh and new draws us every time, like shiny objects draw a magpie.

For many, the rush of something new is like the rush of an addictive drug.

In fact, our attraction to new drives a great deal of human behavior. For example, it can explain why we consume so many goods and services that we don’t need, why we see a constant barrage of new diet and exercise products flooding our marketplace each year, and even why some among us seem unable to sustain long-term relationships. As Perina1 suggests, “When something is fun, exciting, and new, you get a temporary hit of dopamine which feels good and rewards your brain.” For many, the rush of something new is like the rush of an addictive drug. We are hooked and can’t be without it. If you don’t believe this, just go to a shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon, or watch a few minutes of home shopping television, or strike up a conversation with an 11-year-old to learn about the latest video games out there. Is it any wonder, then, that leaders find themselves veering if not jumping off course to pursue whatever new project or management trend is beckoning to them?

Shiny object syndrome can sabotage healthcare executives by constantly distracting them from the core mission of their organization.

Psychologists have come up with a succinct way to describe our pursuit of the new to the detriment of the tried and true. They call it shiny object syndrome, our tendency to chase a new and exciting object rather than to stick to our original goals. It is a phenomenon rooted in constant distraction. As Toggl Track2 suggests, “Think of a small child who’s happily playing with a toy—until their eye catches something shiny and new in the corner. What happens? In all likelihood, they promptly abandon whatever they were just playing with in order to go over and grab that irresistible shiny object.” Leaders, too, can pursue shiny objects and abandon the old. As Toggl Track explains, “Because they [leaders] always have an eye on what’s next for their businesses, it’s increasingly easy for them to constantly get distracted by whatever shiny object is lurking in the corner.” Shiny object syndrome can and eventually will sabotage healthcare executives, however, by constantly distracting them from the core mission of their organization, Toggl Track warns. This is especially true when the shiny object is a management fad.


A management fad is a diabolical shiny object in disguise. In fact, the term management fad is pejorative; it implies a short-lived philosophy and strategy for management that doesn’t deliver everything it promised. A management fad may be extremely popular for a time, but it lacks staying power. The expectation is that the management fad of today will be replaced tomorrow as the next new management philosophy and strategy (shiny object) catches everyone’s imagination, admiration, and acceptance.

Ricocheting your organization and employees from one management fad to the next can end up being a huge and extremely costly headache.

Leaders usually have good intentions and buy into a management fad because they believe that it will help them improve their organizations. Then, if that one doesn’t deliver the results leaders seek, they may very likely jump to another fad, then another, hoping that if this one doesn’t work, the next one will. However, ricocheting your organization and employees from one management fad to the next can end up being a huge and extremely costly headache. As James3 suggests, “Companies have wasted trillions of dollars on these ridiculous but plausible-sounding ideas.” In fact, management fads require a lot more than money; they also require a great deal more energy, time, and patience than most leaders expect. The cost is not only what it takes to implement the fads, but also, the lost work and opportunities that result when leaders and their employees lose their focus. Most importantly, employees can easily become fatigued and lose interest when fads are rolled out one after the next.

Specifically, Dsouza4 identifies the following costs of chasing management fads:

  • Learning: Fads require employees to learn new ways of doing things, which can take time away from other work and require costly training and support.
  • Tangibles: Fads sometimes require costly new technologies and changes to the physical workplace.
  • Frustration and demotivation: Fads require change because they ask employees to abandon what is familiar and comfortable and head into the unknown. You are likely to have employees who resist making the changes a fad requires, or who want to change but slip into the old ways of doing things for the sake of expediency, ease, or habit.
  • Confusion: Employees may not know which parts of old fads to let go of as they embrace new ones. As Dsouza warns, “A leader prone to shiny object syndrome can cause a team or organization full of disoriented people.”
  • A graveyard of unfinished projects: Your focus on fads may mean that old projects take a backseat. Repeat this a few times, Dsouza says, and you will end up with a collection of costly unfinished projects.
  • A jaded staff: How many times can you get your staff pumped up about a new and exciting management strategy, philosophy, tool, or process? Not many. Pretty soon, your employees will regard fads as what they are—just the latest management flavor of the month. Jaded employees will do the minimum you require as they wait for the fad to lose its appeal, because they know that eventually it will.
  • A distracted leader: A leader who shifts from fad to fad loses focus and misses opportunities. It’s hard to quantify what that costs an organization, but we can safely assume that it’s astronomical.


Have you ever heard of Management by Objectives or the One-Minute Manager? How about Management by Walking Around or Japanese Management or Total Quality Management (TQM)? Those were the popular management concepts when I began my career as a healthcare writer in the 1980s, so naturally, I wrote about them. Like so many of my readers, I thought that all of healthcare management’s ills could be cured if only we could latch onto the right new approach. I will be the first to admit that there was and still is merit in each of these concepts. A fad becomes a fad because it is rooted in something that is appealing and logical. However, none of those concepts or strategies was the panacea my readers and I sought, which explains why we don’t hear as much about them anymore. Once the newness of one management fad waned, off we went in search of the next new shiny object, and of course, we had no trouble finding it. It seems that there is a constant supply of new and better management mousetraps calling to us. As Miller and Hartwick5 explain, “Like fashion trends, management fads erupt on the scene, enjoy a period of prominence, and then are supplanted.”

Although the term fad may seem dismissive, it’s not. As Miller and Hartwick suggest, some fads introduce sound, useful ideas that organizations incorporate into practice, even as the fad itself fades from the scene. But fads often fail to deliver on their promises, a factor that contributes to their short life cycles and rapid decline. So how do you know if the new strategy or concept you’re considering is just another management fad? Miller and Hartwick offer nine criteria. Management fads are:

  1. Simple: Usually, a few key points convey a fundamental message, Miller and Hartwick say, and concepts tend to be framed with labels, buzzwords, lists, and acronyms.
  2. Prescriptive: Fads tell managers what to do, making action points easy to misinterpret or apply inappropriately.
  3. Falsely encouraging: As Miller and Hartwick warn, “Fads are better at raising hopes than delivering results, and they generally fail to specify clear-cut criteria for evaluating whether or not an implementation succeeded.”
  4. One-size-fits-all: Fads often claim universal relevance, but few management approaches are universally applicable. Trying to fit a management fad’s round peg into an organization’s square hole will never work, with devastating results. “Attempts to implement a mismatched approach can do more harm than good,” Miller and Hartwick warn.
  5. Easy to cut and paste: It’s easy to implement a fad in part. However, partial implementation of a fad is a problem, because it means that certain fad features may be grafted onto standard operating procedures and localized within a few committees or departments. As Miller and Hartwick warn, “Outside these pockets, it’s business as usual—which means that fads rarely challenge the status quo in a way that would require significant redistribution of power or resources.”
  6. In tune with the zeitgeist: Fads resonate with the pressing problems of the day. Their laser focus on the concerns of the moment means that they tend to apply to a few specific issues, and they may not address the fundamental weakness or soundness of overall business practices, Miller and Hartwick say.
  7. Novel but not radical: Fads grab our attention by their apparent novelty. But their freshness is often superficial, and, because of that, fads don’t unduly challenge basic managerial values. As Miller and Hartwick warn, “Many [management fads] simply repackage or extend ideas or approaches that managers have long embraced.”
  8. Legitimized by gurus and disciples: Many fads gain credibility by the status and prestige of their proponents or followers, rather than through empirical evidence. Often, we see external consultants who specialize in implementation of the fad, and even certification and appraisal processes performed by external agencies. But we don’t always see a body of empirical evidence sufficient to support a fad’s claims.
  9. Surprisingly simple: Management fads usually are simple to learn. However, if they seem too good to be true, Miller and Hartwick warn, they probably are.


As you can see, shiny object syndrome is a very human affliction, and it’s all too easy to be lured into it. That’s why so many leaders fall prey to management fads. However, shiny object syndrome is not a foregone conclusion or a terminal condition. The first step to preventing or curing it is to take stock of your past and current leadership practices. Take the quiz that accompanies this article to assess whether you have jumped onto one or more management fads or been distracted by other shiny objects. If you have, don’t despair. Spend time thinking about what happened, the red flags you missed, the costs to you and your organization, and how you could have avoided being lured into the fad in the first place. When it comes to healthcare leadership, there is going to be no more powerful teacher than lessons you learn from your personal experience.

Next, learn to recognize management fads and other shiny objects for what they are and avoid getting sucked into them. That will require your commitment and patience. Here are 15 strategies that can help.

Consider the timing and what’s at stake.

Shiny object syndrome is most destructive when it’s ripping your attention from something that’s much more urgent or critical than the shiny object luring you. Is now a time when you can focus on something new? Do you already have numerous pressing projects demanding your time and energy? Have you given what’s already on your plate sufficient attention? As Toggl Track suggests, “Maybe you haven’t given your current thing enough time and focus to get the traction it needs to reach its potential.”

Think before you leap.

Your own ability to think things through will serve as the most effective strategy to combat shiny object syndrome. As Dsouza says, “Consider what you might have to overcome to make a new idea successful. Do not neglect the fact that the new idea will consume your time, leaving you with fewer hours. You might have to give up on the goal you’re already chasing.” Don’t assume that you can spare the time, money, and effort required to implement a new management fad or other shiny object. Work the numbers to make certain that you can. If you can’t, do not allow yourself and your organization to take the leap.

Focus on the pros and cons.

Make an extensive list of all the pros of your current situation. If you have the desire to leave it and move onto something new, it’s probably because you’re hoping that the new shiny object will offer more pleasure and less pain than you are currently experiencing. That can mean that you may be blind to the benefits, positives, and pleasures of your current situation. As Stokes6 suggests, “Keep listing out the benefits until you feel true gratitude for your current situation.” Next, make a list of all the drawbacks of the management fad or other new shiny object that is beckoning to you. What challenges will arise when the shine of the new object fades? Stokes says, “Keep stacking the drawbacks until you no longer feel infatuated with the new shiny object, or until ‘the shine’ subsides.”

Focus on the 1/50 rule.

When you are overworked and stressed, you are more prone to be distracted by something new. Keep shiny object syndrome at bay by focusing on what truly matters. As Finkel7 suggests, “Choose one day a week where you block three to four hours out of your day to focus on the 1 percent that produces 50 percent of your results.” Turn your cell phone off, step away from your email, and work on the A-level tasks and projects that matter most. Avoid management fads and other shiny objects during this time. That will help you stay focused on what’s most important, Finkel says.

Challenge yourself to explain the benefits of those shiny objects.

Explain to someone else, preferably a skeptic, a clear reason that you want to pursue the new philosophy, strategy, or other shiny object beyond the fact that you think it will be exciting. Describe the metrics you can use to measure your results, project what you can expect, and explain how you are making your projections. As with any business decision, you should be able to point to a direct and measurable benefit of the activity. According to Toggl Track, “That simple exercise will help you weed out the frivolous shiny objects and focus on the strategies that actually move the needle for your business.”

Check your reasoning.

Sometimes leaders give in to management fads and other shiny objects because they are running away from something. As Toggl Track suggests, “Sometimes frustration with your current business can lead to shiny object syndrome.” It usually is easier and a lot more fun to jump into a management fad rather than to hunker down and work on fixing problems. We’ve all been there. The key is to be aware of this and recognize it when you experience it, Toggl Track says.

Spend time on research.

Management fads often are described and extolled by eloquent, bright individuals. In a sense, these fads are sold by good salesmen. However, you can’t make decisions for your organization based on a sales pitch. Look for the reliable, credible, and trustworthy research to support what they tell you. Anecdotes are lovely, but you need to know that the ideas being forwarded have worked for organizations like yours, and with measurable results. You also need to know that these results have been replicated in numerous organizations.

Face your most daunting tasks.

You will be most susceptible to management fads and other shiny objects when you are faced with a task or challenge that seems extremely difficult or time consuming. It’s much easier to push your to-do list aside and work on something more exciting and rewarding, like a management fad. Therefore, Finkel suggests that you create a detailed action plan that breaks goals down into a manageable task list. Finkel explains, “The key is to pick one to three to focus on, and then invest a portion of your best resources, because you know that these are the areas that will really help you scale and develop your business.” As you move toward the goal, you will enjoy the satisfaction of checking things off your to-do list and staying on task. That will make shiny objects much less of a distraction, Finkel suggests.

Wait out the idea.

When a new and exciting management philosophy or strategy arrives on the scene, it can feel a lot like you’re falling in love. The attraction and spark you feel for a management fad can lead you to make an impulsive decision. Don’t. Give yourself the time you need to diffuse your initial excitement so your reason can take over. As Dsouza says, “What seemed like a brilliant idea may appear average within a short time.”

Build a community of trusted advisors.

You can get so wrapped up in a management fad that you aren’t thinking clearly. That’s especially the case when your emotions are involved and you’re too close to the situation to think about it objectively. When in doubt, it’s time to phone a friend, so to speak, and work with an accountability partner. As Toggl Track suggests, “Being part of a small mastermind group can be very helpful. They can be a good sanity check and poke holes in faulty logic.”

Abandon what you’re doing now for something new only when you have an excellent, compelling reason.

The attractiveness of a management fad or other shiny object is not a sufficient reason to abandon your current plan. As Dsouza warns, “The temptation of better results from another goal can blind your judgment.” Consider how far you have come with your current strategies and how far are you from the results you seek. “Take into account the price you pay for losing the progress you have made so far,” Dsouza says. Can your current strategies work, if given more time and effort? If yes, is it best to stay the course?

Revisit your mission.

Read and think about your mission word for word. Every philosophy and strategy you choose should help you to accomplish your mission. As Shaw8 suggests, “If the shiny new object doesn’t fit with your mission, ignore it.”

Build on successes.

It’s a very serious step to lead your organization away from what it does well. That’s why Toggl Track suggests, “See if you can channel your desire for something new and exciting into something that will positively benefit your existing business or customer base.”

Play devil’s advocate.

Does the management fad or other shiny object look too good to be true? Do you have enough time, resources, energy, and money? Do you have incomplete goals or benchmarks that need to be reached before you can safely implement a new process? Try to poke holes in every argument for the shiny object. In other words, try to talk yourself out of it. As Butcher9 suggests, “Think about what advice you would give to a friend in the same situation.”

Test drive the shiny object before committing to it.

Let’s say that you see the value of the new management fad or other shiny object, and you’re ready to pull the trigger. Before you do, test it in a small, low-risk way. For example, run a test or pilot program with a small group. As Fingerprint for Success10 suggests, “See how they react and ask for their feedback.” A pilot program can help you see if the management fad or other shiny object has the benefits you seek. However, it can also help you to identify problems, shortcomings, and costs you hadn’t considered. It’s worth the time, effort, and money to do a pilot test rather than to commit your organization to a new management approach that ultimately won’t work.


Organizations value leaders who come up with great new ideas, so having a boss or colleague who gets excited about new initiatives is not an inherently bad thing. Problems occur, however, when those new ideas come fast and furious and aren’t carefully analyzed or curated. As The Highlands Company11 suggests, bosses and colleagues sometimes get carried away by management fads and other shiny objects and expect them to be acted upon without doing the necessary homework. The Highland Company explains, “Each new idea will burst forth as if it were the key to the problem.” The result is that you and your team may shift your time and energy aimlessly from one project to another, feel frustrated by the inability to complete anything, and become confused about your goals and priorities, The Highlands Company says.

There are some things that you can do when you have a boss or colleagues who have been lured by a management fad or other shiny object.

If your boss has fallen prey to shiny object syndrome, Kislik12 says, you and your direct reports may have thoughts such as, “Do I need to add this to my priorities? Will I still need to deliver on all my other goals too? Are there really enough resources available to get this done?” At the same time, you’re in a delicate position. It won’t be easy for you to rain on another person’s shiny object parade, especially a gung-ho boss. But there are some things that you can do when you have a boss or colleagues who have been lured by a management fad or other shiny object.

First, be sure that you stay in regular close contact with your boss and colleagues. There are leaders who will be attracted to and excited about so many different initiatives that they forget what others are working on. As Kislik warns, “It’s demoralizing to complete a project, and have your boss express surprise that you’ve done it at all. So don’t let too much time pass between check-ins.”

In addition, be diligent about limiting the times that are available for discussions about a management fad or other shiny object. For example, Kislik suggests that you start all meetings with an “anchoring” statement that sets what will and won’t be discussed. As Kislik explains, “It can be as simple as, ‘Today we’re going to cover the Blue, Green, and Red initiatives. Any great ideas we have for anything else will be recorded and taken up in the appropriate staff/strategy/development meetings.’” Make sure that at least one meeting participant is responsible for recording, and at least one will be vigilant for digressions. That will keep your boss’s or colleagues’ enthusiasm for a management fad from derailing your meetings.

Another strategy for managing a boss or colleague who has shiny object syndrome is to agree to begin the research or development phase. Sometimes the most practical thing to do is to spend a small amount of development time and money to get to the proposal or prototype stage. Then you can determine where the initiative does and doesn’t fit the current plan and commitments. Doing the initial exploration will give your boss or colleague some satisfaction, Kislik says, but still address questions such as, “If we wanted to pursue this, should it be outsourced? Is it on brand? Will it strengthen our customer relationships or attract new customers?” The work you do will slow things down so your boss’s or colleague’s infatuation with the fad or other shiny object will have time to weaken.

Finally, The Highlands Company suggests that you speak with your boss or colleague and communicate your concerns and difficulties directly. The Highlands Company explains, “Your boss isn’t trying to confuse you. He might not even realize that he’s causing confusion with his shiny object syndrome. See if you can find a way to work together to sift through his ideas to find the ones that give you a solid direction.” If that doesn’t work, see if you can negotiate “check in” or completion deadlines for the ideas. That will make your boss’s or colleague’s shiny object syndrome more manageable, The Highlands Company says.


Sometimes, you will manage an employee who is full of ideas and brings them to you half-baked, one by one. On the one hand, you don’t want to squash your employee’s innovation and enthusiasm. On the other, you can’t spend a great deal of time dealing with an employee who has shiny object syndrome. Sakas13 suggests the following strategies when you manage an employee who is burying you in management fads and other bright shiny ideas:

  • Acknowledge that the employee is trying to be helpful. As Sakas says, “Remember, they’re not trying to annoy you to death.” Your employees may not realize that an idea that’s big to them may be minor compared to your other priorities. Likewise, they may not consider that their suggestion is one of dozens of things you’re considering each day. Gently help them to see the bigger picture when you can.
  • Be sure your employees know your healthcare organization’s quarterly, annual, and long-term goals. When employees know where you’re going, they can help you get there faster. Having an overall strategy also makes it easier for you to reject or defer management fads or other shiny objects when they’re clearly not on-strategy. As Sakas suggests, “You can say, ‘Bring this back in six months, after we’ve finished the XYZ implementation.’”
  • Keep your employees focused. This may mean asking employees to explore management fads and other shiny objects outside of regular business hours, Sakas says. Otherwise, they may use shiny objects as an excuse for not keeping up with their workload.
  • Ask if they’ve spoken with other stakeholders. If the management fad or other shiny object means more work for other people, Sakas says, the other people should be on board before the proposal reaches your desk.
  • Ask them to batch their proposals. For instance, you can ask them to save their ideas for weekly, monthly, or quarterly meetings. As Sakas suggests, “You’ll be more productive because they won’t be interrupting you all week long with a new idea they just heard at a professional development event.”

If your employee’s enthusiasm for management fads or other shiny objects persists, try to keep it the problem in perspective. Sakas encourages us to remember that it’s better to have employees with too much initiative than zero initiative. As Sakas says, “It’s easier to channel too much energy than it is to motivate the unmotivated.”



Is the new management philosophy, strategy, tool, or service attracting you the right thing for you and your healthcare organization? Or have you just fallen under the spell of a management fad or other shiny object? It’s not always easy to tell. To help, here is a five-question quiz to help you figure this out:

  1. Do you have many unfinished projects? Are you energized by new ideas and frequently starting new projects, but not finishing them? If so, take an honest look at the work you’ve done over the last year or several years. Do you see a lot of projects that you didn’t complete? Did you abandon projects shortly after beginning them? Toggl Track2 suggests, “If you look to your history and see a long string of forgotten initiatives, that’s a solid indicator that shiny object syndrome is serving as a major distraction.”
  2. Do you frequently change the way you do things? Nobody can blame you for wanting to find the most efficient, safest, or most economical way to get things done. However, frequently introducing new tools and work processes can slow you down, rather than save you time and energy. Are you constantly introducing new platforms, hacks, systems, workflows, and other methods that promise to optimize your workday? Have you rarely had a repeatable process in place to get your work done? According to Toggl Track, “If you’ve never had even a somewhat consistent way of getting your work accomplished, chances are good shiny object syndrome is getting in your way.”
  3. Do your employees seem confused because you’ve made frequent changes? As Sid14 asks, “Do your teammates suddenly find their goals shifted almost unpredictably or see projects they’re working on suddenly become irrelevant when a new detail emerges?” If so, you have probably fallen under the spell of shiny objects, and your employees will find it almost impossible to keep up, Sid warns.
  4. Do you burn through cash on things you don’t end up using? For example, do you spend money on books you don’t read and courses you don’t take or finish? Do you set up new domain names and websites without doing anything with them? Or do you subscribe to many new technological tools and services but not use them? As Entrepreneur15 says, “There are hundreds of technological tools for businesses that are impressive, effective and downright fun to use.” Unfortunately, if you subscribe to all those services, or you jump from platform to platform, your shiny object syndrome will cause you to burn through so much cash that these tools become incredibly cost-inefficient, Entrepreneur says.
  5. Do you have trouble staying focused? Are you neglecting some of your most crucial business activities because you’re too enticed by shiny objects? Do you find yourself procrastinating so you can daydream and shop for new ideas and systems? If so, Toggl Track warns, “It’s obvious that your shiny object syndrome is controlling you — rather than the other way around.”




Laura Hills, DA, Practice leadership coach, consultant, author, seminar speaker, and President of Blue Pencil Institute, an organization that provides educational programs, learning products, and professionalism coaching to help professionals accelerate their careers, become more effective and productive, and find greater fulfillment and reward in their work;100 Harborview Drive, #801, Baltimore, MD 21230; phone: 667-205-1152; email:; website:; Twitter: @DrLauraHills.



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  3. James G. 17 management fads almost as dumb as the open-plan office. Inc. March 28, 2019. Accessed May 19, 2021
  4. Dsouza M. Shiny object syndrome: how to stop chasing different goals. Productive Club. Accessed May 19, 2021
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  7. Finkel D. Entrepreneurs may be particularly susceptible to shiny object syndrome: here’s how to cure it. Inc. January 16, 2020. Accessed May 20, 2021.
  8. Shaw D. The cure for shiny object syndrome. Douglas Shaw & Associates. January 11, 2015. Accessed May 20, 2021.
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  10. Fingerprint for Success. 6 simple tips to overcome ‘shiny object syndrome.’ Fingerprint for Success. Accessed May 20, 2021.
  11. The Highlands Company. What to do about a boss with shiny object syndrome? The Highlands Company Blog. May 23, 2017. Accessed May 24, 2021.
  12. Kislik L. What to do if your boss gets distracted by every new thing? Harvard Business Review. November 20, 2017. Accessed May 24, 2021.
  13. Sakas K. “Too much” initiative: what to do when your employee keeps burying you in bright ideas? Sakas and Company. January 6, 2014. Accessed May 24, 2021.
  14. Sid S. Entrepreneurs, save yourself from shiny object syndrome and stay productive. 101 Productivity. April 2, 2020. Accessed May 25, 2021.
  15. Entrepreneur. Do you have ‘shiny object’ syndrome? Entrepreneur. February 9, 2017. Accessed May 25, 2021



This article appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of The Journal of Medical Practice Management.

Topics: Management

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