How often have you met for business in a Starbucks, Coffee Bean, or any other coffee shop? 

Many doctors and health care professionals spend increasingly more time in coffee shops, and not just to fetch a cup of coffee. Meetings with drug reps and scientific liaisons of pharmaceutical companies now are often held in a coffee shop and less so in a fancy restaurant as in years past, and less often inside doctors’ offices or hospital clinics.

Coffee shops have evolved into places where, not infrequently, sensitive business meetings are held for the first time, including the interviewing and hiring of new partners for fast-growing practices. The first meeting of many entrepreneurial healthcare and business initiatives may have started in a Starbucks.

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Many academic physicians spend time in coffee shops to write grants and papers or to run their periodic research meetings. I personally consider coffee shops as my second, if not my primary, office for such activities and my true operational headquarters.

What could explain the rise of the coffee shop doctor? First and foremost, a coffee shop is a neutral place where bilateral liability is at minimum, albeit not fully diminished. People may feel more comfortable and less accountable for what is said or promised in a coffee shop.

Drug reps and doctors may feel less compliance pressure if something is said in the overcrowded coffee shop while ordering and drinking ice tea. The sketches of future joint venture plans can be drafted on a napkin and then used to clean hands and thrown away, without any lawyer being able to come after you. There is free Internet access to check websites and to Google the stated numbers during a sensitive negotiation. It is a neutral zone where everybody feels safe, legally and ethically, unlike our own offices or medical center environment where we are exposed to numerous regulations and requirements just to breathe the air.

I walk outside of the hospital and go into a Starbucks or Coffee Bean, am greeted by warm hellos and smiling faces, enjoy my green tea non-fat latte, check my emails, meet with a few people for business, make a few phone calls via my Blackberry, give orders over the phone or via electronic health record website, work on my papers for the next peer-review submission, email and reassure my coauthors about our next plans after a rejected paper or grant, review the profile of the next faculty candidate or fellow, conduct interviews with some of them, make small or big decisions about my life and career, and then walk out and go back safely to the hospital to continue with routine patient rounds while feeling less exhausted or even refreshed. So, I guess I am a proud to be a coffee shop doctor.