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Toward a Best Informed Physician™: The central player in the healthcare experience.

 

Next to patients, physicians are the central player in the healthcare experience. Gallup Research affirms that organizations with high physician engagement receive higher revenue and earnings per admission and per patient day, increased referrals, reduced physician recruiting costs, and sustain significant growth and profitability. In contrast, detached physicians, struggling in inefficient environments that place increased demands on their time, leave hospitals at a growing risk of physician defections. Satisfaction studies of patients, physicians and employees consistently point to one factor that can raise satisfaction: communication. The reason is fairly obvious: people can’t engage what they don’t know, let alone understand. Information is empowering.

According to Press Ganey Physician Satisfaction Research, four of the top five priority issues doctors have for hospitals deal with communication between administrators and physicians.

Response of hospital administration
Patient care made easier
Administration deals with changes
Confidence in hospital administration
Communication with hospital administration

 

Further, in their white paper Engaging Physicians in a Shared Quality Agenda, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement offers six recommendations for engaging physicians:

Involve them from the beginning
Work with the real leaders and early adopters
Choose messages and messengers carefully
Make physician involvement visible
Build trust with each quality initiative
Communicate candidly and often

It is communication—honest, consistent and meaningful communication—that holds a keystone role in physician satisfaction and propensity to refer: what we call a Best Informed Physician™.

Whether they are employed by the hospital or are independent affiliates or even just referring physicians, physicians represent the cylinders that power a hospital to success. When physicians are engaged, a hospital is balanced and moving forward. Disengaged, they can drag on the entire organization, compromising organizational effectiveness and success—even sustainability.

While creating an environment that engages physicians and other important stakeholders is hard work, the benefits that come with an engaged medical staff justify the effort. And while organization’s dynamics are unique unto the organization, we can take note of the fundamentals practiced by those who have had success.

In his book Hardwiring Excellence, Quint Studer observes, “When everybody understands what is important and what is expected of them, tremendous growth can take place. Employees take charge of their own development and feel more fulfilled. Patients get better care. Leaders are more effective, and the hospital keeps getting better and better.”

“I don’t think we can be confident we are doing a good job at communicating until the cashiers in the cafeteria have the same information about the organization’s goals, direction and progress that the vice presidents have,” says Studer.

Given their overall importance to the success of a hospital or healthcare system, one would think that senior leadership teams would understand every nuance of the physician world. Yet, all too often, there is a serious disconnect between administrative and medical staff agendas, complicated by financial issues and incentives, market competition, and accreditation and regulatory demands. For example, as their incomes drop and malpractice insurance costs rise, many physicians feel trapped between the economic realities of pay for performance incentives that drive limited face time with patients and their strong desire to provide quality outcomes for the people who entrust them with their care.

More than anything else, it’s clear that physicians want to take good care of patients. They want to be physicians. The want to be respected by, and collaborate with, their peers and coworkers. They want to continue learning. They want input, and they struggle with loss of control and the infringement of third party manipulation of the care process. They want enough time to do the job right. They want to earn a decent living, and they want what we all want: a balance between work and home life.

The most important thing healthcare leaders can do to enhance their relationship with physicians is communications driven—in sum: solicit, respect and respond to their needs and ideas, keep them informed, involve them and work to reduce hassles and time wasters.

In his book, The Baptist Health Care Journey to Excellence, Al Stubblefield, president and CEO of Baptist Health Care, calls it building a “WOW! Culture.” According to Stubblefield, “Communication—with employees, with customers, with physicians, with board members, and with the community-at-large—is at the heart of a WOW! Culture.” He goes on to say, “The more information your employees have, the better they will understand the elements of your culture, the goals of the organization and the value of their contribution…Physician involvement is crucial to the success of any healthcare organization and effective communication turns them into partners…I keep this in mind by frequently invoking a simple mantra: ‘Communicate, communicate, communicate!’’

Stubblefield is right: communication is the key to successfully engaging physicians (and all stakeholders, for that matter). It is especially important—no, critical—when you consider the practical realities involved in actually creating a culture of excellence amid the over-taxed, over-stressed, under-staffed “thousand fires” that is everyday life in the hospital. Ironically, too often, organizations may pay lip service to the importance of communication, but do not have the evangelistic commitment to communications that Stubblefield exudes.

They launch physician relations initiatives with little or no budget for communications and even less of an engagement plan—and then wonder why they don’t see the results they want. There needs to be a leveraging of strategy and resources to create full engagement and commitment—top-down and bottom-up; inside-out and outside-in. The vision, described with passion and expressed with genuine evangelistic conviction, motivates more effectively than a thousand meetings or physician socials.

To successfully engage physicians, the strategy must include a strong emphasis on communication designed to get important and key information directly into the hands of physicians at strategically chosen touch points. But it is not a simple matter to create clear consistent communication channels with diverse groups of employed and non-employed physicians. Challenging, yes. But it is doable. And in our view, there is no other way.

That’s why we call our approach to that issue Best Informed Physician™.

Best Informed Physician™ is part of a broader approach to applying strategic communication to healthcare leadership issues, one we call A New Healthcare Experience™. Best Informed Physician™ acknowledges the pivotal role played by physicians in the process of delivering care. It strives to leverage their desire to provide quality outcomes for their patients and their need to build their individual practices in a way that creates loyalty to the hospital and alignment and compliance with its strategy.

Best Informed Physician™ also acknowledges that less is often more in the busy lives of physicians. The challenge is matching the right vehicles for the right messages and not burdening them with information they don’t value—more succinctly, it is imperative to get the right information in the right hands at the right time. All of the time.

Importantly, neither Best Informed Physician™ nor A New Healthcare Experience™ are “stock” programs. They’re not one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf solutions. Rather, together and individually, they represent a considered process, a strategically driven framework and approach for applying strategic thought and communication to drive and effect improvement in condition. In that process—from strategizing, planning and concepting, through development, through deployment, through measurement—effective, meaningful, strategic communication is absolutely imperative and key to the success of the initiative.

In each case, it is important to examine and be responsive to the physician’s needs at that specific touch point. Applying strategic communications against these touch points can remarkably improve physician satisfaction and alignment, and even outcomes. That thinking and opinion, that definition of, and delivery on, Best Informed Physician™, shapes our approach to brand development, communications planning and marketing communications execution for all of our healthcare clients

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tomsheehan healthcare
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Telephone: 610-478-8488
Email: tomsheehan@tomsheehan.com