By Tricia Bonner
Creating closer relationships with their medical staff has long been a key objective of hospital CEOs. As a tertiary medical center in a highly competitive suburban market, Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center is no different. Physicians who “split” their loyalties—and their referrals—among several area hospitals is common in Southern California. So a few years ago, we set out to reinvigorate our relationships with our medical staff in a more meaningful and measurable way. Our goals were to improve physician engagement and alignment, to differentiate Mission Hospital’s services and to build loyalty.
To help ensure a balance of fundamental, grass-roots tactics with measurable outcomes, we enlisted the support of Aegis Health Group, who has been our longstanding partner in employer outreach efforts. Just as we had worked jointly to implement a program that builds trusting and “open” relationships with local businesses, we believed that the same philosophy should apply when cementing bonds with the local physician community.
One thing we knew for certain was that we were not interested in approaching physician relations from a traditional “sales” perspective. Rather, our goal was to start a meaningful dialogue aimed at improving those hospital processes and workflows essential to a physician-friendly environment. We also wanted to better align our primary care physicians with specialists so as to increase referrals and help support the practices of all members of our medical staff.
We knew something else, too. History had shown that it had been difficult to rely on hospital directors to make in-office visits with doctors when overseeing patient care was their top priority. So central to the success of our new physician relationship management program was the hiring of a dedicated liaison responsible for interacting directly with physicians and ensuring that any issues raised are appropriately addressed. Additionally, Aegis brought to the table tools and proprietary technology that had been road-tested in other facilities and that allow us to identify those physicians on which to focus (based on a set of pre-determined criteria), track physician interactions and referral patterns, and flag and resolve issues early on before they fester and become significant hurdles.
Our physician relationship specialist (PRS) focused initially on building relationships and trust with physician office staffs. By establishing a rapport with office managers, the PRS was able to glean useful intelligence that formed the basis of subsequent problem-solving visits with physicians themselves. Once the PRS connected directly with the doctor, she was able to point to specific solutions, which has helped build credibility and has opened the door to further dialogue. Physicians have become increasingly receptive to visits from our PRS because they know feedback is taken seriously and acted upon in a timely manner. Our PRS now logs more than 40 face-to-face visits monthly.
As a result of this program, we have launched a formal initiative designed to increase referrals between PCPs and specialists and have started a networking group focused on female physicians. We also introduced a publication written by and for physicians that introduces new technologies and procedures, new specialists and other pertinent news. In addition, we’ve initiated a series of micro-campaigns that promote a specific program or service line and integrate Mission’s two “partnership” initiatives – physician relationship management and employer outreach.
Mission Hospital’s comprehensive and strategic physician relationship management program has resulted in stronger relationships between PCPs and specialists, more referrals between doctors and to our hospital, and improved overall physician satisfaction scores. In a shifting healthcare landscape, solid relationships provide a strong foundation for weathering whatever may come our way.
Tricia Bonner is director of Business Development & Strategic Planning at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Southern California.