Physician Relationship Management: Forging Alignment Ahead of Reform

Chicago Hospital News & Health Report 03.28.2011

By Henry Ross & Rochell Pierce

If the average citizen believed everything he or she heard, the lasting impression would be that Democrats and Republicans have completely different objectives when it comes to healthcare reform. But cutting through their differences is how goals are best achieved, and both parties agree on two core fundamentals: lowering the cost of healthcare and improving its quality.

One of the best ways hospitals here in Chicago and around the country can help turn these reform ideals into reality is to better align with local physicians who share these same goals. To do this, especially as we enter an age of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), it is imperative that a hospital’s physician relationship program evolves from the informal structure still commonly found in many hospitals today into a strategically focused enterprise with clear goals, quantifiable measurements and ongoing accountability. For hospitals considering an ACO strategy, it is more important than ever to evaluate physician alignment and identify gaps. These are key areas where a formalized physician relationship management program can play a major role.

Beyond Physician Relations
Many healthcare organizations with active physician liaison programs find that, even though they are diligently calling on doctors, they are not achieving a significant impact. That is because, more often than not, instead of seeking opportunities for strategic alignment and ongoing engagement with physicians, they are spending their time in “meet and greet” activities or simply addressing quick fixes such as better instrumentation or more convenient block times in the OR. True hospital-physician alignment requires a multi-faceted, business development approach.

Physician relationship management in 2011 needs to go much further, evolving beyond a reliance on conventional CRM tools and basic programs. When optimally planned and executed, physician relationship management creates referral alignment, economic alignment and strategic alignment that ultimately helps doctors and hospitals achieve positive clinical and financial outcomes. The more relevant, connected and multi-dimensional your physician relationships are, the more meaningful and valued they will be perceived. Consider how each of these important strategies can work for your organization:

Ø Referral Alignment – Many factors influence patient referrals between primary care physicians and specialists…and that directly impacts a hospital’s patient volume. By working with PCPs to uncover barriers and help create and develop relationships with specialists, hospitals can facilitate a steadier flow of consumers who need inpatient and outpatient care. Referral alignment also helps identify problems PCPs and specialists may be having in terms of accessing and delivering services at the hospital. The issues may range from not having the right equipment or level of nursing care to needing a new cardiac cath lab, upgraded imaging services or additional surgery suites. Referral alignment also focuses on ensuring that PCPs are comfortable with hospital-based physicians, such as hospitalists and or contracted emergency room doctors.

Ø Strategic Alignment – While most hospitals have a loyal group of admitting physicians, in many cases the majority of medical staff members are “splitting” their referrals between one or more hospitals. There are also likely qualified and desirable physicians in the community who have chosen not to join the medical staff at all. The goal of strategic alignment is to educate physicians about the benefits of being associated with the hospital, and becoming more involved at the leadership level. This provides opportunities for physicians to have a voice in the decision-making process, which can translate into increased personal and professional satisfaction. Strategic alignment also ensures that both hospital and medical staff leaders are working toward the same goals of cost efficiencies, enhanced patient experience and better quality; all necessary components if we are to be successful in an era of payment reform.

Ø Economic Alignment – Like hospitals, most physicians have seen their income decrease as reimbursement declines. Many doctors are looking for new ways to grow their income, such as through joint ventures and the addition of new services into their practices. Hospitals can help identify gaps in services within the community and, where appropriate and economically desirable, partner with physicians to fill those voids and foster hospital market share growth. Some hospitals have been strategically forming medical foundations or recruiting new physicians for existing, loyal medical groups. Others have created management agreements where medical staff members manage hospital services, with incentives for cost efficiencies and enhanced quality. Wherever such opportunities exist, hospitals should look for ways to partner and enhance relationships with physicians to achieve the best possible relationship alignment and competitive advantage. Additionally, hospital leaders would be wise to identify ways in which they can help physicians create stronger, more robust practices – from offering access to career-building events and seminars to consulting on ways to increase efficiency of physicians’ offices – within the confines of the Stark laws, of course.

It is clear that we have entered an era that demands an unprecedented level of collaboration between physicians and hospitals. Those hospitals able to forge closer alignment now through a strategically designed and carefully implemented physician relationship management program will find themselves well ahead of the competition as they build committed, loyal and trusting physicians truly vested in the success of the organization.

Henry Ross is CEO and Rochell Pierce is senior vice president of physician relationship management at Aegis Health Group, which helps hospitals across the country to build lasting relationships with their two most important audiences – physicians and favorably insured consumers. More information is available at www.aegisgroup.com.

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