6 Secrets for Better Hospital-Physician Relationships
By Molly Gamble
When it comes to physician-hospital relationships, it’s not the thought that counts. Nice gestures only go so far. Hospitals need to measure results, be business-savvy and recognize physicians in unorthodox ways. Rochell Pierce, vice president of physician relationship management for Brentwood, Tenn.-based Aegis Health Group, expands on the following six secrets for improved alignment between hospitals and physicians.
1. Physician-relationship management programs should be disciplined, formal and measurable. An effective physician-management program includes specific goals, strategies and measurement methods all backed with a sales-savvy mentality. Many hospitals doing physician outreach today do not designate enough time or staff to the program, which is the first mistake. Ms. Pierce says hospitals sometimes assign one person to handle outreach for 600 physicians, which is asking for failure. “Physicians don’t have tight relationships with hospitals. Knowing physicians — their problems, their sore points — requires a relationship that won’t develop with one or two visits,” says Ms. Pierce.
2. Work to align incentives with physicians. With Stark Law in mind, hospitals should still look for opportunities to help physicians enhance productivity, efficiency and success. For instance, are there any opportunities for joint ventures with physicians? Another possibility is bringing physicians into hospital-owned medical groups or contracting them, which Ms. Pierce says is becoming more common. Electronic medical records can greatly help physicians with time productivity. Also, identify resources within the hospital that may help the physician gain public visibility. Through aligned referrals and aligned incentives, hospitals can help create an environment where physicians are successful and feel as though the relationship is balanced.
3. Get to know physicians and what is most important to them. Hospitals often consider “sales” a dirty word, but physicians are very much customers. “And you have to know your customers,” says Ms. Pierce. “Don’t try to sell physicians something they don’t want or need.” By learning about physicians, hospitals can discover which specialists they have strong relationships with — and in which specialties they don’t. Physicians often complain about equipment, renting space, the lack of block time in operating room schedules or the availability of other physician specialists at the hospital.
4. Recognize and reward your medical staff. While visible physicians may feel strong connections to hospital CEOs and leaders, the majority of physicians feel disconnected from the administration. To bolster that connection, CEOs and hospital leaders must do more than pay lip service to the concepts of support and appreciation. Ms. Pierce says she once worked with a hospital where the vice president of medical affairs drove around the community’s primary care facilities, sitting down with physicians and thanking them for their work. “It sounds very simple, but the feedback from that simple approach was tremendous,” says Ms. Pierce.
5. Listen to physicians and make changes within the hospital reflecting their needs. Often times, a physician outreach program is only group in the community listening to physicians and developing relationships with them. With that said, physician outreach groups uncover a great deal of information, problems, values and opinions that should be shared with hospital executives. In her experience, Ms. Pierce discovered simple operational issues within the hospital brought to attention by physicians. “By listening to them, and making internal changes, it showed physicians the hospital had made a true commitment to them. Show them you’re listening,” says Ms. Pierce.
6. Measure the results of physician-relationship management efforts.Unless hospitals measure their results, much of their physician outreach activity can become meaningless. Measurement strategies may differ, depending on the goal. For instance, if the goal is to increase physician engagement, a simple goal might be to increase physician involvement in governance events. Also, use data and referral rates intelligently. “If you compare month-to-month referral rates, and notice disparities or dips, go back to the physician and address that as a customer relationship issue,” says Ms. Pierce. Physician satisfaction can be measured through surveys, which can serve as a baseline as hospitals move forward and continue to measure physician satisfaction over time.