Physician Relations: Liaisons as Strategic Message Channels

Physician Relations- Liaisons as Strategic Message ChannelsBy: Jeff Cowart, MAH

A strong hospital physician liaison field outreach program achieves results precisely because it develops meaningful connectivity with an important audience of high influential voices.

But, rarely is this channel of connectivity considered when a hospital or health system faces a public crisis or event that requires rapid and credible response.

As a crisis communication specialist, and a seasoned leader of physician liaison teams, I know from experience that it is in the best interest of the hospital to strategically use the asset value the liaisons bring in that unsettling moment.

But, it cannot be a haphazard deployment. The liaisons need be specifically trained and have well-understood and practiced protocols for the mission.

The protocol requires that a proven expert in message and media be the quarterback of the response effort. No message goes to any public audience without being crafted and approved by that expert. The scripts to be used by the liaisons are produced at message central to ensure alignment with overall positioning and perception goals. The strategic use of physician liaisons as a message channel should be a chapter in the institution’s crisis communications handbook, with well-vetted outlines on when and how to use the team, and who owns the outcome of the deployment.

Once the protocol is established, the liaisons need to participate in role-play and mock drills, just like we do regularly for medical crisis situations and Joint Commission inspections. The team must get comfortable with the role and the responsibility of being a live channel, and be rigorous in sticking to protocol. This training is best conducted by a crisis communications and message expert who can add real-world context to the exercise.

The truth is, the media often fails to tell the story accurately or completely, even when the crisis management team does a great job. So why would we allow one of our most important constituencies – our physicians – to get their information solely from the media. It is a tall order to try and convene physicians for a briefing, especially for mid- to large- size hospitals. But, liaisons know how and where to best find them for important conversations.

We trust our physician liaisons to communicate important messages daily with our most essential and trusted partners. With preparation and training, we can also trust them to be essential channels of message distribution in a crisis.

Helping organizations realize the full asset value of the physician liaison team is a specialty here at Barlow/McCarthy. For more on how to effectively use the team strategically as messengers in a crisis or day-to-day, send me an email at or call 703-915-6600.

No comments