Communicating What Doctors Want to Hear

By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA

[box]“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.” -Dr. Seuss[/box]

Logically, we recognize the best way to capture an audience’s attention is to craft a message that resonates. Clearly, our advertising partners have “mastered the message.” Professional promoters know how to deliver the right message with the right medium to the right audience in a way that grabs and sustains interest. Why not use the same approach? As we work to connect with our medical staff and referring physicians, we can take a few pointers from the pros. Here are five tips to consider as you craft your communications or design your physician relations conversations.

  1. Make it relevant: Physicians admit that they quit reading simply because they’re inundated with emails and notes from the organization. To break through the clutter, communicate in a way that’s specific and meaningful.
    1. Get away from blasts to everyone. (Pediatricians do not care about new courses in geriatrics.)
    2.  Be aware of the number of messages going to doctors and be selective. Less is more.
  2. Write tight: Doctors don’t have time to read lengthy prose. Be concise.
    1. Create short, descriptive subject lines to increase open rates.
    2. Use bullets, charts and graphs to help doctors quickly scan for important facts.
  3. Engage your audience: Whether in writing or face-to-face meetings, lead with the benefit and make your message personally meaningful.  In print and electronic communication, keep the messaging strategy about “what the physicians need” rather than “what your organization has.” In conversations, show interest in the physician, listen actively and respond succinctly to keep the conversation flowing.
  4. Consider your physicians’ needs. While it may be easier for you to do a dinner meeting or put an announcement on the portal, it may not work for physicians.
    1. Take the time to learn how they want to meet your specialists.
    2. Give them two choices (that you know you can do) and then honor their wishes.

Our earlier HealthLeaders book, “The Complete Guide to Physician Relations in an Accountable Care Era,” asked doctors how they would like to receive communication.

Doctors Graph

Take this question, hone in on a couple of options and then ask it of your medical staff.  Document and respect their answers. Also ask about the materials they read, and if there is a best time (day/week) to communicate. Update this every few years.

  1. Know when to close: In sales, we often discuss “talking beyond the close.” The same thing can happen in writing.  When you craft your message, know what’s important and know when to close. Obviously, if it is an invitation, the details are important, but in other communications to physicians, don’t try to jam all of the details (such as process info, which only their office staff needs to know).Call out what’s important and then stop.