Physician Relations Retool: Basics are Still Essential

Relations Retool

It is an interesting time in the market. With so much attention to the potential changes in how we are paid, how we work with doctors and how we determine the right value and the right volumes, do programs launch and/or do existing programs attempt to enhance their position in the market?  Sometimes it is healthy to go back to the basics- to reconsider those elements that are essential to frame a successful program.

Here are five questions to ask internally to determine whether you are ready to invest in the development or re-tooling of a physician relations program:

  1. Is there top-down commitment? Many programs work beautifully as grassroots efforts.  This one will fail if senior leadership is not on board. Leadership must understand that real success may require a cultural change.  Real success is engaging the internal leaders in understanding that process.  Organizations that have some of the best success have top leaders working closely with a group of “can’t-afford-to-lose” physicians with the same proactive methods that the reps are using with those from whom they are hoping to earn more referrals: They seek out the physician for updates and opinions, they remind them when their ideas are implemented, they offer support and involvement in ways that are legally appropriate.  When the physician’s eyes are on the organization, efforts to recognize and engage the physician from the top down are recognized and valued.
  2. Do we have the ability to manage new business if we ask for it?  Managing new business is about beds and specialists, but it’s also about systems, process, and functions to support the expectations of the new referring physician.  If you have not recently done this, evaluate your systems of access to understand how challenging it is for a referring physician to get a patient to your facility.  If we relate our ease of getting new business to the retail world, it sometimes feels like we are making our customers not only find the cash register, but also ring up the transaction and make change.
  3. Is physician-driven business a core strategy for the organization?  For example, some organizations are further with their population health implementation.  If you can’t be all things to all people, make sure you’re first taking care of the relationships with those you value/need the most.
  4. If you take a field focused strategy, is the organization in a position to give it time to create inroads?  Physicians, or any other customers for that matter, are not impressed with stops and starts when you are working to build rapport, offer insights, and gain trust.  Add the fact that changing some specialty referrals is a 12-18 month process, and you have the makings for false expectations and poor results if you don’t have a set timeline and outcomes.
  5. Can operations, IT, and the planning department be counted on for support?  A physician relations program is reminiscent of an old saying: “No man is an island.”  The most effective programs are collaborative efforts with many departments lending their expertise and creating an environment that recognizes the role of the physician as a valued customer.

If you don’t have all five elements moving in the right direction, there are some tough choices to be made, and you need to consider whether you can get there.  Can you educate and gain commitment from senior leadership?  Can you create an approach that focuses on specialty areas in which you do have capacity?  Can you target areas in which you believe you can get some quick wins so you are allowed to develop the program with a long-term focus?

Get creative.  If you need help, get it.  If the barriers are too large, continue to work with the internal team and position the value of the relationship program.  Start measuring success and encourage feedback from physicians.  Soon, you’ll be in a position to build a business plan and create a process and approach for enhancing relationships with physicians in your market.

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