Connecting with the Voice of the Physician

By: Jeff Cowart, MAH

[box]The opportunity to really connect with physicians is ever-present.[/box]

For the past 15 years I’ve spent much of my career working directly with physicians on a wide range of strategies related to building the practice, hospital-physician relations, community positioning and marketing. One of the consistently recurring themes articulated by the doctors is the significant lack of effective and relevant communication from medical partners such as hospitals, clinics, payors, service providers and so on.

In general, doctors feel left out of conversations with the partners regarding issues that directly impact their practice lives. Specifically, they tend to see the partners as habitually locked into a tunnel vision focused on their own agendas, and when it comes to decision making, have little regard for the critical voice of the physician.

Historically, this has been problematic. However, in today’s radically disruptive healthcare landscape,  medical partners must actively cultivate stronger collaborative engagements and more information-rich exchanges with physicians.

Consider the business imperatives — from the economics of medical records, meaningful use and risk-sharing to reimbursement structures tied to value versus volume and more — that will absolutely require physician engagement in the future. Integrative and collaborative medicine has a physician in the center acting as care traffic control. Using precision data to achieve the goals of population health and cost-effective chronic care management depends on the active involvement of physicians. And, with emerging models of care, this dependency is only growing stronger.

Far too few organizations, from what I’ve seen, have dedicated resources to maintaining relevant connections with some of the most important business development and growth drivers for the enterprise (the physicians). When we do create channels of connection (like the recent rush to physician portals), we too often forget to man those channels with the resources required to manage the message. Thus, the channels are simply stuffed with stuff, which from a physician’s point of view only furthers the disconnection.

Lack of relevant communication, information and connection with partners, who impact their lives, is part of the reason. A survey conducted in 2012 by the Physicians Foundation found that 82% of doctors feel they have “little influence in the direction of healthcare and have little ability to affect change.”

However, the opportunity to really connect with physicians is ever-present. For partners with good vision, the opportunity to become a trusted broker of information, someone who actually contributes to ease of practice life for the physician, is there for the taking.

In my view, what we need is a skilled professional message manager who is responsible for conducting a sustained campaign and whose sole focus is on connecting the organization, every day, in a meaningful way with physicians. This person is not a marketing or PR or practice management or medical office FTE, who has it as a throw-away responsibility on the “other duties” line of the job description. This is a specialist who works directly with business development, governmental affairs and strategic growth teams to evaluate, distill and distribute the kind of information that physicians need to more effectively meet the brave new world. It’s a specialist who goes all-in to promote understanding for things like EMRs, ACOs, ICDs and everything in between. He or she listens intently to the voice of the physician and creates pathways that establish the organization as a trusted broker of relevant information and enables credible exchanges with physicians.

Creating this type of position requires only a small investment for a potentially large return in physician loyalty, satisfaction and engagement.

Contact Jeff Cowart for more information on our Physicians Relations offerings.