Physician Relations Gets Personal: Embracing Change

By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA | kbarlow@barlowmccarthy.com

“In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.” -Warren Buffett

Healthcare is changing. Tell me something I don’t know, right! We strive to stay in step as physician relations grapples with market alignment and the impact of population health. All eyes are on defining a model positioned for the future. But a bigger challenge might be the people.  After all, this is a people-driven role.

At a personal level what is your aptitude to change? Here are some key elements:

  1. Manage your lizard brain. I am referring to that part of us that is most concerned with survival. We are comfortable and competent with the existing approach and nervous about veering from the current path. We justify existing behaviors because we’re not sure we can be successful if things change. This is really about managing our inner voice — and she’s loud!
  2. Look to others who have lived through change. Go on the prowl. Start looking for examples of successful transitions within our industry and outside. Ask questions of other physician relations people who are doing new, innovative work. Instead of looking for why it won’t work, look at programs within your organization or community that have transformed. Really listen as they describe what’s working now and why that was important.
  3. Have a heart to heart with yourself. Let’s face it: while we want to defend what we have, it is not perfect. Consider those things that have frustrated you about the role and explore what a change could mean. Create a list of the top five things you wish would change about your job today.  Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that with change comes the opportunity to refine our internal position, or our need for data, or something else that has bothered us about the existing role.
  4. Silence your inner skeptic. Challenge that voice that says this will not work in my market, my doctors will not expect this from me. Another favorite: we tried that. Because much of our approach with physicians is personal, the field rep must demonstrate confidence in the change. Personal doubt that we can or that we should will get in the way of transition.
  5. Contribute to the build. Rather than letting others decide how your role can be repositioned, step up and offer to be part of the solution. When this does not occur, those who are less familiar with the nature of field relationships decide what is needed. Use data and stories to share ideas for change. And don’t get frustrated if you need to share ideas more than once.  Get creative and stay helpful.
  6. Try. Forced change is awful, so get ahead of this. Try new ideas before you are forced, and before you are measured on it. Give yourself time to embrace the change by creating a personal roadmap for moving forward. Don’t expect perfect the first time.  If you are changing your conversation with a referring doctor, make sure to stage the change. They will not “get it” the first time, so be prepared to reposition several times.

Physician relations as a conduit for physician engagement is a cornerstone for our changing healthcare environment. We’re going to move away from pure growth models and hearing about issues or telling them what we have. As the old roles evolve, our teams need to be the ones that leverage the relationship for the next frontier. Models need people who can implement them. I hope that’s you.