Physician Relations: Listen to the Market

By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA

[box]“Your business is never really good or bad ‘out there.’ Your business is either good or bad right between your own two ears.” Zig Ziglar[/box]

Market uncertainty has many physician relations representatives asking, “What impact will the changing health care environment have on my role?”  Take it a step further and the question is, “Will there be a need for physician relations?”  My bias is that those who are able to cultivate deep, trusted relationships with the medical staff will have a place in the present and the future.  As a profession, we need to consider value, positioning and impact.  Start with these two questions.

  1. What does my organization need from me in 2014 and how do I accomplish that goal?
  2. What are the key drivers for my organization’s future success and how can the relationships I have with the physician community play a role?

The Here and Now

Craft your plan based on the current environment; review the strategic plan and learn what leaders need near-term.  In almost every environment, there continues to be a need for patients.  That translates to volume growth.  And while there are a handful of market exceptions, even organizations that are fully entrenched in clinical integration and accountable care models presently rely on the right volume for their growth. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does my organization need in-patient volume? If yes, where?
  2. Does my organization need out-patient volume? If yes where?
  3. Are there payer/patient restrictions on our volume needs? If yes, where?
  4. Are in-network referrals (leakage issues with employed doctors) the primary focus?  If yes, what percent of time needs to be spent on this versus other doctors in the market?

Based on your response, craft a six-month field strategy.  Consider those doctors who have the potential to provide the right volume.   Much of this is business as usual, if you have been having quality visits with the doctors in your target market.  If you are doing a more transactional sales approach, now is the time to shift your field approach to a more dialogue, relationship-focused approach. That means the doctors consider you to be “their rep” and that you are getting consistent time with them for meaningful conversations.

Am I Ready for What’s Next?

Oh, for a magic ball that could tell us exactly how health reform is going to play out.   (I bet there are many individuals beyond physician relations teams that would love this answer!) Like many of you, I read everything I can get my hands on in hopes of better defining the physician relations role of the future. Based on what I am reading and hearing from experts, here are my current observations.

  • Reform will require better relationships and integration with health systems and doctors.
  • Today, many members of the relationship field staff are a special minority who clearly understand the physician perspective.
  • Having the right physicians aligned with the health system will be foundational to long-term success.
  • A core of the model change will be collaboration and much of it will be dependent on education and collaboration.
  • The right volume will continue to be important for health systems.

Internal positioning is critical to ensure the organization understands the value of physician relations in the evolving market.  Consider the actions you can use to demonstrate that you are the best resource for the connection. Learn the next-term challenges and offer ways to provide intelligence or create impact with the select practices.

The next few years will require focus, finesse and a lot of listening to ensure the role is meeting the needs of the evolving organization.  Live in the present. If you hear that your organization is still about volume, then deliver that, but actively position how your relationships can support a future vision for the organization.  Listen and respond.

One Eye on the Future

As you look at the models, expectations and obligations for more synergy, it is clear that physician relationships are central in any future model.  The role will evolve and teams will have the chance to own this or let others within the system take control of the relationship.  It’s a fabulous time to create an internal positioning plan that addresses the following:

  1. Positioning
    • As a representative, I have outstanding, trusted relationships with the medical community. If the answer is yes, detail evidence of this.  If you are not quite there, create steps to get there.
    • I am seen as the go-to person for information or impact with both employed and private practice doctors.  Determine the value of this and what you might do to enhance your place.
  2. Impact
    • I regularly demonstrate the impact of my role in supporting the organization’s initiatives.
    • I am able to provide strategic insights regarding the medical community that support my leaders in their physician engagement/alignment strategies.
  3. Knowledge
    • I have the right level of knowledge and skill to support my organization with clinical integration, employment and the market softening, acquisition needs or other internal priorities that would benefit from a trusted advisor to the physicians.

My lists are not meant to be comprehensive and this learning and preparation for the future is certainly not a one-size-fits-all exercise.  The goal is to clearly state how this job will evolve. Consider how it has changed over the last decade.

If we really listen to the needs of the future, we’ll be pleased as our expertise will be important. Physician relationship management will be essential in the evolving system and it is a role that current teams can/should own.  In other words, the ball is in your court.  What steps can you take at a personal and team level to prepare?  How do you ensure you are not overlooked as physician focused education and strategic field insights are needed? Can you stretch your exciting skills or learn some new ones?