By David F. Zirkle, PhD
As with most sales efforts, effective physician relations begins with well-developed prospect lists to direct field activity and allocate resources. The process and tools described below focus on growing key strategic service lines. The following provides a quick checklist of items to include in the physician sales tool box.
Inpatient Data: A “state” database showing physician inpatient activity for not only your organization, but also competitors, is ideal to support the targeting process. If your state does not have this available, then attending physician inpatient volume for a three-year time period is normally extracted from internal data systems. The use of a multi-year trend reduces yearly fluctuations and provides a better estimate of physician activity. Financial data such as total charges, revenue or contribution margin can also be incorporated if available.
[box]”A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” – John le Carre English author[/box]
Target Categories: The inpatient database is then used to place physicians into various target categories based on their clinical activity. While several approaches are available, one common method includes the following categories:
• Top Producers – includes physicians directing the majority of their business to the organization and/or high volume physicians in key service lines. This group forms the basis if both “can’t afford to lose” and retention targets.
• Splitters – includes physicians “splitting” business between your organization and other competitors and/or those with medium volume. This group provides the best immediate growth opportunities by shifting business from competitors to the organization.
• Prospects – includes physicians directing the majority of their business to competitors and/or those with low volume. This category represents long-term growth opportunities requiring a lengthy period of relationship building and is generally limited to no more than 10% of the total number of physicians on the target list.
• Red Flag – includes physicians with declining volume. This group is targeted to determine causes for declining volume and often involves issue resolution activities.
Outpatient Data: Similar to the inpatient analysis, physician outpatient volume for a 3-year time period is extracted from internal data systems. This database is used to identify physicians in specialties which are primarily outpatient-based and might not have made the target lists based on only the inpatient analysis. Physicians with significant outpatient activity are then placed in the appropriate target categories and any duplication with the inpatient lists is removed.
Referral Data: While sales programs often focus much of their attention on retaining and growing admissions from the current medical staff, efforts directed towards referring physicians are also warranted in many situations. These include Primary Care and other physicians likely to refer patients to one of your specialists. Unfortunately, this step is often limited by the quality of referring physician data available to the organization. To the extent that such data is available from internal systems, referral volume should be analyzed to identify key referring physicians for retention efforts as well as others offering growth opportunities. If complete and accurate referral data is not available, some organizations purchase a physician database from an outside vendor and review the list for referring physicians to include on the target lists.
Field Intelligence: Up to this point, most of the targeting process has relied on quantitative data available to the organization. At this stage, the target lists should be reviewed by internal staff to first validate the lists and then remove any physicians that should not appear on the lists for whatever reason. These often include items such as strong physician loyalty to a competitor, quality issues, past problems or issues, payor restrictions, etc. This process produces final target lists with an appropriate number of physicians in the various categories.
Tracking: Once targeting is complete and sales efforts begin, actual volume moving forward is then compared to the three-year history of each physician on the target list. Volume increases for targeted physicians should, in part, be attributed to the physician relations program and their sales efforts. Targeted physicians with no increase or declining volume should be reviewed for possible changes in sales strategies and/or removal from the list. Other metrics such as sales activity and field intelligence can also be included in the tracking process to assess program performance as well as make adjustments to the target lists.