by Allison McCarthy, MBA
There is one truth that stands above the fray; those who plan get the best results. Planning physician relations visits in advance, particularly when they involve non-physician relations staff, provides the preparation necessary to achieve solid results.
We never feel like we have enough time. But almost any amount of time is sufficient to switch from reacting to preparing. Whether it involves reviewing the meeting agenda in advance with a clinical service line leader or describing to a specialist the “likes” and “dislikes” of a referring physician, laying the groundwork for the discussion can make a significant difference in the outcome. Just follow these simple steps.
Review the Visit “Purpose”. You may have arranged this meeting several weeks prior and as in all things, time can fade everyone’s memory. Reviewing with your visit “partner” why you wanted him/her to join you in this physician visit brings the original intent back into focus. It provides the opportunity to share what you already know as background information about the target physician. Should a senior leader be accompanying you on this visit, this one action will demonstrate your relationship development expertise and enhance your credibility with your visit partner. Beyond the background, you also might need to convey to your visit colleague – particularly if they are a specialty physician – that their communication is designed to be the “proof source” you need to shift the referring physician’s business to your facility. Or that you need him/her, as the cancer service line specialist, to describe the service line’s unique treatment process to differentiate your organization from the competition. Use this opportunity to share with your visit associate specifically how his/her participation in this next meeting will help you achieve your specific growth or retention objective.
Outline the “Planned” Approach. Describe how you will draw the target physician into dialogue and the method you will use to transition the conversation to your “ride-a-long” partner. Define the key points you need your visit associate to cover and coach them on the best way to frame the message to get in touch with what is most important to your target physician. This might include having your clinical visit colleague ask 3-4 questions because the information you need is only relevant in a clinical context. Finally, plan how you will close the discussion, including any points either of you will make that will help you achieve your desired “close.”
Plan with “Precedence”. Using the insights that you have gained from the past will help you to think through potential challenges. And forecasting in advance what your responses might be to those obstacles will get you that much farther ahead. This could range anywhere between showing up at the office and the physician is not there to having the physician only give you five minutes of his or her time. Considering in advance what you would do in those situations will spare you from being embarrassed in front of a senior leader or feeling like you have totally wasted the chief of services time. Talk through those potential occurrences and strategize what you might do including; the obvious of calling in advance to confirm; meeting with the referral coordinator as an alternative; or planning a condensed script that would present the key points in an abbreviated session with the physician.
Review the Logistics. Don’t forget to discuss where/when you plan to meet. Are you riding together or separately? What time do you both need to arrive at the office? What resource materials will each of you bring to leave behind with the physician or their office staff? You may also need to supply directions and telephone numbers so you can reach each other should the unexpected arise.
While all of this seems obvious, so often we get derailed by the very things we presume everyone knows and understands. And while there are physician relations visit “partners” we clearly recognize need preparation attention, there are others who would consider it drudgery, overlook details all together and then fail to deliver right before our eyes. So prepare for the obvious – even those you don’t believe need it. At a minimum, you will prevent organizational embarrassments. More importantly, the pre-planning effort will ensure that you achieve your meeting objective with that key target physician.
Whether you are a new physician relations representative or a seasoned physician strategies leader, sometimes it is the “basics” that we begin to short change which can make all of the difference in our outcomes. And planning a physician-to-physician or physician-to-administrator visit in advance could be just one of those areas where if we took a few extra minutes to “get our ducks in a row” we would walk away with more satisfaction than we ever could have imagined. So make sure to prepare for that next visit between your organizational colleague and target physician.