The Joy of Giving and Receiving: Packaging the Right Relationship

By Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA

Reflecting on the season, I was thinking about the joy that accompanies a gift received. Young or old, there is a sense of anticipation, wondering about the possibilities and a feeling of appreciation for those who share a part of themselves in the gift-giving process.

Advocates of relationship building with the medical staff exemplify some of the same attributes. After all, the goal is that everyone gains in the process – like the joy of giving and receiving. Let’s explore some of the ways to make certain you consider the expectations on both sides.


Establish realistic expectations. Be cautious about what you promise, but don’t fail to set goals. Define what you will deliver and then meet or exceed the promise.

  • Especially if you are in the start-up mode, make sure you have set achievable near-term goals for the program. Growing referrals takes consistent messaging, products and services that can be differentiated and operational readiness to deliver at a level described. Near term goals might include a select number of personal visits, or visits with another doctor or key stakeholder in your organization. Or it could be creating interest in the diagnostic mammography suite and associated program as evidenced by an uptick in referrals.
  • If you are an existing program, take the time to detail expectations for the next year. Never assume that others know what you hope to accomplish. Frame your expectations with specific measures and evidence that the relationship strategy is working. Be willing to step out and say what you plan to achieve, and then make it happen. A mature program should begin to shift their goals to impact and results, so if you’ve been at it for awhile, then the goals need to be more about demonstrating new referrals.
  • With all the emphasis on what the organization wants to achieve, it is also very wise to call out a result that is physician-centric. Perhaps you say that you are going to learn about two program innovations that the medical staff would like to accomplish and bring them forward for evaluation.


Despite the best efforts of healthcare executives, some physicians remain unhappy with their current situation. We must explore the reasons for this unhappiness and discover what physicians WANT so that together we can better meet the needs of our patients, communities, and one another.

Journal of Healthcare Management, July 1, 2004


Mutual Joy: Make Sure Physicians Find Value in the Relationship

OK, I know that joy might feel a bit much, but in good relationships, communication is a two-way street, and expressed desires benefit both parties. This is what differentiates relationship sales. Make sure that you find ways to ensure it is mutually beneficial.

  • Based on what you learn about their personality, customize the approach.
  • Learn about them, their needs and expectations, what their patients are asking, what keeps them up at night. Take the time to determine how they make decisions. Discuss how they interact with the office staff and with their colleagues. Use this detail to define a current approach.
  • Share these discoveries as you provide internal communication about the world of the practice, their needs and their expectations. Do it in a way that shows opportunity. This helps to manage internal stakeholders who want you to, “Go tell them we have this.” There are many right ways to get the message across; however, if the representative becomes a human billboard, you will likely lose the relationship value which is the number one attribute needed for success. Planning for What is Next

Just because you gave an awesome holiday gift last year, it doesn’t mean you are off the hook for this season. The same holds true in our dedication to good relationships. We need to build on our reputation as someone who is thoughtful in our approach – to gift giving and to relationship building.

  • With a good sense of the local climate, consistently work to find new ways to earn credibility.
  • Manage the time spent with office staff vs. the doctors. If you wish to see the doctor, then you need to be prepared with a message they will demonstrate value.
  • In some markets you may need to explore new ways to get connected with members of the medical staff.
  • Remember if you can’t have a conversation with them, it’s pretty hard to take credit for their referrals.
    Exploring the Possibilities
  • Challenge your team to come up with innovative ways to connect with the medical staff beyond the face to face office meeting. Also consider ways that are not working – get rid of them. Once you create the list of options, continue to “mix it up.” Different ideas that become the norm will get stale too!
  • Create message platforms to offer consistent communication of messages to key physicians before they are in the public. For example, if there are changes in the web pages that will affect where the practice directs individuals for directions, do a strong, planned communication to the practices.

Many will share that the very best packages are those that have a personal touch – a little bit of you in the gift. I think the same holds true of that physician relations package that is really put together well. Each market is different and each medical staff is different. The right approach is one that can meet the objectives of your leaders and that will allow the physicians to feel valued. Reflect on those elements that are essential to the program and then consider ways to refine the package in those other areas to ensure you have the right elements to sustain your program.