6 Keys to a Successful Physician Relations Program

A physician relations program is one avenue hospitals can take to strengthen their relationships with physicians. Denise Stillman, MBA, launched a successful physician relations program at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, Ill., in 2006. Ms. Stillman, who is now a principal at the healthcare strategy and marketing organization Clear Directions, LLC, says the initiative is one of the best ways to take care of the people who drive business into your hospital — and help them continue to do so. Below, Ms. Stillman shares six aspects of an excellent physician relations program.  

1. Much of the necessary data to assess physician relations is accessible to hospitals at low-cost.
At Little Company of Mary, Ms. Stillman used data from the physician referral department paired with information from the hospital's Meditech database to track which physicians were currently using the hospital, what tests were being run and which physicians had strayed from the hospital.

The team used this information to track physicians and discuss their opinions on working with the hospital or how they felt about referring patients there. Through the data already available to them, the team stratified its physicians according to how often they visited the hospital and sought to find out why some had strayed.

This rich data was available to Ms. Stillman and her team at very little cost, making a physician relations program feasible for hospitals on tight budgets. "Most hospitals have the hardware," she says. "They just need the teams to do it." In fact, Ms. Stillman recommends a physician relations program as the first step in any hospital's initiative to improve its rapport with physicians.

2. The teams can be relatively small in size.
Ms. Stillman recommends a team of at least 1.5 full-time equivalent employees for a 300-bed hospital — at the very least. "That's bare-bones," she says. Geographic location may play a role in the size of the team, since physicians in urban areas are closer and take less time to visit than those in rural locations.  More important than size, however, is the array of technical skill and leadership that should be represented on the team, which is expanded upon in the following points.  

3. The team leader should have direct ties to the CEO. Communication with physicians may result in some unique problems, with many driven by differences in personality or leadership style. "You want to have a direct channel to the CEO to rally the troops and fix the situation right away," says Ms. Stillman.

4. The team must have an accurate understanding of the hospital's marketing department. At Little Company of Mary, the physician relations team was based in this department, which allowed team members to promote initiatives from a consumer-marketing standpoint and intimately know what resources were available to them.

Ms. Stillman recommends the marketing team play a role in this initiative, since a large component of the program is transitioning the relationship from assuming physicians have intimate knowledge of a hospital's financial situation to treating them like consumers, educating them about the hospital benefits.

5. Team members should be business-savvy. Reconciling differences between physicians and hospitals is not the team's only responsibility. A physician relations team must not only handle unique personalities and opinions, but also be skilled in financial and business matters. An effective team will connect the dots between revenue and physician behavior and establish firm financial goals while helping physicians realize them.

6. An effective physician liaison will have a clinical background and an eye on hospital goals. Ms. Stillman selected a physician liaison with extensive clinical knowledge and experiences in both the hospital and physician offices. "Armed with the data from the physician referral center and the Meditech data, the liaison calls on physicians and continues dialogue with them," she says.  

The liaison particularly focused on those physicians that had strayed form the hospital. "We wanted to find out why," says Ms. Stillman. "A great physician liaison will be able to call physicians and say, 'We aren't seeing the numbers like we saw last year. Is there any reason why? What can we do to help you?'"

Learn more about Clear Directions, LLC.

Read more coverage on hospital-physician relationships:

- 7 Best Practices on Working With Physicians in ACOs

- 15 Statistics on Physician-Hospital Relationships

- 5 Best Practice Concepts to Improve Marketing to Physicians

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