Employing Physicians: Leverage the Honeymoon to Ensure Success for the Future

If your facility is one of so many around the country employing more physicians, then you know this relationship is spurring organizational change and having an impact on your business strategy.

As a leader in the organization with a critical role in this important movement, you understand the need to establish coordinated goals and a mutually beneficial process for getting there. As you define your function in managing the process, look to others on your team for support as the relationship evolves. Recognize the value your physician relations and marketing teams can bring to facilitate ongoing needs and opportunities. These individuals can keep the conversation going, representing interests from both sides.

As these new physicians are coming onboard, early and ongoing conversations about the many practice development details can help establish clear expectations and mitigate misunderstandings from the start. Consider the topics that you know will be on the minds of the new physicians.

The early stages are most critical when trying to establish a credible, trusting foundation for future growth. These topics may be a good place to start knowing there will be others that are specific to your environment and situation.

Ensure reality matches expectations

Conversations with the physician to gauge experiences early in the relationship will help expose factors that may not be meeting expectations. During the stages of negotiation promises and commitments were undoubtedly made. Day-to-day operations will likely be front and center at this point. Confirm their understanding of practice details such as the operational processes, adequate and qualified staffing and elements of the proforma. It will be important to catch minor annoyances today before they turn into major issues tomorrow. Talk through it. Be transparent, fair and honest. Resolutions are much easier at this stage.

Involvement in the hospital-physician relationship

Invite involvement and participation. Get to know your new partners early on to know their level of interest in strategy, operations, clinical  or community issues. Share your organization's business strategy and emphasize the importance of physicians in the process. Ask for their opinions and observations at this early stage of their integration when they might be more objective, and invite them to share ideas for development. Then to move them beyond being just the physicians with the ideas, ask them what role they would like to play as your strategy unfolds.  

Aligning volume expectations with proforma

Another look at the proforma as the new practice gets rolling can be a good reminder of why you are both in this relationship. A review of the financial expectations within the context of practice development discussions will help the physician be mindful of the patient volume trajectory necessary to meet the income guarantee and other financial expectations defined by the organization. Keeping these numbers in sight will help drive productive and collaborative conversations about practice marketing strategies.

Role in marketing

Speaking of marketing, the best time to have a conversation about their involvement is before the contract is signed. Assure the physician that your marketing team will help with marketing strategy, but emphasize the importance of their participation as well. They should buy in to the ideas, be supportive of them and get involved. Some will be more comfortable writing an article for the online newsletter, while others are best in media interviews and community educational sessions.

Integrating your organization's brand

Physicians you recruit from the market that have an existing brand may feel uneasy about changing identities. Be sensitive to the issue and ease into a discussion about this transition. If the physician enjoys a strong independent brand, talk about the stages of the conversion. What elements should stay, and what elements should evolve? Talk about it in very tangible terms, such as signage, office décor, staff scripting and patient communication materials.

Generally speaking, physicians will want to have these types of conversations with organizational leaders to be sure they are recognized as an important part of the system. However, once the stage is set, manage up your physician relations team to ensure the physicians that these relationship connectors can continue the dialogue. Empower your liaisons to drive some of this business development effort. Along with their marketing colleagues, they can be key in helping these new practices grow referrals.

Physician alignment in today's environment is helping hospitals capture, maintain or strengthen their competitive edge. The right partner means better coordination of care and better positioning to respond to healthcare reform. To be a more physician-centric organization, view your physicians as equal partners, give them appropriate authority over their clinical practice and provide a means for meaningful representation in the organization's strategic direction. It's a win-win strategy.

Ann Maloley is a lead consultant with Barlow/McCarthy, a recognized industry authority in hospital-physician relations programs. Having worked in a variety of healthcare settings allows Mr. Maloley to provide her clients with broad industry insight and results-oriented strategies. During her 20-year career in healthcare she has had the opportunity to lead teams through the successful launch of practice marketing initiatives, physician relations programs and service line and brand image campaigns. In addition, she serves as an adjunct faculty member for a premier Midwest university teaching healthcare marketing.

More Articles on Hospital-Physician Relationships

Assessing the Fit of Physician Recruits
Hospitals' Role in Recruiting Physicians Into Private Practice: 4 Touch Points

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