How Intermountain builds better physician relationships

Two-way communication is the key to physician relationships at Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Health.

Beau Bailey, MD, lead physician advisor for appeals and denials at Intermountain, will speak on "What Productive Physician Relationships Look Like" at Becker's 14th Annual Meeting, April 8-11 in Chicago. 

He sat down with Becker's to explain how the system cultivates positive relationships with its providers, and how the system built a symbiotic relationship with one of its largest payers. 

Editor's note: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Question: How do you define positive physician relationships? 

Beau Bailey: I think communication, communication and communication is what is important to me. In our position, advisor service role within Intermountain, we harness relationships for everything we do and use those relationships to cultivate a culture that puts quality and safety at the forefront of what we do. 

The basis of that is really communication, trust and respect. So we develop those relationships, usually in a clinical forum. We try to harness those peer relationships more than everything because we feel they're the most impactful. It's just mutual respect, open communication, open feedback, and that really establishes a culture where we can thrive in these roles and as teams working together. 

Q: How do you develop trust between frontline staff and leaders? 

BB: I think that has a lot to do with presence. It's hard to establish trust with people you don't know. Our senior leadership has been really conscientious about getting out and getting elbow to elbow with frontline providers. One of the things that I think has been really impactful is within our Canyon Region, our regional president Sue Robel, RN, and our regional chief medical officer Robert Hoesch, MD, they come to each individual hospital, sometimes quarterly, biannually, but they're just present. They're not there with an agenda, they're there to listen, they're there to elicit frontline caregivers' concerns and needs. 

Most importantly, to me, as far as establishing trust between physicians and their leaders is you have to advocate for them. You have to be willing to go out and resource them, and make sure that you're addressing the issues that come up. Listening, opening communicating, and then reacting to that in a way that facilitates those frontline providers doing the work that needs to be done. 

Q: Can you share an example of an initiative that improved patients' outcomes or care? 

BB: I have one specific to our physician advisor group. In our market, one of the larger payers, we were having a very high total volume of denials that we were dealing with. So, we approached this payer to say 'how can we work together to facilitate the workload for us and for you?' We established a relationship with the medical directors locally with this large payer, and developed a weekly meeting with them, so we had an avenue in which we could have open communication about the issues we're dealing with. 

This has blossomed into a largely symbiotic relationship where we meet weekly to discuss denial cases, but we also have quarterly luncheons with medical directors of this large payer, and we proactively talk about issues when it comes to denials management. We talk through things like pediatric short stays, sepsis — how do we manage those? This has become not only highly symbiotic, but we've developed friendships with these medical directors to the point that we send Christmas cards. 

We have tried to establish a similar process with other larger payers because of how impactful it has become. They've really been pushing this with other hospital systems in our market here to try and do the same thing because of how impactful that relationship development has been over the last few years. 

Q: If health systems do one thing to improve physician relationships in 2024, what should that be? 

Communicate. Healthcare is hard. It's a struggle for many health systems, payers, even patients and families. It's a tough place to work at times. I think one thing that Intermountain really does to help people thrive is to have reasonable workload, reasonable support, enabling frontline providers to do the work that needs to be done. Resourcing the providers to do the work that needs to be done, making sure they get allocated the things that are critical to their job, and that these providers are confident in their roles, and they can do the right thing at the right time. 

That's two-way communication. Senior leadership, listening to the needs of those providers, then supporting those efforts through their actions to make sure they can do what they need to do. I think them being present and openly communicating with the intent to support those providers and the workload they have, and the way they manage their patients is critical to really everything that happens in the hospital, to be honest. 

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