Improving physician engagement: 5 key thoughts

Although most hospital and health system administrators understand physician engagement is an integral aspect of providing high-quality care — especially during times of change — physician engagement often doesn't get the attention it needs, according to a Gallup report.

In addition to its importance for ensuring the best possible outcomes for patients, physician engagement is essential for an organization's business success. According to Gallup, one study found fully engaged physicians gave the hospital an average of 3 percent more outpatient referrals and 51 percent more inpatient referrals than physicians who were not engaged or were actively disengaged from the organization. In the same Gallup study, engaged physicians were found to be 26 percent more productive than physicians with little engagement, which adds up to an extra $460,000 on average in patient revenue for an individual physician per year.

The benefits of maintaining high levels of engagement among physicians are clear. But how should organizations go about remedying the disengagement that affects many providers? Consider the following thoughts, according to Gallup.

1. Factors that influence physician engagement vary from one organization to another, but there are several common elements that most hospitals and health systems experience. According to the report, these include the degree of physicians' trust in leadership, involvement in clinical and administrative policy decision-making, reactions to various changes in the healthcare industry — such as technology and regulatory changes — authority over their own schedules and the amount of support available to them. Physicians' personal health and well-being also affect engagement.

2. Leadership missteps directly affect physician engagement. Physicians often become less engaged when they feel the administration does not listen to their opinions or suggestions, or when administrators ask for physicians' input after they have already made a decision, according to the report. In fact, Gallup has found this is the most influential factor of disengagement among physicians. Notably, there is often a lack of understanding among leaders about what physicians want or the stress they might feel, which leads leaders to make decisions that impact physicians without understanding the context of a situation.

3. Increase engagement by improving communication. Hospital and health system leaders should focus on demonstrating a commitment to improving communication with physicians, as this is usually the most significant factor of disengagement. According to the report, one strategy leaders can take is to create a cross-functional team of physicians to analyze the existing communication processes across the organization, provide examples of poor communication and suggestions for improvement.

4. Give physicians a voice in decision-making. While physicians can't be involved in every aspect of decision-making in a hospital, a physician committee could serve as an opportunity to provide physician input for topics or issues that significantly affect physicians' work lives, such as scheduling processes.

5. Investing in physician engagement has a strong ROI — every time. According to Gallup, the company's polls consistently find organizations with highly engaged workers demonstrate loyalty to the organization, a willingness to put forth discretionary effort, trust and cooperate with others, work through challenges, speak out about problems and offer constructive suggestions for improvements.

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