Real physician engagement requires engagement science

How does informing a physician really differ from engaging a physician? Are they really all that different? How are they different? And, why does it matter?    

It matters because healthcare has changed, and executives who understand the difference will ultimately be the leaders that prevail.

Healthcare in the modern day era has always included a critical link between the physician and the hospital. The once symbiotic and largely transactional relationship fueled by fee-for-service payment models has been replaced with complex risk-based arrangements that have radically shifted old paradigms. The end result is that the principal decision making authority enjoyed by the physician that once fueled growth and prosperity for the hospital is now replaced with risk, revenue loss and vulnerability. This is a fundamental leap for health systems that not everyone will survive. Maureen Ladouceur

The balance in the relationship between the health system and the physician has also shifted. In response, initiatives aimed at driving alignment and facilitating clinical integration have dominated the healthcare agenda. But innovative health systems have recognized that the real opportunity they possess goes well beyond these pervasive industry tactics. What matters is their ability to engage physicians in new and effective ways that deliver value and influence important decisions. Health systems that understand engagement have an advantage over their competitors and a level of influence that trumps what complex contracts, incentive structures or employment models can ever deliver. This is a reality that will take a long time for most of the industry to figure out.  

All health systems communicate and inform their physicians. This is often achieved by disseminating a plethora of data, report cards and new standards in a one-way fashion via email or a portal. By contrast, engagement happens when the recipient consumes the information, absorbs the take-a-ways, provides feedback to the sender and ultimately changes a particular behavior. Real engagement is fundamentally different from communicating and can't happen with traditional tactics and strategies.

Real engagement is achieved with engagement science, which recognizes the link between human behavior and information. It is essentially the vehicle for crossing the barrier from static content to absorption to behavior change. Engagement science infuses technologies and tactics with information and a delivery model that is a fundamental shift from how health systems operate today.

The retail industry has already embraced many of the principals of engagement science. They utilize technologies and social science capabilities to drive an individual buying experience., for example, customizes the products and services viewable to someone that visits their site. Consumers can collaborate with other buyers and view important comments about a product. Amazon remembers who the individual buyer is and creates a unique viewing experience when they return. When the consumer leaves the site, Amazon stays connected to them and continually reminds them of new products, services or buyer comments based on their individual profile.
How is engagement science applied to health systems and physicians? It isn't about sending information but rather connecting the individual to what they care about and need to know. Here are a few tips based on our experience at Quantia:

  • Deliver information from trusted peers in a setting that accommodates intellectual collaboration, clinically relevant topics and immediate, practical takeaways.
  • Establish a two-way exchange between you and your physicians to quickly gather feedback, make adjustments and respond to concerns.
  • Make the information you develop interactive and engaging via clinical challenges, real-time peer comparison and the opportunity to share a point of view.
  • Be relevant by only serving content based on the unique attributes of the individual profile of your physicians.

Acknowledging the basis of engagement science is vital for health systems seeking clinical alignment and performance optimization with their physician partners. The reason is rooted in how physicians think and what drives behavior. A 2011 McKinsey & Company physician survey identified four key barriers to strong physician engagement and performance improvement. A key finding in this survey was that health systems incorrectly assume that compensation alone will change behavior. It doesn't. What ultimately changes physician behavior is an understanding of the basis for the change. Physicians need that information to be communicated using a highly consumable and evidenced-based approach as well as being afforded an opportunity to interact on the subject matter.  

When health systems succeed with engagement, they are stronger. They know more about what their physicians care about and by responding, they drive more loyalty. They can influence clinical decisions because their physicians will value and respond to what is being provided.  And, ultimately, health systems that acknowledge and embrace the differences between communicating and engaging will surpass their competitors while delivering healthcare services that truly achieve the triple aim.

Maureen Ladouceur has 20 years of healthcare experience across the hospital, payer and long-term care sectors. She is a registered nurse, holds an MBA in healthcare administration and finance from Pennsylvania State University and a BSN from the University of Pittsburgh.


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