engage physicians boss

I posted an article on LinkedIn recently (Administrators: Trust Your Physician Partners). It addressed the need to engage physicians. It was in response to a short article in Becker's Hospital Review by Michele Molden. The gist was that physicians are often NOT well engaged by hospitals and medical groups. It also noted that improved innovation and effectiveness were tied to autonomy and shared decision-making. I agreed that engagement is uncommon, especially for groups of employed physicians.

However, it does not have to be that way. There are several tactics that hospitals and medical groups can employ to better engage physicians. But they must be utilized consistently for a cultural shift to occur.

Here are some of the methods that might help. These methods need not always be applied to all physicians. But groups of leaders should be involved, at least. These physician leaders might be:

  • a “kitchen cabinet” of informal leaders, or
  • a formal advisory council, or
  • the hospital medical staff officers, or
  • employed service line leaders and medical directors.

Engage Physicians

megaphone engage physicians1. Focus on Communication.

Many organizations will set a goal to improve  communication with their physicians. But the administrators' definition, and preferred methods, of communication may differ greatly from those of the physicians.

When asked this question: Which method is the best way to communicate with physicians: via email, at staff meetings, through office supervisors or managers, via memo or in person?, my answer was always the same: “Yes”.

The person asking the question always wanted to find the one best way. But such a method does not exist. Each physician has unique needs, personality and way of practicing that lends itself to a preferred communication style. Some prefer face to face discussions. Some engage in long asynchronous email conversations. Some would rather attend group meetings.

Effective communication is the foundation. It is necessary to support engagement. But it not sufficient. The kind of communication is also very important.

2. Proactive Transparency

For full engagement, physicians must be involved in strategic discussions and in planning. Informing them of plans after the fact just won't cut it. Here are examples of “involvement” that almost work, but ultimately make physicians feel less engaged:

  • Good Try: Involved them in interviewing and selecting a new physician for an outlying clinic of the group practice. The Miss: They had no input into the initial decision to add the clinic to the network or select a location.
  • Good Try: Asked them to help set the policies and procedures for a new service line. The Miss: The decision to move forward with the service line was already made by administration.
  • Good Try: Rely on them to help with interviewing the new recruit for the medical group VP position. The Miss: Failed to invite the physician interviewers to the final meeting to decide whether to make an offer of employment.

Rather than the pseudo-involvement above, bring them in early and demand they participate in final decision-making. Always have a seat at the table for physician leaders early on.

The physician advisers/leaders should also be reviewing the same data that the board and senior management do, such as monthly financial reports, quality and safety measures, and patient satisfaction.

3. Carve Out Dedicated Time

Take steps to free up formal and informal leaders to be able to participate more frequently. Provide flexibility in schedules. Build dedicated time into their routines. Schedule your managers and directors blocks of time to sit and meet with physicians to update them and answer questions.

4. Invest in Education

Physicians involved with a large organization, either as employees or as medical staff members, should be provided resources to learn about nonclinical issues. Business, finance, contracting, medico-legal and other important topics should be taught so they can participate more intelligently in discussions with administrators. This should be a formal part of physician leadership development training.

5. Bonus Recommendation

Regarding communication, consider writing a blog. A blog by the CMO or VPMA is a great way to inform and interact. And encourage your CEO to use a blog to interact with his/her constituents as well. Several successful CEOs use blogs to get their message out and solicit feedback from constituents. You might check out the following as examples of blogs by various leaders:

  • First, here is a podcast by Michael Hyatt to motivate you: 10 Reasons Every Leader Needs a Blog
  • Here is a blog by Paul Levy (former president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center) that he suspended in March, 2016 after over 4,000 posts dating back to 2006: Not Running a Hospital
  • Here is one by a physician executive (CEO and President of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit), Dr.  John Popovich, Jr.: Doc in the ED

Send me your list of ways to improve physician engagement in the comments, or to john.jurica.md@gmail.com.

Thanks in advance for your input!