AAPL 2019: Top 3 Insights for Physician Liaison Teams


AAPL’s Annual Conference proved once again why it’s the premier learning and networking event for physician liaison teams. With an “Exploring New Frontiers” theme, its lineup of keynotes and presentations was second-to-none. It was also held for the first time in Salt Lake City—Marketware’s hometown! If you couldn’t attend, or want a quick recap, here are my top 3 insights for physician liaison teams.


Insight #1: Getting Past Gatekeepers

In her “State of Healthcare” keynote, the AMA’s President-Elect Susan R. Bailey, MD, delivered some eye-opening statistics…

  • Physicians typically spend 6 hours per shift on paperwork & EHRs
  • They’re expected to see more patients, but at only 5-10 minutes per visit
  • 40% report symptoms of burnout, with 7% considering a career change

No wonder gatekeepers are becoming “ferocious,” as Susan Boydell phrased it in her “Top Field Techniques You Can Try Tomorrow” session. According to a recent Barlow/McCarthy survey, 75% of physician liaison teams have difficulty getting past gatekeepers.

If your providers are busier than ever with fiercely protective gatekeepers, Boydell suggests taking this self-assessment. Review what you know about your practices—including who does what to make a referral happen. Then, rank the strength of your relationship with each person in the referral process. And lastly, create an action plan for developing your weaker relationships.

Other tips she has for helping physician liaison teams navigate gatekeepers are to:

  • Prepare your responses—for their “road block” replies
  • Create a reason for you to return—prior to your visit, and get an agreement before you leave
  • Be inclusive—if you can’t get around a gatekeeper, invite her/him to join you with the doctor
  • Name drop—use the name of your hospital or health system’s leaders to get in the door (this is something pharma reps can’t do!)
  • Be incredibly specific—about the reason for your visit and why it’s of value to the provider

Be Specific
Being specific was, by far, the most common insight provided at AAPL. In the “Physician Panel Discussion” (my favorite conference session!), the panelists mirrored Boydell’s advice. Suggesting you say, “I’m here to meet with Dr. Smith to discuss XYZ.” Act like you already have an appointment.

They also requested that you be mindful of a physician’s limited time. So, do your background research, articulate what the meeting’s about and why it’s of value and show how this has changed practice patterns for other physicians. Basically, demonstrate and deliver on your value.

Do Your Homework & Be Persistent
Stacy McNicol, a Sr. Physician Relations Consultant for University of Utah Health, offered this related guidance in her presentation “Unique Strategies in a Competitive Market”…

“Use a PRM tool. Know what kinds of patients a provider serves and do your homework.” She also proposed finding out what educational programs they’d be interested in. As well as, being persistent. “Always try again. Maybe it’s just not the right day. Or, maybe recognize when to give up and come back when there’s someone more receptive at the desk.”

Other sage advice? Ask your system’s doctors for tips on troublesome gatekeepers. They may know them or have insights on what’s worked with their own office staff.


Insight #2: Providing Meaningful Data

Another hot topic at AAPL was data. Physicians, physician liaisons, liaison managers and even health system leaders still aren’t getting enough good, quality data. Access is limited, and reporting is underutilized.

In her “Physician Relations Leader Intensive”, Kriss Barlow, the Principal at Barlow/McCarthy, reported that liaison managers are “feeling more pressure to deliver meaningful results. Leadership wants to see the data that supports a team’s volume and impact.”

Back Stories with Data
Barlow suggests adding data to field stories for the best effect. First, have liaisons write down what they need to do to meet leadership’s standards for success. Then, teach them how to take notes that build compelling success stories from the field. This “GAIN” template is a great starting point. Use it to document field:

I—Intelligence & info learned
N—Next steps

Finally, add data from your business intelligence software to these stories to reinforce your liaison team’s impact.

Quantify Physician Liaison Value
In AAPL’s “Manager Panel Discussion”, the panelists said they’re using referral numbers, field intelligence and outside consultant analysis to quantify the value of their liaison program. However, they noted that many physician liaison teams still don’t have consistent access to the data they need. The majority of those that do feel it takes critical time out of the field to analyze the data on their own.

If you’re in the same boat, they suggest reaching out to your finance or business intelligence team for help in understanding what data you have and how to package it into meaningful insights. Others also mentioned that they’re leveraging a PRM with business intelligence software built in to support this need.

Build Trust with Leaders
As for how to raise the qualitative value of a team in your leaderships’ eyes? The panelists agreed that it’s all about building trust—which takes time. So, first, be patient. Then, get engaged. Schedule quarterly meetings (or monthly if you have enough meaningful data to support them) to report on your team’s value.

Here’s the key… make sure that you have an agenda for these meetings, and an action item or great “nugget of information” to share. Just like with physicians, your senior leaders and execs are short on time—and patience! Make sure your presentations are short, to the point and impactful. You’ll know when you’ve gained leadership’s trust (and proved your team’s value) when execs start coming to you for input before launching a new program or initiative.

Insight #3: Managing Time

A number of presentations were aimed at helping liaisons understand how to use a mix of internal data, external data and field intelligence to plan ahead and be more impactful in their visits. Others shared how they’re engaging groups of providers using CMEs to help maximize their reach.

If you’re a physician liaison, or a liaison leader, one barrier to impact in the field may be your calendar. While full-time liaisons are expected to be out in the field the majority of their time, most of the liaisons participating in the 2019 AAPL Benchmark survey reported that they’re, in fact, spending less than half of their time in the field. This is because, they’re often included in internal meetings—which can create a serious time management issue.

Here are some helpful time management tips from the Manager Panel Discussion:


  • Find the right cadence for field ride-alongs. While they’re important to provide coaching & evaluate liaison performance, limiting them can give liaisons more time to bond with physicians.
  • Replace select one-on-ones with informal meetings, like text-based check-ins or summary reports.
  • Use the 1st of the month to review upcoming meetings. Then, send a note to those that you can’t attend—explaining why & adding any pertinent insights you may have.


  • Document your field notes as they happen, so you can pinpoint & streamline follow-up activities.
  • Shorten &/or reduce meetings by preparing a focused agenda with action items.

Studies have shown that 1 hour of planning yields as much impact as 10 hours of doing! So, it’s imperative to be strategic with your time and focus.

Of course, I’d love to hear your key takeaways from the event. Please email me at joychurch.millard@marketware.com and I’ll add them to a future blog.