Traditionally, healthcare administrators have worked their hardest to simply keep physicians happy, but times are changing. What worked in the past is rapidly shifting as we move towards a value-based model of healthcare which requires more physician engagement. Now, more than ever, hospitals and engaged physicians must work towards the goal of creating more affordable patient care models to ease the strain of healthcare costs in America.
Like many of today’s physicians, you may wonder, “Why is physician engagement important?” To understand what physician engagement is and how it benefits administrators, physicians and patients we must first bridge the gap between providers and administrators. Through physician engagement models, administrators can overcome challenges and reap the benefits of having physicians who are more connected to their patients and concerned with their care.
What Is Physician Engagement?
Good physicians make all the difference, and understanding the definition of physician engagement can help us answer the question, “Why is physician engagement important?” To put it simply, physician engagement is a strategy that focuses on building strong relationships and aligning physicians with the values, vision and mission of healthcare administrators. Engaged physicians take greater care of their patients, reduce medical costs and are more efficient than their unengaged counterparts.
Most physicians want to be good doctors and care about how well their patients are doing, but aren’t necessarily accustomed to working on a team. Engaged physicians take it a step further by going the extra mile for their patients and the teams they are a part of. Because of this they make great contributions to patient safety and are more satisfied with their own work.
Why Is Physician Engagement Important?
Healthcare administrators cannot manage healthcare reform without the assistance of physicians. Physicians may not even realize the extent of their impact on the complex healthcare environment. They influence everything from leadership and cost to quality and frontline care. Considering that 75%-85% of all quality and cost decisions are driven by physicians, they can make a serious impact on lowering overall healthcare costs when they are working towards the same goals as administrators.
While engaged physicians have the capability to do a lot of good, disengaged physicians have just as much power to negatively impact the healthcare environment. One health system found that engaged physicians were 26% more productive than those who were disengaged, which led to an increase in patient revenue of $460,000 each year, per physician. Nearly half a million dollars in revenue is quite significant, especially because many health systems operate on very low profit margins.
Challenges to Provider Engagement Strategies
Attempting to change how hospital culture has functioned for the past 100 years is tough work, but must be done if physician engagement is to succeed. Although there are many challenges in initiating provider engagement strategies, the most important aspect to understand is why physicians are hesitant to become more engaged with administrative efforts and goals. Some physicians worry that they will lose independence or income because of new administrative and healthcare initiatives. Others are pressed for time and don’t see the value in physician engagement.
Here are some of the main challenges facing physicians in the healthcare industry today:
- Overwhelmed physicians: Physicians that don’t understand how they contribute to improving efficiency and reducing waste are not prepared to handle the changing environment of the healthcare industry. Healthcare administrators should look to support physicians as they learn about new initiatives, and present them with compelling data.
- Poor understanding of new healthcare models: A lack of understanding surrounding new risk-based models of healthcare can also create confusion and concern among physicians.
- Narrow focus: While employing additional physicians can be a good thing, it is not the only way to secure alignment, as many administrators believe. To improve alignment, administrators should take a holistic approach and consider their physicians’ environment—their personal and clinical autonomy, their onboarding and training experience, their colleagues and other factors. Administrators can ensure that actionable initiatives are frequently being carried out to improve their physicians’ environment and experience by using a physician relationship management solution.
- Compensation only incentives: Sometimes administrators and organizations make the mistake of thinking that additional compensation is the most important motivating factor for physicians. This is not always the case, and administrators might consider emphasizing better patient health outcomes, or giving recognition when appropriate.
Physicians are fraught with uncertainty about how to handle value-based systems, and it is the task of hospital administration to educate physicians so that both parties understand the goals of the other, and align them accordingly.
Models & Strategies
There are do’s and don’ts when implementing a successful physician engagement model or provider engagement strategy. Some of the best practices for physician engagement involve making sure the goals of the administration and the goals of physicians align.
One example is an emphasis on making improvements to patient care. Physicians will find that patient care is a metric they can measure themselves and is something they already want to provide for their patients. Administrators will find that improved patient care lowers costs and creates better physician engagement. This is merely one example of how aligning common goals can lead to success in provider engagement strategies.
There are several additional effective provider engagement strategies, as well as a host of strategies to avoid. Knowing what they should use and why will help administrators better understand the thinking of their physicians and align their goals through a physician engagement model. We’ve compiled a few provider engagement strategies to implement and a few to steer clear of.
Strategies to Use
A good strategy can make the difference between a successful and failed physician engagement initiative. Physicians must buy into the strategy in order for it to be successful because they have such a strong impact on the outcomes of healthcare. Here are a few strategies that encourage physician engagement:
- Have a united purpose: Providers and physicians need to shift their thinking and be united in their goals and mission. Establishing trust may be a major part of this process. Providers can establish this trust by keeping track of physician relations initiatives, and analyzing current data trends.
- Find leaders: Physicians who adopt the vision and mission of organizations early on may lead further changes.
- Create partners: Recruiting physicians to help implement improvements and assist in planning engages them in the effort and helps them become partners with the organization. Administrators must make data-driven decisions using business intelligence solutions to find the best recruiting and referral opportunities who are a fit the organization.
- Engage physicians on their terms: Because physicians are already perfectionists by nature, healthcare administrators should emphasize improvements over perfection. Physicians who are allowed to make small mistakes and learn quickly make greater strides towards improvement and are more likely to be on board with making other changes in the future. Presenting data and assessing the results with physicians will also help them implement organizational ideas as their own and work towards common goals.
- Set the example: Administrators should keep physicians up to date on whether their suggestions are implemented, or when they are reported to the CEO. Back up their suggestions and let physicians know you support them and their initiatives.
Strategies to Avoid
No matter what strategy administrators implement, physician buy-in is of utmost importance. If the physicians don’t believe in the strategy and align their goals with the administration, then the strategy is ultimately ineffective. Here are a few strategies to avoid, due to their lack of effectiveness in encouraging physician engagement:
- Giving inspirational speeches: As an introduction to a great strategy, an inspirational speech can be perfectly fine. On its own, the effects will fall flat.
- Only providing financial incentives: Physicians are happy to receive financial compensation, but if it’s the linchpin of your incentive system, it won’t be sufficient in the long-run.
- Assigning key leadership positions: Placing untrained physicians in leadership is asking for trouble. Making sure they are prepared for the responsibility by implementing effective onboarding and training programs will go a long way for the success of the organization and physician.
- Distributing best practices: Encouraging physicians to use best practices isn’t a bad thing, but consistently overloading them with additional practices to implement is overwhelming—especially for a group that is already extremely busy.
Benefits of Physician Engagement
When healthcare administrators implement effective provider engagement strategies through a physician engagement model, the benefits of physician engagement become apparent. Physicians who have bought into the goals and values of healthcare organizations are more excited to improve physician engagement, and as they see the results they will continue their efforts. Additional benefits of physician engagement include:
- An overall improvement in organization performance
- An increase in connectedness & in-network referrals
- A more competitive standing in the industry
- Lower referral & patient leakage
- Increased physician productivity
All of these aspects also help healthcare organizations increase their patient referrals and revenue. According to a Gallup Physician Engagement Survey, engaged physicians made 51% more inpatient referrals to their hospital than less-engaged physicians, and 3% more outpatient referrals.
When administrators and providers better understand the answer to “Why is physician engagement important?” they will be better prepared to work towards common goals. Providers and administrators can maximize physician engagement further by utilizing software that meets the needs of the healthcare community. Ascend from Marketware combines provider profiles, business intelligence and project management tools to help organize and prioritize physician outreach and onboarding initiatives. This allows administrators easily develop provider engagement strategies and engagement models. Learn more about Ascend and try our demo today.