Improving relationships with physicians: 5 keys to success

Posted by Dawn Pascale Leave a Comment 25, March, 2015


Peter Drucker, the father of modern management theory, famously called the hospital “the most complex organization ever devised.” That’s not news to hospital administrators who know all too well the challenges of managing a highly educated, experienced workforce. 

There’s no getting around dealing with doctors, though; after all, they’re the ones who put the “care” in healthcare. Fortunately, there are a few things the hospital can do to take the lead in healing strained relationships, mending hurt feelings and creating a prosperous —and profitable—collaboration with physicians.

Build trust.  The first step to developing better relationships with doctors is to earn their trust. Listening to physicians’ needs, appreciating their expertise and following through on commitments can be a boon to hospital administrators and CFOs who currently find themselves putting out daily fires or reacting to future threats, according to Jay Weatherly and Steve Nyquist of Salient Hospitalist, an Alabama-based hospital management and staffing service. Other ways hospitals can earn the trust of physicians includes improving operational efficiency and transparency, the pair said in an article in HealthLeaders Magazine.

Encourage front-line leadership. While a top-down management style may work well in other industries, it’s inherently difficult to implement in a hospital where the front-line workers have advanced degrees and a high-level of expertise in their fields. “There seems to be a groundswell of interest around empowering front-line leadership, perhaps because executives have begun to realize healthcare is just too complex to rely only on the top of the organization for action,” says Lindsey Dunn in a recent article published in Becker’s Hospital Review. Physicians who are encouraged to develop personal leadership skills and get involved in hospital affairs can act as liaisons with other doctors and help stave off potential conflicts, say Weatherly and Nyquist. “These physicians may not always agree with the hospital leadership, but their interest and commitment is an incredible asset.”

Be responsive. To a board of trustees, scheduling frequent meetings with the medical staff may seem like a good way to deal with operational challenges, but for physicians, those meetings can seem like unnecessary interruptions and add to an already overwhelming workload. That’s the opposite of responsiveness and can degrade relationships with doctors, say Weatherly and Nyquist. Better, they say, is for hospital leaders to develop new performance metrics and processes for decision-making at the top. “Physicians will notice and appreciate the difference.”

Create financial incentives. Cost pressures and sweeping changes in delivery of care due to the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) are fraying nerves and affecting pocketbooks on both sides of the stethoscope. Although hospitals may be understandably reluctant to share what seems to be an ever-diminishing pie, a “sincere desire to achieve a greater alignment of economic interests” can help bolster a hospital’s bottom line and prevent physicians from bolting to competitors, say Weatherly and Nyquist.

Keep the lines of communication open.

Effective communication with physicians “is the last mile” for hospitals in transitioning from a volume of care to a value of care based system, says Dan Malloy, a Senior Vice President with QuantiaMD, an online social platform for physicians. In a 2013 article for Becker’s Hospital Review, Malloy states that new technologies are a good way to “disseminate information and communicate with physicians on their terms.” Despite the near universal adoption of smartphones, many hospitals are still using outdated technology such as pagers or landlines to communicate with doctors. “Hospital IT has an imperative need to evaluate mobile devices and unified communications solutions to support collaborative team-based care,” according to a recent market study by Spyglass Consulting Group. That’s sound advice for hospital leaders interested in improving relationships with physicians.

Overcoming the challenges and complexity of relationships with doctors is vital to the overall health of a hospital. “A hospital that enjoys a positive and upbeat relationship with its physicians should find itself in a favorable position with patients, payers and the community it serves,” say Weatherly and Nyquist. The same strategy Peter Drucker advocated nearly five decades ago can still benefit your organization today and into the future—a future that’s coming faster than you think.

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