Maximizing Physician Engagement

Maximizing Physician Engagement

July 2013

Getting the Most from Your Physicians

Physician engagement in a cooperative environment with hospitals requires a combination of the right elements to maximize efficiency, drive maximum output and create a collaborative experience where all stakeholders win.

There is no single physician engagement plan that applies to every organization. Each has unique factors to be considered. However, there are proven strategies for engaging physicians that can be employed and modified to fit individual situations.

One thing is certain: the employment of physicians does not automatically translate into active physician engagement.

What Does Successful Physician Engagement Look Like?

Engaging physicians means the health system makes accommodations to optimize the physician experience, while physicians have in mind the best interest of the hospital system, rather than just their individual practice. A physician engagement plan should be designed to facilitate the cooperation needed to drive efficiency and achieve maximum impact, as well as improve clinical operations, quality of care and financial results.

Indicators of achieving a state of active physician engagement include:

  • Both the health system and physicians collaborate to engage in process improvements that lead to improved cash flow and quality, as well as reductions in costs
  • Physicians show willingness to make decisions in the best interest of the system without a tunneled focus on their individual practice
  • The health system actively creates an optimized physician experience, potentially modifying existing organizational structures

Cooperation between hospital and physician leads to efficiency and effectiveness, but success is realized upon the quality of the relationships at the many intersections between the health system and physician enterprises.

How is Successful Physician Engagement Achieved?

Physician employment does not equal physician engagement. A properly designed physician engagement plan should be approached as a merger of equals.  

The manner in which a health system and its executive leadership embraces a physician enterprise has a dramatic effect on whether physicians are motivated to go beyond specific practice-level focus.

An effective physician engagement plan must focus on designing leadership and physician management structures that move physicians from small business leaders to leaders within a larger-scale organization. Additionally, it is necessary to create channels of communication that enhance visibility into decision-making, unleashing the knowledge and drive of physicians.

To achieve physician engagement, executive leadership should begin by focusing on three elements:

Preparing the culture – Dealing with the effects of inserting numerous entrepreneurial businesses into a bureaucracy

To promote physician engagement, a health system should consider the unique character of physician practices while it focuses on understanding how these system-wide culture considerations might affect performance and efficiency of the physician enterprise.

Initiating a critical reason to change – Driving a burning imperative deep into the organization

When a health system and physician enterprise agree upon a “burning imperative” to ask their respective individuals to change behavior, this allows for flexibility in their actions and reactions because everyone involved is more confident in the team’s overall, unified direction. This mindset makes it more likely that creative decision making will occur at the ground (action) level, effectively involving the largest number of change agents.

Understanding stakeholder expectations – Predict staff reactions to initiatives and directives

Both physician stakeholders and non-physician stakeholders should be questioned in order to identify key components used to define broad success. Ideally, these assessments should take place prior to integration, thus including these stakeholders in the decision-making process. Results will identify key characteristics that should be used to model the physician enterprise, modify the health system, and ultimately achieve successful physician engagement.

What Are the Results of Successful Physician Engagement?

The physician engagement process promotes thinking like a team, where everyone is working with the best interest of the hospital system and the community in mind. As a more unified organization, engaging physicians can drive down costs and improve the quality of care delivered.

Physicians benefit from more stable work hours, less administrative work, and reduced exposure to malpractice issues. Hospital employment also lessens concerns about practice expenses.

Physician engagement has helped hospitals increase their market share, stabilized service lines, fill clinical needs in their communities, and cut costs.

Patients are the biggest beneficiaries of successful physician engagement, enjoying better quality of care, improved safety, and more effective coordination of care.