High Stakes

The Key to Physician Relations is Listening… Even If It’s to Poetry

The Key to Physician Relations is Listening… Even If It’s to Poetry

As organizations everywhere struggle with physician relations, “engagement” has become one of the hottest topics in healthcare today.

Whether you’re trying to get your physicians to implement system-wide standards of care or to prevent the dreaded – and increasingly common – issue of physician burnout, the solution begins with listening.

At a recent Advisory Board conference, a couple of strategies emerged regarding physician engagement. We think they’re worth sharing:

Physicians must be at the table in setting standards of care.

An Advisory Board study found that 79 percent of physicians agree that “physicians should adhere to cost-effective clinical guidelines,” but only 44 percent of physicians agree that they actually use those clinical guidelines when available.

What’s the disconnect?

Often, these standards have been merely passed down, with little physician involvement on the front end. As organizations continue to grow through mergers, acquisitions and partnerships, developing consistent approaches to care has become increasingly critical.

Some pro tips:

  • Senior leadership should develop a rubric for the clinical guidelines the system wants to implement, then ask physicians to weigh in. Create an advisory group of five to seven physicians to provide input on the process. Essential to this: Give them something to react to and shape – don’t expect them to start with a blank slate.
  • Once developed, senior leadership should ask themselves whether they have an infrastructure within the organization to make the standards of care feasible. And leadership should clearly show that they value the standards of care as much as they expect physicians to value them.

When addressing physician burnout, keep it simple and listen… but don’t be afraid to get creative.

A recent article in Becker’s pointed out that 51 percent of physicians reported experiencing feelings of frequent or constant burnout. It’s no surprise given that the demands placed on physicians today are much different than they were 10 to 20 years ago.

Some pro tips:

  • Take the time to listen to your physicians. Launch a “listening tour” where you meet one-on-one with them, asking how the organization can better support them and allow as much autonomy as possible
  • Provide support. Offer educational workshops to help physicians better deal with tough cases and improve communications skills.
  • Offer creative paths. Take note of what Stanford Health Care in California has done by offering its physicians unique outlets to express their ideas and creativity. Stanford’s monthly “literature and medicine” series has afforded physicians the opportunity to get together to read short essays or poems related to a theme of the month. The system has also offered writing circles where physicians meet to share their non-academic content. These monthly series have been so popular that they’ve been standing room only.

Those ideas sound a little “too California” for your organization? Whatever you do, the point is to look for creative ways for your physicians to build collegiality and offer “safe” spaces to share ideas, challenges and more.

Bottom line: Physicians want to be heard.

Take the time to ask your physicians how they want to be involved in the important operational initiatives underway at your organization. Ask them how senior leaders can truly support them in being successful in the future.

And, if needed, host a poetry slam.


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