The road to becoming a physician demands many years of schooling and residency – the cost, time, and knowledge required, combined with a number of healthcare policy changes, discourages many young adults from pursuing this profession.
Simply put, the United States is not adding enough new physicians to keep up with the growing demand for them.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects that by the year 2030 there could be a physician shortfall as low as 40,000 doctors to as high as 104,000 doctors. Now more than ever, healthcare organizations must focus on attracting and retaining physicians to ensure organizational success.
To do this, health systems need to implement a comprehensive physician alignment strategy. If organizations do not start to plan, design, and execute a physician outreach and alignment program now, they won’t be able to overtake competitors or retain physicians in the future. The four steps outlined in this post can help ensure that health systems’ physician outreach strategy is well thought-out, data-driven, and ultimately leads to alignment.
1. Identify Where Physician Alignment Stands with a Maturity Model
In order to improve physician alignment, health systems should consider evaluating the strength of their current strategy with the help of a Maturity Model. They may ask questions like: What tools are physician liaisons using to help outreach efforts? How integrated is the outreach team into the greater healthcare organization? Does the health system have enough designated outreach members to be considered an outreach team?
A Maturity Model measures an organization’s current state and ability to continuously improve, and provides interim and ultimate targets in a particular area. In the case of physician alignment– the higher the maturity, the more comprehensive the strategy is. The simplified Maturity Model below is a top-down approach that looks at the current state of a healthcare organization’s physician alignment efforts, as it relates to physician outreach:
- Stage 1: There is no outreach team, tracking tools, or market and physician insight. The team is unaware of strategic goals and feels siloed.
- Stage 2: Single liaisons communicate with physicians and use a spreadsheet to track physician activity. However, liaisons are unaware of strategic goals and do not have market and physician insight.
- Stage 3: There is an outreach team that uses a physician database to track issues and activity. The team is informed of strategic goals and has claims data-driven market insight.
- Stage 4: There is a complete cycle of engagement. The team is integrated with the strategic planning process, consumer, patient, and physician marketing campaigns and an Engagement Center, can track and attribute the ROI of their outreach efforts, and are working towards building brand loyalty and competitive position.
Once healthcare organizations have figured out which stage of the Maturity Model they’re currently in, they can look to the next stage and see what might be necessary to advance their efforts. Using a Maturity Model, healthcare organizations are able to see exactly what they need to do to become more sophisticated and effective.
2. Understand Physician Alignment Goals
Once health systems have determined where their current program sits within a Maturity Model and how to move forward, the next step is to go about creating concrete physician alignment goals. Examples of physician alignment goals include:
- Increasing the organization’s total revenue
- Improving the physician’s overall experience to increase physician retention
- Increasing in-network referrals to keep patients within the organization
- Attracting and recruiting more physicians to join the organization
With clear goals in place, health systems can design their efforts more purposefully; perhaps outreach efforts need to focus on discussions about what resources physicians wish they had access to, or maybe outreach needs to steer more towards promoting the organization’s physician’s specialties and capabilities. Having realistic, universally understood, and actionable goals is essential for physician outreach team direction and success.
3. Utilize a Physician Relationship Management (PRM) Platform
Effective and targeted physician outreach requires an understanding of physician activity and access to physician behavior data. A system for storing and analyzing numerous types of physician information, such as a physician relationship management (PRM) solution, is an integral component of a successful physician alignment strategy.
A PRM market intelligence solution can keep track of employed and aligned physician volume and referring data for one’s own health system on a single platform. Certain PRM solutions also integrate large quantities of market level claims data to provide a 360-degree view of physicians’ activities based on demographic, behavioral, and referral information. A well-designed PRM should also organize data by service lines, specialties, payer statuses, and places of service for the best insights. Access to PRM data and insights gives physician outreach teams key information they need to support successful, productive, informed physician communications.
4. Have Meaningful Conversations & Prompt Follow-Up
Armed with physician insights and with distinct alignment goals in mind, outreach teams can go into physician conversations set up to have meaningful, actionable communications. Physician liaisons can focus their conversations to achieve these goals, such as inquiring about why a physician consistently refers patients to another provider, or about how a physician feels the health system could better support them in order to have more cases performed at its facilities.
Liaisons can add notes from their conversations into the PRM to keep organized, inform follow up, and create a historical record of outreach efforts. Key among these is a centralized database of reported Issues. Often, issues are qualitatively ‘known’ by the health system (access, response time, patient experience, etc.) but never actually quantified. Issue Management within a PRM system can be an important leading indicator of potential challenges. Data-driven insights about these issues (frequency, density, recurrence) can foster organization-wide efforts to improve, which in turn can solidify physician alignment.
PRM solutions with mobile capabilities make it even easier for outreach teams to quickly access critical data before, during, or after physician conversations, from anywhere. Additionally, mobile access can provide the capability to add notes using voice dictation, send and receiving messages within the PRM, and categorize territories on a virtual map.
Once liaisons successfully reach out to physicians, they are then tasked with monitoring the issues that arise during physician outreach efforts. While potentially not the overall owners of the issue’s resolution, it is important that outreach teams communicate any resolution back to the physician, creating a closed-loop system and ensuring physicians feel valued. This also helps to construct ongoing, mutually beneficial relationships between physicians and the health system— the health system listens to and helps their physicians, while the physicians work to create superior patient experiences.
The benefits of a successful physician alignment program are undeniable. One large west coast health system decided to focus on their physician alignment to drive revenue and help them recover volume they lost during the recession. They wanted to gain greater insights into physician practice patterns, utilization choices for patient care, and referral data. By implementing a phased physician alignment approach, this health system saw incredible financial improvement, including $56 million in year over year incremental revenue contribution in their first full fiscal year and a recouped cost of initial investment in less than one year.
Results such as this showcase the positive effect of a sophisticated physician alignment strategy. No matter where an organization’s physician alignment strategy currently stands on a Maturity Model, there are steps health systems can take to improve physician outreach programs.