5 Steps to Creating a Successful Physician Liaison Program

physician patient engagementOf the many roles in the healthcare industry, it’s unlikely that your first thought is of physician liaisons. But in today’s increasingly competitive landscape, it should be.

A typically misunderstood role, physician liaisons are responsible for establishing and maintaining productive communication between health systems and providers.

What are the Benefits of a Successful Physician Liaison Program?

A successful physician liaison program can help you to strengthen provider and staff relationships,  increase referrals, and provide better, more valuable customer service. A strong liaison program assists in offsetting losses by driving patients to the practice more directly, while also developing a strong foundation for referrals. 

Successful liaison teams can be the catalysts to increase practice exposure and revenue, reduced patient leakage, and enhanced provider satisfaction and retention. Think of liaisons as a strategic competitive edge for your healthcare business.

But, not all liaisons have the support they need to be that competitive edge. Top barriers to success are often lack of organizational support, minimal access to education and training, and ways to demonstrate ROI. Liaison teams need a well-structured program and the right technology to overcome these challenges and prove value.

In this post, we’ll cover five steps to create a successful liaison program:

1. Establish Leadership Buy-In

First and foremost, healthcare leaders must understand why the organization needs a liaison program. Without this, it’s almost impossible to secure the necessary funding and support for success. When pitching a liaison program, emphasize the benefits it brings:

  • Increased patient referrals
  • Greater productivity and revenue
  • Improved patient experiences

Don’t forget to provide quantitative goals for the program and explain how liaisons can reach them, and furthermore, how they can show their results.

It’s also beneficial to establish support among physician peers; a physician champion who can help get other providers on board and acts as an outlet if outreach teams face clinical complaints or inquiries. Name a physician champion who is well-aligned and has a solid, long-standing relationship with the health system. Then encourage them to communicate with their fellow physicians about their positive experiences working with liaisons, perhaps over coffee or lunch meetings.

Liaison teams should also work with leadership to establish a concrete reporting structure. This should include who liaison teams will report to (marketing? business development?) and what metrics to include in reports.

Keep in mind that liaisons who work with business development also need to collaborate with marketing so they have easy access to any marketing collateral or materials needed for engaging and onboarding physicians.

2. Identify Structure

Having a clear program structure is critical because it keeps teams organized, allows for accurate resource allocation, and promotes smooth workflows. Hospital leadership should start by developing a structure that outlines liaison territories. Having assigned territories prevents duplicate efforts that not only waste resources but may also damage relationships with physicians.  In the eye of the provider, convenience and consistency, in a trusted resource like a liaison, is key.

Keep in mind you don’t necessarily have to divide territories by region; a liaison’s territory simply refers to their area of focus. Some health systems choose other ways to assign them, such as by service line.

When determining program structure, also assign internal team leaders responsible for day-to-day tasks like setting up field and office schedules, checking in on progress, training, and more. Program structures can also include a governance committee tasked with monitoring and evaluating database fields. For example, if liaisons are frequently noting “physician’s preferred name” in their forms, the governance committee would be the one to notice and update the form to include a “preferred name” section.

3. Hire the Right People

Liaison success is directly tied to their ability to build relationships with providers, so they need certain qualities and traits that help establish trust. One such quality is a solid healthcare background and understanding of the unique market influences affecting the industry.

Successful liaisons are energetic, personable, timely, organized, able to think on their feet, and results-driven. A good memory and interpersonal skills come in handy when engaged in conversation, where you have to recall specific important details about that individual’s case. Having a closed-loop perspective is key because liaisons need to be diligent about following up with providers once they’ve started conversations, and ensuring the matter is resolved. Becoming a trusted advisor to these providers is a delicate, but incredibly important task. Not following through on important initiatives will destroy this relationship more quickly than it started.

It can be difficult to find team members who recognize the importance of this type of closed-loop perspective, but it makes for a liaison program that consistently demonstrates ROI.              

4. Collaborate Internally and Externally  

There needs to be a direct line of communication within the reporting structure so everyone involved has visibility into the relationship management tool used for tracking and reporting on physician outreach activity.

Set up internal meetings amongst liaisons working on similar projects so they can discuss issues and best practices they’ve developed. Many health systems see success when liaisons working within the same service line or campaign meet monthly.

Another best practice is encouraging liaisons to join external forums and groups, such as the American Association of Physician Liaisons (AAPL). These groups are made up of experienced industry professionals who can give excellent advice on anything from onboarding new physicians to organizing and tracking CME events.

5. Implement a Relationship Management System

A specialized physician relationship management (PRM) platform is a key feature in a well-run liaison program because it integrates market intelligence with claims and referral pattern data. The PRM identifies leakage and outlines the outreach team’s strategy, all before putting boots on the ground. When liaisons step out into the field, they know exactly which physicians they need to talk to in order to achieve outreach goals.

Sophisticated PRMs allow for categorization of outreach activities because there is enormous variation in the types of interactions liaisons have—did they have a meaningful conversation with a provider, or just drop off branded collateral? Categorizing interactions allows leadership greater insight into liaison activity and resulting ROI. Example interaction categories could include physician-to-physician introductions, service line promotions, or physician-to-community speaking engagements. Long-term, this also allows for retrospective analysis of which tactics and approaches worked best, and which should be optimized.

Another option is categorizing physician activities into campaigns in the PRM so that there is a clear record of all outreach performed within, say, the orthopedics service line campaign.

Demonstrate ROI

Historically, it’s been tough for physician liaisons to quantitatively prove their worth. While they may have been able to anecdotally say they’ve successfully increased in-network referrals within the orthopedic service line, there was previously no way to demonstrate it with data.

A PRM tool helps liaison teams track their activities, report any issues that arise, and, perhaps most importantly, set KPIs and create standardized reports. A PRM tool with a mobile app allows liaisons to log activity and issues directly from the field, boosting efficiency and ensuring mobile-to-desktop data integration in real-time. With this information in one place, health systems can trace operational changes back to liaison activity and concretely prove ROI. Tracking outreach activity can also bring to light additional patterns or issues (such as hidden leakages) so the team can lay the groundwork for proactive solutions.      

Final Thoughts

When implementing a liaison program, think about the steps your organization needs to take and in what order you will execute them. While many hospitals hire liaisons before strategy and technology implementation are complete, one large northeastern health system found success using the opposite order:

  • Their first step was to implement a PRM tool and use it to analyze referral patterns in the market. Insights from this analysis gave them direction in focus leading to the best next action in terms of liaison team structure.
  • They then set KPIs and created detailed project plans.
  • The final step was to hire liaisons with their specific goals in mind, ensuring that they hired those who had the skills necessary to achieve them.

Whichever order you choose, doing your homework and laying solid groundwork will always remain integral in setting your organization up for success.

Remember to regularly check in on liaison team performance, especially if your organization is setting up a new program from scratch. Six months to a year into the program, review what outreach efforts have shown ROI, which have not, and any ways to tighten up workflows. This will ensure your program continues to prove maximum ROI as you work toward and achieve your goals.

Keri Braley

Keri Braley

Keri Braley serves as Evariant’s Manager of Customer Success, consulting with new and existing customers as they implement and optimize the use of the PRM and CRM tools into their business process. She has a special focus on physician relations and strategic business development. Prior to coming to Evariant, Keri spent 10 years as a physician liaison at two different hospital systems, doing strategic provider outreach and promotion, and producing analytics for the planning departments at each. Keri has also held roles in direct patient care, health disability benefit analysis, and healthcare alliance contracting.
Keri Braley