The physician liaison role hasn’t always gotten the attention from health systems that it deserves. Liaisons are not only consultants and communicators – they support a hospital’s ability to grow and succeed over time. Their ability to establish relationships with primary care providers is critical to referral growth, especially since primary care is responsible for up to 70 percent of inbound referrals to a health system. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the role requires a dynamic personality: someone sales-adept, outgoing, organized, and at ease within a medical environment.
Whether you’re interested in pursuing the liaison career path yourself or you’re looking to hire a team of liaisons, it’s helpful to know exactly what the role entails and the skillsets most important to the job. In this guide, we examine what a typical day in the life of a physician liaison looks like, the top attributes of a successful liaison, and the technical skills that bring it all together.
What Does a Physician Liaison Do?
Physician liaisons, physician relations managers, or business and network development reps are generally employed by a hospital or health system to achieve strategic growth: Namely, to increase referrals for priority service lines, build and maintain strong relationships with aligned and non-aligned primary care physicians, and boost overall physician engagement.
Physician liaisons work to make sure the referral process is as seamless as possible – which means addressing and resolving and problems, ensuring physicians are well-informed, and communicating hospital goals. This usually entails invitations to events, delivery of information on new procedures or facilities, and in-person introductions of newly-hired specialists.
Liaisons spend much of their day-to-day on the road. They schedule visits to provider practices, interacting regularly with providers, clinic and hospital administrators, staff, hospital marketers, and other liaisons in the field. When they’re not on the road, physician liaisons are typically involved in strategic campaign planning and data analysis in order to make sure their efforts are on track and in line with the health system’s current initiatives. They are also expected to report on and present findings from the field to leadership and service line heads.
What Traits Should a Successful Physician Liaison Possess?
Years ago, physician liaisons weren’t seen by health systems as the mandatory component of the patient acquisition and retention toolkit that they are today. A single hospital may have dozens of off-campus facilities, specialty clinics, and shared practice spaces in multiple zip codes. As a result, most primary care providers don’t interact with in-network specialists, such as cardiologists or orthopedic surgeons, on a day-to-day basis. In fact, they may not even know of each other’s existence at an individual level. Add to this the dynamic of hospitalist inpatient care, and that connection is further weakened.
Physician liaisons solve this problem, bringing providers together and building the trust and relationships necessary to realign providers’ referral habits. To do so, they need to be innately comfortable navigating a clinical setting and familiar with the language, technology, and procedures specific to each service line. Perhaps more importantly, liaisons need to be people-oriented: Strong communication skills underlie everything else a liaison does. Being comfortable with courageous conversations is essential to being able to carry out the closed-loop process needed to keep the connections strong.
Let’s take a look at the five most important traits of a successful physician liaison:
1. A Naturally Outgoing, Engaging Personality
Above all, physician liaisons are relationship experts. They communicate with any and all personality types – from stoic, reserved surgeons to bubbly, enthusiastic pediatric specialists, and everyone in between. They understand that certain individuals respond better to a straightforward conversational approach, while others connect through chatting and sharing stories.
In order to successfully bridge the gap between health systems and employed physicians, liaisons must consistently reflect a positive, realistic, relatable attitude, relay information promptly and accurately, and be capable of making genuine connections with the providers they work with. Likewise, they should be avid storytellers, using narrative and data to bring clinical successes to life in their discussions with providers and leadership.
2. Masters of Problem Resolution
In addition to a positive attitude and engaging personality, the best physician liaisons are masters at managing conflict and handling any disputes that may arise. For example, a liaison may find that a primary care physician he or she has been working with has recently become frustrated with his referrals to a particular bariatric surgeon. He explains that the patients he has referred to this surgeon have been unable to schedule an appointment for months due to an administrative issue.
In this situation, an exemplary physician liaison will capture the detail of this complaint, escalate these issues, and help resolve the problem directly by communicating with the bariatric line staff (with whom he or she has also formed a relationship). The surgeon’s reputation is at stake in a situation such as this, so ensuring that everyone is aware of a problem that would prevent a referral is critical. The liaison will then follow up with the PCP in question, present his or her efforts, and provide confident, straightforward answers to any further questions along with realistic timelines.
3. Healthcare Industry Expertise
The best physician liaisons tend to have past experience in another area of the medical field. Common past roles include pharmaceutical representatives, nurses, or hospital administrators. Because so much of the job involves detailed, specialty-specific conversations with highly-trained doctors and health practitioners, liaisons are better served if they are already somewhat familiar with the terminology and industry trends before starting out in the role. For instance, a competent physician liaison should be able to explain cutting-edge orthopedic technology offered by a particular orthopedic surgeon or discuss newly released cancer treatment offerings with an oncologist.
Even the most educated liaison will need to keep up with industry news, be familiar with research conducted by their organization, and thoroughly understand the tools and procedures offered by various specialists. Liaisons need to be willing to attend conferences and/or other educational opportunities, as strategies in this field are ever-changing.
Knowing how to get the most out of data is a key ingredient to success as a physician liaison. Most health systems provide liaisons with a comprehensive Physician Relationship Management (PRM) platform through which they can conduct market research, analyze claims data, and uncover referral patterns.
The Evariant PRM solution, for instance, enables physician liaisons to quickly identify and easily prioritize the best providers to add to their outreach list, keep record of all communications (whether via email, over the phone, or in person), and follow up in a timely manner. Enabling liaisons to do this without getting bogged down in hours of analysis is key to timely and effective outreach.
Adept physician liaisons know that data intelligence is the objective foundation upon which their efforts must be built – and know how to understand the fluctuations and patterns that the PRM system identifies. They should be comfortable with tracking campaign initiatives, reporting on this data, and presenting it to organizational leadership in order to demonstrate the bottom-line value behind their work.
5. Organized and Self-Motivated
The majority of a physician liaison’s job is performed independently. When liaisons are out in the field interacting with providers, they are rarely accompanied by other health system employees or leadership. They may be tasked with supporting certain organizational goals for growth; however, the way in which they choose to do so is generally up to them. With this in mind, the strongest physician liaisons tend to be highly self-motivated, goal-oriented, and highly organized in order to manage a hectic schedule without supervision.
A liaison’s job can be challenging. Instances will arise when it seems like a goal is simply too far out of reach or is made impossible by extraneous circumstances, such as an understaffed service line or a facility undergoing renovations. In order to succeed, physician liaisons must maintain the same level of commitment and motivation when the going gets tough – knowing that all their hard work will pay off in the end.
Physician liaisons play an integral role in both the growth and day-to-day functioning of the health systems they work for. They can greatly influence referral patterns, increasing revenue in high-priority service lines, geographies, and demographic sectors – and they make it easier for organizations to achieve their annual goals. Yet, perhaps more importantly, physician liaisons ensure that large and often siloed health systems maintain a personal, human connection with both the physicians they employ and those that provide referrals.
The best physician liaisons are motivated by the same mission that their organization, its providers, and its staff are driven by: To provide the very best care to patients and, ultimately, to improve long-term health outcomes within the community.