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USA TODAY Reports on Physician Liaisons

USA TODAY Reports on Physician Liaisons

How thrilling it was to see Phil Galewitz’s article in USA Today on Physician Liaisons! Equally exciting, within the first paragraph the article describes a Liaison’s role as…

“building meaningful relationships.” I couldn’t agree with that more. After all, who wants to do business with, or entrust their patients to anyone with whom they don’t trust, can’t collaborate, or won’t effectively communicate? That’s easy… NO ONE!

For the Critics

I realize that some people dislike the word “sales” especially when associated with healthcare. Others say “sales is a waste of resources.” Maybe it’s the word “sales” that sounds too sleazy-used-car-sales, appears too bottom-line focused, or feels completely incongruent with improving quality, reducing costs, and improving overall patient satisfaction. However, that’s the farthest from the truth when we’re talking about a professional Physician Liaison [Sales] Program.

A Physician Liaison Program should always be a senior leadership-driven initiative. By the very nature of that association and involvement with Administration, the program is successful in fostering trust, transparency, and collaboration. All of those are vital ingredients to reaching long-term quality and financial goals.

Fortunately, some of the leading critics of Liaison Programs eventually become the biggest proponent once they have a better understanding of the true value this Program offers physicians, their patients, and eventually to the overall cost and quality improvements. If Liaisons are doing their job well, the physicians become the biggest advocate of their value.

Net Results – Competition

Aside from new service offerings, we gain market share from two places, expanding the pie or catchment area, or by shifting business from our competitors. If we can meet the needs of the patient or physician and earn their business, isn’t that what competition is all about? Competition can even make healthcare stronger and better.

Especially in competitive markets, hospitals must “earn” business by working collaboratively with physicians to become the “best” choice for them and their patients. The Liaisons are promoting [selling] relevant hospital services to physicians; but bottom-line doctors and patients have choices.

Yes, we are selling hospital services and specialists to physicians and their staff, but not without first a commitment to understand their needs and the needs of their patients. Liaisons are the vital communication link between needs and solutions.

Physicians are not stupid; they can smell a sales job a mile away. While what we do is definitely sales, we’re selling solutions, we’re selling quality, and we are selling genuine long-term meaningful relationships.

Physician Satisfaction & Retention

From the Advisory Board to HealthLeaders to perhaps your own physician satisfaction survey results, the top 3 to 5 areas of medical staff contention are almost always related in some form or fashion to: Trust, Collaboration, and Communication.

Meaningful relationships develop as Physician Liaisons focus on uncovering the needs of the physicians. This includes identifying and communicating quality, service, and safety opportunities, as well as matching services of the hospital and specialists with the needs of physicians, their patients and staff. The efforts of the Physician Liaison are ultimately measured by improved physician satisfaction and retention, quality, and incremental growth in referrals.

At one of my hospital’s weekly sales meeting, the CEO (who always attended) never failed to remind the team that, “Hospitals don’t have patients, physicians do, we just take care of their patients for them.” His level of respect for the physician’s role as Captain became a core value of that sales team. It’s that kind of respectful approach that builds a strong foundation to long-term trusting and collaborative relationships.

So where does “sales” fit into this? We’ve heard the saying, “no one likes to be sold, but everyone likes to buy.” Knowing physicians “buy” or persuade their patients to buy, creates an opportunity to focus our efforts on becoming their choice of hospital. In order to become the hospital of choice, liaisons continue to stay up to date on the physicians’ needs, while keeping physicians (and their staff) informed of the hospital services that match those needs. Becoming the “choice” is often made possible through the consistent communication and collaboration with physicians and their staff.

As the article mentioned the efforts of the Liaison is to give physicians and their patients a voice and to listen and address their concerns. I would also add that by consistently working with physicians, on their turf, provides countless opportunities to identify competitive threats and innovative ideas for new or existing services.

Hospitalists Programs – Increase Liaison Value

An important point made in the article and often overlooked as a giant opportunity, is the significant growth of Hospitalist programs; resulting in less and less primary care physicians (PCP) coming to the hospital. These PCPs quickly fall “out of the loop.” Keeping these PCPs informed and engaged with both the hospital and specialists, is another key role for Physician Liaisons today. In some hospitals, the hospitalists also support the one-call transfer program from referring hospitals. Liaisons work with those hospitals as well to cultivate relationships.

Starting a Successful Liaison Program

Clearly, as economic pressures put the squeeze on physicians and health systems, physician-hospital relations are at an all time high-risk of becoming increasingly contentious. The Advisory Board warns that we’re entering an era defined by the “End of Neutrality” with physicians.

As a result, more and more hospitals recognize the need for Physician Liaison Programs. Keep in mind these important success factors when planning to launch or relaunch a Physician Liaison Program.

  1. It should always be a senior leadership initiative. Senior leadership buy-in is a critical success factor.
  2. The Liaison should be an extension of Administration, therefore, reporting to a senior level leader. Physicians want to know that they are speaking to a “representative of the decision maker.”
  3. Get the entire management team onboard and aware of their specific role in the program’s success.
  4. Don’t try this alone – for a short-term engagement, an experienced professional could create a structure and systematic data-driven program and approach for long-term success. Do it right the first time.
  5. Be data-driven – invest resources in collecting and evaluating reliable internal and external data.
  6. Don’t just hire a Liaison and give them the medical staff roster to go “visit” with physicians. Yes, there are a lot of former pharma reps available, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best candidate for a great Liaison, especially without appropriate training or re-training within a hospital setting. The right person is another critical success factor.
  7. Invest in the initial and ongoing professional training.
  8. Create metrics system to measure ongoing efforts and ROI.
  9. Enforce accountability of Liaison and Management Team .
  10. Re-assess targets and goals annually.