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How A Physician Liaison Delivers A Competitive Advantage in 2024

How A Physician Liaison Delivers A Competitive Advantage in 2024

The Change in Healthcare Growth Strategies

Twenty years ago seems like yesterday, but the seismic changes in healthcare remind us that we’ve come a long way since then. At that time, we received calls from hospital and health system leaders needing help in one of three areas:

  1. Good business volume:

    • Generating strategic growth via high-value referrals to the right service lines

  2. Rapid ramp-up

    • Getting new physicians busy faster to stop the massive financial losses closely related to #3

  3. Improved physician engagement and retention

    • Correcting the million-dollar drain of turnover through physician and family integration vs. cursory orientation

Most organizations were aggressively expanding their footprint, purchasing expensive, cutting-edge equipment, recruiting new physicians, and building out employed physician groups with the goal of leveraging those investments.

These hospitals and health systems were ready and able to accommodate the significant growth our solutions delivered in the first year. Given that capacity, we could immediately stand up our model of strategically built, professional outreach programs with well-trained physician liaisons and minimal operational improvements.

How Healthcare Has Changed and How Physician Liaisons Can Help

Fast forward to today: We still get the same calls, but with a very different challenge.

In the face of unprecedented access challenges and workforce scarcity, almost no one can accommodate the volumes our strategic growth initiatives deliver.

With today’s access and capacity challenges, the best outreach program won’t succeed without a rigorous, data-driven operational review to reveal and remove today’s barriers and bottlenecks to strategic growth. While outreach and sales efforts routinely expose operational issues fast, we know how to be just as fast to set an organization up for rapid first-year growth. The secret to the competitive advantage physician liaisons deliver is their role in helping organizations deliver a friction-free experience for patients and referring physicians.

Strategic Growth Goals In 2024

Today our industry-leading physician liaison programs begin with an operationally focused strategic growth readiness assessment. With the goal of building a successful outreach playbook, the strategic readiness assessment:

  • Establishes strategic alignment and stakeholder buy-in
  • Identifies process improvements that will mitigate leakage, eliminate barriers to access and unlock latent capacity
  • Delivers the playbook for generating high-value referrals to clinical service areas that position health systems for growth in the now, new or far term

Many hospitals and medical groups can point to the individual or office labeled “physician relations.” But their focus is typically reactive in nature ­­– a place where members of the medical staff bring issues versus strategic, proactive, consistent, and frequent outreach to targeted providers and their staff. In many cases, the program has failed to evolve with changes in the healthcare landscape and is missing the measurable value and benefits of a strategically built program.

Ask yourself:

  • Do our physician relations and professional outreach programs position our organization clearly ahead of our competition?
  • Are we showing it by posting measurable results in growth and retention?
  • Are we confident that our key physicians and physician groups are fully engaged, maximizing their potential, and are not at risk for leakage?

Your answer might be, “of course!” But, if you inspected the foundation of your program today, would you find it is strong enough to continuously improve your providers’ level of trust, satisfaction, engagement, and ultimately, your financial performance?

banner with title and subtitleBegin with the End in Mind – The Goal of a Physician Liaison Program

Our Physician Liaison Value and Compensation Survey showed that this role goes by many names including physician liaison, physician-hospital relations, physician outreach, and business development. The title isn’t as important as the reporting relationship with a senior leader and effectiveness in achieving measurable goals in five key areas:

3 pillar graphicLaunching a Strategic Physician Liaison Program

Successful physician liaison programs work in organizations of any type and size, from physician practice organizations to academic medical centers, and from small critical access hospitals to national health systems. Regardless of size scope, they have this in common: their programs are built on three pillars: 1) the right systems, 2) the right data and 3) the right people.

The Right Systems: The Foundation for Accountability

The concept that “Systems permit ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results predictably,” has been repeatedly proven in healthcare. Without systems, even your extraordinary organization will find it difficult to predictably achieve even ordinary results. Dysfunction and waste most often occur when there is either a) no system or b) duplicate systems for achieving the same objective.

A key benefit of the physician liaison role is that it shows physicians you respect their time by understanding and eliminating obstacles that cause them to limit their engagement – or avoid your hospital altogether! Applying LEAN principles to your physician-hospital relations/liaison program will give you a jump start for early success. As a LEAN technique Value Stream Mapping (VSM) quickly identifies waste and reduces the excess steps and time involved in any process. VSM will reveal your gaps and overlaps while ensuring that you do not simply shift the burden from the hospital back to the physician’s office – or worse – onto the patient.

To orient VSM toward both efficiency and growth, always align the process improvement with a strategic growth objective. Build-in accountability by defining priorities, clearly assigning responsibilities, setting milestones, and scheduling firm dates for reporting to leadership.

This systematic approach to growth works. For example, one physician outreach team at a newly formed regional network rapidly identified several strategic network growth and alignment opportunities and some related challenges to access and throughput. They completed comprehensive onsite training, data collection, and collateral development. Using LEAN methods to ensure access and capacity, they then launched growth teams in key strategic service lines. The team delivered double-digit incremental increases in the first year by significantly improving network communication and collaboration with physicians and their staff.

The Right Data and Insights: The Navigation System for Growth

Timely, relevant data provides the opportunity to measure and reduce business leakage and identify opportunities for new growth. Data-driven insights support the strategic direction and will enable you to identify targets, tiers, and trends, and then make decisions about where to best apply resources.

As electronic health record adoption grows, data tracking and analysis tools are proliferating. But data without insight is just a bunch of numbers. Context is key: one hospital CEO admitted he actually enjoys reviewing his weekly physician-hospital relations report. Although he frequently speaks with his team throughout the week, the report his director of physician outreach delivers each Friday brings fragmented feedback into focus.

The “ride-along” is also critical for gathering insight: when was the last time you accompanied your physician outreach team in the field to visit your physicians? Join your liaison in the field and you get a front-row seat in gaining a better perspective of the roadblocks, rough terrain, and realities that physicians and their office staff experience every single day.

If you prefer to avoid challenging encounters with physicians – or you think you don’t have the time to ride along – then re-think your outreach system. Your liaison’s job is to ensure your visits are well-planned and productive. If your liaison invites you to meet with a dis-engaged physician – that is not a sign of failure. It is an opportunity to show your commitment and do something that may be more effective.

The side bonus: Any given day in the field provides an opportunity to uncover a tremendous amount of competitive intelligence. So why would anyone miss this opportunity?

The Right People: Hardwiring for Successful Execution

Put systems and data-driven insights into the hands of the right people, and they will produce extraordinary results. But you must form a team of professionally trained liaisons, committed service line managers, and engaged senior leaders to tackle a specific growth objective for a strategic service line.

The most effective programs identify, hire, and train liaisons with the right business acumen, personal attributes, and attitude to be effective in the field, with their colleagues in operations and with leadership. The liaison is accountable for breaking down the silos between hospital operations, physician relations, recruitment and retention, marketing, and physician practice administration. Based on the liaison’s direct reporting relationship with senior leadership, they become the catalyst for effective collaboration, transparency, and accountability for achieving the organization’s strategic goals for growth.

A strong liaison will demonstrate to physicians that your organization is hearing, committing resources, and implementing solutions that meet their needs with a healthy sense of urgency, higher-value solutions, and supporting data.

Risks and Rewards – Successful Implementation of a Physician Liaison Program

Like high-quality care and service excellence, physician relations, and engagement provide a critical competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining the best providers. When launching or re-launching a physician liaison program there are significant risks and rewards that should be considered.

Because “first impressions last,” the greatest risk is in rolling out a program that is simply about grabbing the medical staff roster and sending the liaison out to “make the doctors happy” on a scattered or reactive basis. The communication gap between leadership and physicians is already too wide and growing. It underscores the importance of structuring a professional liaison program that will improve engagement, versus deploying an untrained person who is not prepared with data, consultative needs-based sales training, and a clear understanding of – and laser focus on – each strategic initiative.

The rewards of the well-structured, professionally staffed physician liaison program are seen in the value delivered to your provider. Once you have prioritized your strategic goals, and have the strong pillars of systems, data, and people in place, you can expect to see a return on investment that is both rapid and measurable:

  • Immediate results from incremental strategic growth in referrals
  • Quick response to timely and relevant market intelligence
  • Enhanced provider engagement and retention
  • Greater value-driven reimbursement through higher engagement in population health initiatives

About Tiller-Hewitt HealthCare Strategies

Tiller-Hewitt HealthCare Strategies designs and executes liaison, physician-hospital relations, and retention programs for hospitals, hospital systems, population health, and physician organizations nationwide. The firm designs and executes high-performance physician liaison programs, provider referral networks, and physician integration and retention programs. Working in partnership with hospital leaders, they hardwire organizational culture to achieve revenue and strategic market share growth in the value-based economy.

CEO Tammy Tiller-Hewitt, MHA, FACHE, is a nationally recognized physician relations and retention consultant, known as the pioneer of strategic physician outreach/liaison. She draws on 30 years of healthcare management experience and the launch of hundreds of programs over 16 years. Tammy’s work with both the health system and the physician practice sides of healthcare give her a unique perspective on the complexities facing today’s healthcare professionals.
(866) 651-8701

10 Success Factors

  1. Program Structure & Internal Collaboration – Structure the program so the liaison can affect change as a strategic representative of leadership and a partner in uncovering and responding to issues.

  2. Training/Education – Learning never stops in this role. Ongoing training ensures the liaison’s skills and knowledge of strategic initiatives remain sharp.

  3. Access – One of the most common barriers to growth is ACCESS! Improve access to key services lines with effectively facilitated LEAN teams and events.

  4. Strategic Focus – Routinely confirm the organization’s strategic plan to keep efforts laser-focused on strategic growth.

  5. Stakeholder Involvement & Buy-In – This includes building accountability systems to ensure that C-Suite and key department leaders are consistently closing the loop on issues and opportunities.

  6. Referral Data Availability & Utilization – Referral data from an internal EHR can offer insights into the quality and quantity of referrals coming into the organization as well as those leaking out.

  7. Market Intelligence Challenges/Opportunities – Consistent and frequent provider calls, along with timely claims data, give a more complete picture of your provider relationships and the competition.

  8. PRM Effectiveness & Utilization – Choose a physician relations management product that makes it easy to monitor, measure, and report activity, issues, and outcomes.

  9. Collaterals/Marketing – Assess the organization’s arsenal of marketing collaterals and referral tools that make referring to the organization as easy as possible.

  10. Path of Least Resistance – Always revisit ways that the organization can win business simply by being hassle-free and easier for patients and providers to work with