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Four Surefire Messages to Get Physicians' Attention

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, February 4, 2010

Trust is the name of the physician communication game. And one of the best ways for practice administrators and marketers to cultivate trusting relationships with their physicians is via face-to-face discussions—something that Geoff Kaufmann, CEO at the North Central Region American Red Cross in St. Paul, MN, and former chief administrative officer at the Stillwater (MN) Medical Group, has gone to unusual lengths to facilitate.

While Kaufmann was working as a consultant, "I actually got to the point with a physician where I couldn't reach him at all and came in with a minor health problem so he actually got paid for the visit," he says. "But I spent a lot of time talking about what I wanted to talk about."

Kaufmann's time at the three-clinic multispecialty medical group, a member of Lakeview Health System, taught him that having these types of conversations is crucial to surpassing the first roadblock in successful physician communication, he says.

"We have a lot of shared goals, and if we can agree on the goals, we can figure out ways to get there," Kaufmann says. "I don't think either of us listens actively, and we have to figure out how to walk in each other's shoes to figure out the pressures that we're both facing."

Try the following four messages to get the conversation started.

We can save you time and improve quality

"That's all physicians have to sell is their time, so it's great to be able to communicate with physicians either timesaving activities or that we've made some quality improvements," says Marc D. Halley, MBA, president and CEO of Westerville, OH–based Halley Consulting Group, a physician practice management and consulting firm.

Betty Dew, marketing director at Pinehurst (NC) Surgical, says it's important to keep your messages in front of busy physicians to secure participation.

"We typically send out three or four reminders prior to the meetings with information that we need to jog their memory," Dew says. "If we don't get a response, we copy the primary person that's with them every day—the secretary or manager of the department."

We can provide useful, relevant information

"As managers and administrators, we need to understand that the ways we've communicated in the past really aren't making a whole lot of sense," Kaufmann says. "We need to use communication vehicles that are consistent with the learning styles of younger physicians. They don't just pick up a hospital newsletter and read it from cover to cover—it's just not important to them." Instead, Kaufmann suggests using Webcasts, podcasts, and other online information that physicians can ingest at a time that is convenient for them.

Pinehurst has virtually done away with paper memos and newsletters in an attempt to save paper and provide physicians with timely information.

"We typically don't really use memos anymore; most everything is online on our intranet," Dew says. "If we do a physician survey, we use avenues like Zoomerang. They're used to that because of our [EMR]. I don't think you'll ever be paperless, but that's our goal: to be as paperless as possible."

We understand your unique challenges

"We need to understand that physicians come from different generations, just like we do, so in addition to the war generation, the boomers, the Gen Xers, and the millennials, we need to understand what their needs are at each of those stages of their practice," Halley says.

Millennials, for example, are at the earlier stages of building their practice, so they require more resources, whereas boomers are increasingly valuing their time.

Older physicians and new physicians may also need more training on EMRs.

"Part of our new physician recruitment efforts is one-on-one training," Dew says. "Even if you've been on EMR before, every system is different. Middle-aged to older physicians that are coming into the practice from non-EMR practices have a little longer learning curve and tend to use their staff more so than doing it themselves."

In addition to realizing generational differences, marketing executives need to understand variations among specialties. For example, primary care physicians face vastly different business problems than an internal medicine subspecialist, says Halley. "The issues for those particular practices differ, so the marketers who understand those differences can tune their info gather to those different specialties," he says. "They can ask more appropriate questions about those practices if they understand the differences."

We will stand by you through uncertain times

Building a trusting relationship with physicians is especially critical now, as the possibility of health reform creates uncertainty about future pay structures.

"All these strategies are going to become increasingly important as some form of legislation passes," Kaufmann says. "The additional pressures fall on physicians and healthcare organizations as payments restrict to both of them to fund the increased access for the uninsured and underinsured that the health reform legislation is seeking to help create."

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