Swimming Pools, Movie Stars, and Physician Relations

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, February 27, 2008
Next week I'll be reporting from a physician strategies conference in Los Angeles. If I have time, I'd like to immerse myself in the beautiful setting and inspiring art at the Getty Center and then climb aboard a minibus to take the tackiest tour of the stars' homes available for the pure campy fun of it. But what does my disparate taste in leisure activities have to do with physician relations? Everything.

Dealing with physicians is quite possibly the most complicated function the modern healthcare marketer will ever undertake. The model itself is simple: Patients don't tend to walk into hospitals out of the blue. They come because their physician told them to. And although patients are the reason hospitals are in business, physicians are what keep hospitals in business. The bottom line is that physicians have a huge impact on, well, the bottom line.

But after that it gets a little more complicated.

For example, to keep physicians happy, you have to understand what they want and need and then make sure they get it. Sounds simple enough. But actually figuring out what all those different physicians--each with unique personalities, business models, and personal lives--want? And then delivering it? That's a mite more complicated.

Some doctors want networking opportunities in the form of cocktail parties, others want more time on the dirt bike trail, others want to be involved with decisions from business planning to reducing the hospital's carbon footprint. Before they'll relocate, some physicians want to know what neighborhoods have the best schools, while others want to make sure their spouses don't divorce them for moving to the middle of nowhere.

A physician relations rep has to be part event planner, part lifestyle coach, part real estate agent, and part marriage counselor. It's kind of like being a travel agent to the kind of tourist who wants both the culture of the Getty and the camp of the walk of fame.

Some of the things that make referring physicians most happy are difficult to provide. Some surgeons are shopping for the best-run operating room in town and a schedule that makes life easier, while others want to have their pet piece of technology. It's one thing to make sure the OR schedule is flexible and fair, quite another to buy the latest high-ticket medical device because one neurologist demands it.

Add financier and diplomat to the long list of skills required to keep physicians happy.

And even the No. 1 thing that referring physicians want--information about their patients and what's going on at the hospital--is fraught with complications. Some physicians want portals and Web sites and electronic health records, others complain that you no longer phone or fax their office with updates.

Now you have to be a member of the Geek Squad, too.

And I haven't even mentioned those physicians who are secretly dreaming of opening up an imaging center three blocks away from you.

They say you can't please all of the people all of the time. But, believe it or not, I found a full-day tour that hits the stars' homes, the Hollywood sign, Graumann's Chinese Theatre, and the Getty. Maybe it's not that difficult after all.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.
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