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Physician Referral Programs Hold Revenue Potential and Pitfalls

Karen Minich-Pourshadi, for HealthLeaders Media, May 7, 2012

Brickman and Provena's physician liaisons cultivated relationships with physicians and responded quickly to their requests. The physician liaisons received formal training to work with physicians, as well an incentive or compensation program to encourage them to go after the business, he says.

Building trust with physicians can be a tall order, however, for hospitals and health systems that are rapidly acquiring or partnering with hospitals or group practices. The zeal to deal sometimes brings out the worst of an organization during the negotiation process. Even if all goes smoothly in the negotiations, healthcare organizations that grow too rapidly many run into another problem.

"Our biggest challenge is developing internal awareness, acceptance, and support. We're a very large organization that was, and still is, undergoing a lot of changes as we grow from a collection of independent-minded hospitals and medical groups to a large, integrated health system," says Kimberly Marzullo, RN, MBA, system director of the physician marketing and liaison program at Sutter Health, headquartered in Sacramento.

The current Sutter Health was formed in 1996 through a fusion of 26 hospitals owned by Sutter Health and California Healthcare System. Each hospital had its own board of directors and local strategy. Eventually the health system restructured into five regions. Marzullo joined the system in 2007 to create a new physician liaison program to combat a migration of services to competing healthcare facilities. Her team of seven promotes key service lines, identifies and addresses the barriers to care, and solves other issues that impact the relationship the system has with physicians and hospitals.

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