"We wanted to see what we could do to create a more welcoming environment and get people more engaged from the get-go," says a system's integration coordinator.
Prior to 2014, the physician onboarding process at Great River Health Systems (GRHS) was fairly typical. During a standard half-day orientation, recruits would review and sign required accrediting documents and such—and begin seeing patients the same afternoon.
"We've learned that while that approach is a satisfier to the employer, we didn't think it was a satisfier to the provider to be 'thrown into the sharks,'" says Melissa Jones, integration coordinator at the 130-provider regional system in Iowa.
Why strive to improve the provider experience of onboarding? When it comes to clinician retention and the hefty cost of recruiting a new provider, the onboarding process offers a one-time opportunity to establish rapport, linking a clinician and his or her family to not just the healthcare organization but also to the community.
Consider the following tactics that have garnered GRHS great feedback so far.
1. Connect Early and Often
To make the most of an expanded onboarding process (which now involves a 2.5-day orientation for all providers, including advanced practitioners), it helps to set the stage at the point of recruitment, Jones says.
For GRHS, this means that Jones will visit with candidates during their interview process. "That way, if they do come on board and sign a contract, we've already put a face with the name and gotten to know each other a bit," she says. "It's very brief but engagement really starts at that point in the process."
It's also not unusual for candidates to sign contracts up to a year before beginning work with the system, in which case it's important for Jones and her team to keep in contact with providers and their families to foster the new relationships.
2. 'Humanize' Candidates and Their Families
A valuable element of these informal meetings is that they allow the integration team to learn about providers' likes and interests outside of work, and facilitate introductions of like-minded employees and family members.
Related: How Mercy Streamlined Onboarding of its Healthcare Workers
Though Jones admits that it's sometimes tricky to draw this personal information out of some individuals, the payoff in trying is that the clinician and his or her family become more likely to find connections and activities that help head-off the spouse dissatisfaction that often causes clinicians to leave jobs.
3. Expose Newcomers to All Departments
In addition to helping newcomers find their place within a community of about 25,000 people, GRHS has discovered the power of orienting providers to the health system as a whole.
"Before, if you were going to be working in department X, we would typically only expose you to department X," Jones says.
"However, we want to do our best to keep referrals and our business within our own walls as often as possible, and we were learning that our providers for the most part were only familiar with the areas in which they were working."
To address the disconnect, new clinicians are now exposed to all of the system's departments to more deeply understand available services to which they may refer patients or have patients accessing themselves.
4. Check in and Follow Up
Finally, just as early relationship-building helps optimize onboarding and promote retention, Jones recommends following up with new clinicians within 6 months to a year of beginning practice.
"It can be as simple as taking the provider out to lunch and asking the provider, 'How's it going? What can we do to make your life better? What's working? What's not working?'" Jones says. "Just having those informal conversations helps us learn what we're doing well and develop what we can do better."
Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.