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5 Keys to Finding 'Physician Champions'

Analysis  |  By Debra Shute  
   September 28, 2017

Physician executive panelists at ATLAS 2017 discussed what does and doesn't work when it comes to guiding clinicians through change.

Smart healthcare leaders recognize the importance of bringing clinical leaders to the table when navigating any type of change that affects their work, whether it be an IT implementation or new initiative.

But how should administrators identify clinical leaders? That was a key question posed to panelists at the 2017 ATLAS (Annual Thought Leadership on Access Symposium) conference in Boston September 19 - 20.

"We really love the term 'physician champion,'" noted moderator Erin Jospe, MD, chief medical officer for patient-access company Kyruus, which sponsored the event.

"We're also not really good at explaining what the exact role and responsibility of a champion is, [and understanding] that there's actual clinical capital that's going to get expended, that there's some element of risk in asking somebody to be a representative in that capacity," she said.

Related: How to Spot a Promising Physician Leader

Minimizing these risks comes down to identifying physician champions with specific qualities, said Chi-Cheng Huang, MD, associate chief medical officer at Lahey Hospital in Burlington, MA.

1. Respect

The first question, according to Huang, is, "Do they have the respect of the physicians and administration?"

Being regarded with legitimacy and credibility by fellow physicians doesn't necessarily mean that physician leaders maintain clinical activity, the panelists noted, but it can help.

"It shows them that I'm under the same pressures under quality metrics and performance as them," said M. Alex Schiaffino, MD, FAAFP, medical director for the access center of Summa health System in Ohio.

2. Understanding

Physician champions must also have an understanding of both clinician and administrative points of view, Huang said.

"Do they understand how the physician or healthcare provider is working? On the other side of the coin, do they understand that our operating margin is 0.5%—and that probably is going to go down if we don't fix this quickly?"

3. Time

Physician leaders must have the time to engage in important conversations with their peers and others, Huang noted, and that may or may not require cutting back on clinical time.

4. Leverage

Ask yourself, "Do they have the ability to leverage whatever soft power they have?" Huang advised.

5. Derailers

Finally, there's a fifth element leadership must identify—and that's the ability to derail your organization's efforts, said Marjorie Bessel, MD, vice president and chief medical officer for community delivery for Banner Health.

"As you approach any implementation, those informal physician champions are going to be very important to you," she said. "You also have to recognize those who have the clinical capital to derail you."

Once you identify those potential saboteurs, be judicious in how much energy you expend trying to convert them into champions, Bessel cautioned.

"Be realistic about how far you're going to bring them. Can you get them to neutral?" she said. "Sometimes that's enough to make sure you stay on track. Then when you're in a meeting and that person is not derailing you, that's hugely important."

Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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