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New ways to think about hospital-physician engagement

February 19th, 2015

by Kenneth H. Cohn

A recent FierceHealthcare story cited five ways to boost hospital-physician engagement:

  • Keeping physicians in the loop on the hospital's financial and operational goals
  • Engaging the community
  • Increasing physicians' protected nonclinical time to improve engagement
  • Familiarizing physicians with the company's goals
  • Concentrating work at one facility

Building on the first goal, I wrote an article recently that described a collaboration between a hospital CFO and a physician that taught the physician how to write a business plan for a new wound care center, which enabled patients to stay within the community and brought in a new source of revenue to the hospital. The physician became so interested in finance that he effectively functions as the chief medical finance officer, conducing strategic consultations on finance with both administrators and fellow physicians.

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As I wrote in another article titled "Collaborative Champions," physician champions are outstanding clinicians who have earned the respect of their peers by caring for patients in a consistent and reliable fashion, delivering great clinical outcomes. They are the people we turn to when we need medical care. They are also seasoned professionals looking to leverage their knowledge and experience to improve care for their community. Possible roles for physician champions include:

  • Presenting and discussing clinical data with fellow physicians
  • Minimizing physician-hospital battles
  • Creating a safe environment for learning
  • Helping to build trust

My only wish for efforts to improve hospital-physician engagement is that they be both physician-centric and hospital-centric. Physicians tend to be skeptical of top-down initiatives and prefer bottom-up approaches to build engagement and a sense of ownership. As I wrote in "Collaborative Compact," after physicians had spent a year revising a physician-hospital compact, a physician commented:

"My initial thoughts were filled with skepticism, as I did not understand the purpose of it. However, after reading through it, I think it is a great outline of the commitment, expectations and goals of the organization. If we see this organization as physician-led, then the foundation needs to be laid down. The compact is a great place to start in addressing the mission and the goals of the organization. Also, the philosophy and expectations of the organization are spelled out to the physicians, staff and patients. The compact makes expectations crystal clear in my mind."

Those seeking a simpler way to begin might ask their physicians, "What activities waste your time?" and "What can we do to make your time at the hospital more efficient and effective?" with the idea of establishing some quick wins to build transparency and trust.

Despite differences in background and training, most physicians and hospital administrators chose careers in healthcare to make a difference in patients' lives. Focusing on the "why" helps depersonalize differences and overcome conflicts of the "how."

Kenneth H. Cohn is a general surgeon and CEO of HealthcareCollaboration.com, who works with organizations to engage doctors to improve clinical and financial performance.

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