January 16, 2018

This One Thing Could Kill Your Service Line

There are few things better than finishing a massive campaign and seeing the first results roll in. Whether it is engagement metrics or a volley of patient appointments, we live for those moments when it all comes together…and actually works.

But a seasoned operator knows that the fight is actually just beginning—and sometimes, the worst thing that can happen to you is to drive volume to the wrong place: which could be the hands of your own doctors.

While working with health systems all over, we’re noticing the rise of a trend that has always been a factor but is now growing progressively worse. It is a clear and present danger to many service lines.

The problem is simple: Too many physicians are unaware of their own organization’s capabilities.

Worsening Symptoms

This past year, we’ve heard story after story from physicians, CMOs, patients and others that detail the immense turbulence that comes when one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. Patients are being transferred because a new hospitalist doesn’t know what GI scopes you have. Primary Care physicians are suggesting their patients skip your system for someone down the road because they don’t know that your cancer center has drastically improved since that tour they did seven years ago.

Some systems have reported that their physicians (especially new doctors) have no idea certain service lines even existed in their system.

Sure, these problems are well documented and I’m sure you have some horror stories of your own. But just because it is an old problem, it doesn’t mean we can ignore it. This threat is amplified when new docs join systems as mergers and acquisitions continue to escalate. At the same time, America has a doctor shortage, which means the ones that are here are busier than ever. They are often distracted by learning and entering data on more complicated EHRs too.

The point is that in the current state of healthcare, it is growing increasingly more difficult to engage and educate physicians.

And nobody is happy about it.

The patient isn’t happy being transferred to another system or getting vague answers from their doctor. The physician isn’t happy making decisions on scant information. Your CEO isn’t happy about the revenue you lost.

We believe it is time for health systems to seriously revamp their physician education and onboarding tools. From the approach to reaching them and the tactics we use to inform, we have an excellent opportunity to influence this system-wide problem and make the lives of our patients and colleagues remarkably better.

We have our own secret sauce to approach this problem but here are a few key principles that anyone can apply to improve physician awareness of your capabilities.

Commit and Get Commitment

If you are truly a results oriented organization, there are few things you can do to have an immediate and lasting impact on your bottom line than having a fully educated pool of physicians to drive patients to the right service lines at the right time. All of the sexy web speak and expensive TV ads or the latest seminar from the latest guru really don’t add up to anything if the doctors selling your organization don’t understand what they are selling.

Commit to making physician education a priority for your department this year and then look above you for that same commitment. As the year rolls on, you will be grabbed by plenty of distractions. The crisis of the week may seem more important but over the long haul, few things will matter more than a physician who is motivated to send patients into your hands.

Give Your Physicians A Thorough Exam

I love physicians. While impressed by what they do and how they got there, I actually find them to be fascinating people personally. If you dig a little, you’ll be surprised about some of their hobbies and goals in the realm of their personal life. What this means is that physicians like to learn and communicate in different ways. Your job is to figure out how they like to learn. Survey your physicians (yes, all of them) using a variety of tools if need be. Make it a requirement that your physicians answer your survey (this is where that commitment from your CEO will come in handy). Find out if they read e-mail or if they prefer a video. If so, how long is too long of a video?

Think Holistically

Once you discover how your physicians like to learn, plot out some of the tactics you can develop to educate them on your service line’s capabilities. But just because 75 percent of your physicians say they love videos, don’t limit your channels to just video. In addition to the obvious cost and logistics concerns, you should never be willing to leave 25 percent of your physicians behind. A healthy mix of tactics is a must. Prioritize the biggest impacts and easiest wins and build a calendar to knock out one or two channels a quarter. But remember to think simply too. Sometimes a simple social event that puts your oncology team with a bunch of PCPs is just fine. A glass of wine and a conversation can start a relationship and relationships yield understanding.

Experiment and Test

Don’t stop once you release a new education piece. Let it percolate for a few months and then double back and see how it is going. Survey both the audience of doctors and your service line staff. What is working? What is not? Take note and modify your channels when time permits.

It isn’t a dynamic and bold advertising campaign. It’s often not viewed as fun. But if we take a comprehensive approach to physician education, it won’t just make the professional lives of many people much easier. It will also help our patients connect to the right solutions at the right time. And at the end of all the mumbo jumbo, if you are in healthcare, that’s what should get you out of bed in the morning.