May 24, 2018

Physician Recruiting: One Factor You May Be Missing

When it comes to health care, the brand experience is often relegated to just the patient point-of-view…for obvious reasons. But we’ve seen the power of the patient experience extend even further and when leveraged properly, it can help solve a problem nearly every hospital CEO faces: Recruiting and retaining top physicians.

How do we know your brand experience can have such an impact on your clinician talent pool? Beyond my firm working with health system CEOs for more than 30 years, each year, I get to talk to hundreds of physicians from health systems across the country.

Whether for research or for on-camera interviews, I often get a glimpse into their heads, from their motivations to their fears and even what makes them jump ship. And while they might not use the formal term “brand experience,” physicians will tell you your patient experiences with your health system can have a huge impact on their careers.

The rationale is simple.

Doctors often explain to me how powerless they feel before and after they see a patient. And that’s because no matter how warm their approach is, no matter how good the clinical outcome or how clearly they communicate with a patient, the physician has zero control over how rude the receptionist was to that patient.

They can’t control the fact that the hospital website is a disaster to navigate or that the way finding from the parking lot might require a map and compass. They don’t control how you message (but this is also relevant in their career calculations, as we discuss here). Even after a great experience with a doctor who got them feeling better, if that patient goes home and spends an hour on the phone with your people trying to understand her bill…guess which part of her experience she’s going to tell her girlfriends about at book club?

Doctors should feel powerless over these parts of the experience…because they are.

What’s even more striking is that it is often your highest sources of physician revenue that are hit hardest by the brand experience factor. Those top ortho and cardiac surgeons of yours have even less opportunity to shape the brand experience. And it drives them nuts. The types of personalities that usually gravitate towards being a surgeon are hypercompetitive, overachievers.

A prolific heart surgeon (he worked at UCLA and on the artificial heart) once broke it down to me very clearly.

We were at a restaurant and talking about how the best surgeons have to be unique. That triad of great hands, a scientific mind and a good personality is hard to capture. But he corrected me a bit when it came to the question of a surgeon’s personality—he was painting a picture, his eyes rolling around the hopping restaurant bar we were perched in.

“What you have to understand, Clay is that I’m like the chef of this place.”

My eyebrows peaked with mischievous curiosity above the din of clacking plates and hushed conversations.

“See there? Those waitresses are like nurses. The hostess, well maybe she’s the receptionist. And the other diners are like patients. And if I’m the surgeon, I’m most like the chef. The diners eat my food, but they really don’t see me that much.”

Dr. UCLA went on to explain that he knows he can only control his part of the experience. The rest is up to others and the experiential infrastructure. That starts from the patient’s online experience and ends with the last conversation they have in the community about your health system.

Have doctors left health systems because of a bad brand experience? You betcha.

Will your brand be part of their evaluation to join your health system? Absolutely.

They won’t call it “brand experience,” but they’ve told me time and again that these factors are part of their evaluation to come and whether to stay. They use phrases such as “I got a look at what they are doing and how they put themselves out there,” or they might say “I asked when I visited what people’s experiences were like.”

So pile Physician Recruitment and Retention onto the heap of rewards that a compelling and fully leveraged brand can give you. And while patient volume and a new, more diverse payor mix are more easily recognizable virtues of a strong brand, we all know that it is still the doctor that weighs heaviest in the minds of many patients when they choose a health system. Shouldn’t you do your best to assure you are giving these patients the best choices?

Sure, there is a plethora of factors that influence a physician’s career decisions. But the next time you are considering a new initiative focused on the brand experience…the next time this crucial element of your business is under consideration for additional people and financial investment…don’t forget how you can help yourself in the realm of clinician recruitment and retention too. A powerful brand can have multiple influences on how the best physicians evaluate working for you and even where you are going, as we discuss in another blog.

To put it in the eloquent words of Dr. UCLA, “Before you hire a celebrity chef, make sure you remodel the dining room and for God’s sake…don’t hire awful servers.”