So what role does your brand play in engaging physicians and earning their loyalty to your healthcare organization?
Building physician group loyalty to a healthcare brand is a very hot topic these days. As the business model of healthcare evolves, physicians are an important center of gravity for success. Their alignment and engagement influences their satisfaction, which can have a far reaching impact on your culture and patient volume.
Loyalty is something someone gives to us. We can’t demand it. And we can’t buy it—at least not for the long haul.
1. Start with your shared vision and promise
I have visited many hospitals across the country, and I am always amazed at how often I see the classic “them” versus “us” mentality. Unfortunately, the differences between physicians and a hospital staff seem to come up early and often in my conversations with both leadership and physicians.
We’ve found relief by focusing on what unites us, as opposed to what divides us. People are more loyal to an organization’s brand when they believe there is a sense of shared values, mission and vision. They have a common understanding of where they are today, where they are headed and how they might work together to reach their vision for the future.
The best unifying tool you have is your brand promise. Your promise is the unique value proposition you are making to patients. It is your agreed upon commitment on how your organization will deliver value. When your brand promise comes from a genuine place in your organization, common ground is often found within it. Just make sure you keep it top of mind, and refer to it often when differences of opinion or tensions rise.
2. Physicians are human beings too
Physicians are often seen as miracle workers by their patients and called superstars by their peers. But below the pedestal they are placed on, they are just human beings with human needs. They get stressed, feel isolated, and feel underappreciated just like the rest of us.
Physicians need to feel ‘heard’, they need empathy and sometimes self-care. When tensions are high, it helps to remember they are just people and employ some of the softer skills in your toolkit. Active listening, validation and empathy can go a long way toward finding common ground and keep situations from escalating.
3. Two-way communication
Like all relationships, it takes work to succeed. Most of the heavy lifting of that work is carried out with good two-way communications. Like most of us, physicians want to be respected. They’ve pooled years of education and experiences into a deep depth of knowledge. This knowledge feels useless to them if they can’t put it to good use.
When trying to engage physicians in making substantial changes, remember, there can often be no “buy-in” without giving someone an opportunity to “weigh-in.” Even if their suggestions don’t make the final cut, giving them an opportunity to be heard will remind them that they are a relevant and respected part of your team.
Physicians also want to hear what is going on in the health system, even beyond their initial clinical sphere. And they usually want to be ahead of the loop. Giving physicians pre-presentations on important topics before the regular staff sees the presentation is an easy, and an effective way to help them understand how important you think they are to the organization.
Look for ways to incorporate the patient and family perspective in your discussions. Being the ‘voice of the customer’ provides a level playing field for shared beliefs as a guide for your point of view on specific topics.
Regular one-on-one communication is often the most effective type of communication. We have seen health systems make great strides in physician engagement when they add an in-house physician relations team to their staff. When you have people tasked with specifically keeping a pulse on physician engagement, you can be more proactive in both communicating and listening.
4. Invite them to become a participant in the brand, not just an observer
In many respects, physicians are the product you are offering patients. It wouldn’t make sense to leave your product on the sidelines of a brand strategy. Get them actively involved. Since they are such a crucial element of the brand-driven patient experience, invite them to help shape it.
In the spirit of continuous improvement, elicit feedback from physicians on how the organization might better deliver on the brand promise. Be sure to include the physicians’ role in managing the staff and delivering the experience reflective of the brand.
Promotion is another tool to garner loyalty as long as it is managed strategically. Consider criteria practices need to meet in order to justify marketing support. These can be driven by patient expectations or operational metrics that ensure quality and patient satisfaction. By creating transparent criteria for support, you can remove some of the politics in service line marketing and incentivize better behavior.
Building long-term physician engagement and loyalty requires time. It’s not built through a postcard and a few meetings. It’s built on an organizational attitude. Brand loyalty is built on trust, and trust comes with a continuous track record of fulfilling the promises you make to patients, to staff and yes, to physicians.