10 Strategies for Improving Your Physician Communications

By The SHSMD Team posted 08-06-2018 22:14

By Kriss Barlow and Kathy Dean

In today’s health care landscape, it’s never been more important for leaders to closely communicate with physicians and keep them abreast of key hospital and health system priorities. And yet a 2016 Advisory Board Company toolkit called out the fact that over half of physicians report they’re not kept informed of their organization’s strategic plans.1

Fresh off a recent lively discussion on the topic with the medical staff at University of Iowa (UI) Health Care, here are ten steps you can take to bring focus and best practices to your physician communications.

  1. Make sure information is relevant. Don’t force doctors to sort through tons of messages to determine what’s important. Frankly, they won’t because they’re constantly inundated with information from a variety of sources. Use good judgement to consider what information is truly relevant for them, and make it clear what you want them to do with it.

  2. Be judicious about adding communication tools. While most physicians are proficient with apps and other digital resources, their world is about efficient and effective patient care. They aren’t looking for yet another information tool that will increase their workload. If you are adding a communication vehicle, even one focused on their needs, consider what can be eliminated.

  3. Consolidate messages to physicians. Consider what your department is sending, but also work to consolidate communications from other departments to prevent overloading physicians with a flurry of uncoordinated messages from your organization.

  4. Develop criteria for effective physician communications. Evaluate what types of information should be delivered face-to-face and what can be shared by the department chair at a meeting. Does the communication warrant an individual email, or could it be included in a weekly briefing? Typically, the more it affects the physician personally, the more personal your information channel should be.

  5. Understand and respect their schedules. Try to avoid asking physicians to make decisions that would negatively impact their productivity. For example, inviting doctors to a 10 a.m. meeting may interfere with their office schedule. At one well-run, large academic specialty center, the practice administrator meets with surgeons from 4:30 to 7 a.m. before they go to the operating room.

  6. Inform doctors early. Physicians are a key part of your organization’s inner circle and need to be made aware of important issues before the average consumer. Call it respect, but it’s also crucial because your doctors are frequently your first line of communication for patients who turn to them with questions.

  7. Involve them in identifying solutions. A 2016 Medscape study showed that physicians, especially employed doctors, are frustrated with their lack of control and involvement in hospital and health system decision-making. When issues arise, take a joint, collaborative approach to problem solving by seeking physicians’.2 

  8. Be competent. Right or wrong, doctors won’t see leaders as competent based on their title. And, unfortunately, one administrator who is a poor communicator can cast a cloud over everyone in the C-suite. Choose your spokesperson carefully and help them to be a consistent voice of senior management with your physicians.

  9. Communicate in a style physicians can relate to. Remember that doctors generally spend their reading time on scientific journals about their specialty. So write like a scientific journal. If you ask for physicians’ opinions, be sure to follow up with them. Otherwise, you risk sending the message that you don’t care about their feedback.

  10. Don’t assume. Just because a message was sent doesn’t mean it was received. You probably can’t count the number of times you’ve heard leadership or staff say, “We told them, they just didn’t listen.” Sharp professionals know effective communication is never once and done. 

To learn more...
SHSMD members, read the full article “10 Strategies for Improving Your Physician Communications” in the Spectrum newsletter.
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This article was written by:

Kriss Barlow
Hudson, WI
(715) 381-1171

Kathy Dean
Chief Marketing & Communications Officer
University of Iowa Health Care
Iowa City, IA
(319) 335-7942

[1] A 2016 Advisory Board Company toolkit

[2] 2016 Medscape study