Commentary

Creating Better Physician Communication Within The Hospital

In the wake of the Affordable Care Act, many hospitals have channeled the majority of their marketing efforts on consumers. Building brand presence with consumers is an important aspect of ensuring a patient chooses your hospital versus another with similar services and treatment options. However, don’t rule out the physicians’ role in driving consumers to your hospital. Physician referrals greatly influence a patient’s decision to choose one hospital over another. Physician outreach should be a key part of a hospital’s communication strategy.

The following communication approaches will ensure that your hospital stays top-of-mind for your physician community.

1. Centralize communication

In order to create an effective communications plan, start with a simple audit of what communication has worked and where improvements need to be made. Begin by reviewing who within your hospital or health system is sending information to the physicians or HCPs. In our experience, we have found that uncoordinated messages come from multiple constituents within a hospital, and although some forms of communications cannot be simply discontinued, the barrage of senders can be coordinated. In one case, a multi-hospital network was surprised to find out that they had redundant communications teams with overlapping communications charters. This created needless marketing expense and frustrated the practitioners receiving the information. By coordinating and centralizing the communication effort within your hospital or health system, you will reduce effort and increase the effectiveness of your communication.

2. Focus on physicians’ need

This step begins the rationalization process and allows the question, “How much communication is required versus how much communication is too much to absorb?” Start by defining what types of communications are needed based on past success factors and the broadest definition of need. Create a list based on consumer-oriented communications and internal communications (such as clinical communication, scheduling, administration, CME and training) and then refine the list with sub-categories. As patterns emerge, reduce the urge to create a category for each message. For example, one hospital reduced the amount of messages sent to physicians and HCPs by 40% yet increased the engagement level, thereby saving thousands of dollars by shifting much of the useful communication online. 

3. Predict likelihood to engage

The success of your communication “campaigns” will only be as effective as your ability to target and personalize your message to the needs of your audience. While prediction at this stage does not necessarily require predictive modeling, if you have a team or a tool set of modeling capabilities, now is the time to tap these resources to predict the physician likelihood to engage. Many firms that target physicians or HCPs have used this approach for some time. If you do not have modeling capabilities, use primary questionnaires as a proxy for likelihood to engage, free tools such as SurveyMonkey can be utilized to uncover the intent and interests of physicians. Many hospitals we work with have invested in surveys of clinical staff more broadly, and this data can be parsed to formulate and refine the segments of potentially engaged physicians.

4. Communicate to the willing

Physicians are busy and moving rapidly between care settings. Therefore, the proper cadence and content must be tailored to the physician. Merge the results of the content audit with the results from the willingness to engage model and you will have created a highly effective and relevant communication strategy. Relevant content delivered in a channel sensitive manner (email or mobile) will promote goodwill between the institution and its professional clinical staff and drive in-house marketing expense down. Certain required messages notwithstanding, most communications to physicians and HCPs within hospitals can be drastically reduced, modified and improved.

In an attempt to better communicate patient safety, administration issues, clinical affairs and other important topics to physicians and HCPs within the hospital system, progress will be more important than perfection. By constantly managing the levers above and improving these steps along the way, progress will be made that benefits the hospital and reduces marketing costs. By creating mechanisms for ongoing direct dialogue for feedback and visiting the communication preference audit annually, you will have a process for continued communications success. 

These steps dramatically improve the communication plan of a hospital and elevate the communication department into the enviable arena of the effective steward of marketing capital expenditures and the expert physician and HCP Relationship Manager.

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