December 15, 2011

To boost referrals, hospitals bulk up physician liaison forces

Daily Briefing

    Kaiser Health News this week examined hospital efforts to boost referrals through physician liaisons, highlighting major health organizations that reaped big benefits from dispatching their own sales forces.

    While hospitals always have tried to build meaningful relationships with physicians, organizations in recent years have been employing more direct strategies. During liaison office visits—which can last between five and 20 minutes—hospital representatives can offer physicians specific quality and patient satisfaction data and help them book better OR appointments or refer patients to hospital-based specialists.

    The representatives also can relay messages from physicians to the hospital, such as requests for particular medical devices in the OR. Liaisons "give our physicians and their patients a voice and [allow us] to listen to any concerns the doctors may have and to address those," says Ed Fishbough, a spokesperson for HCA, which has at least 150 employees who make physician visits.

    In addition to cultivating relationships, sales reps also are driving higher admissions. According to KHN, Tenet Healthcare—which recently doubled its sales force to 152 liaisons across 49 hospitals—says the strategy helped increase the number of physicians who actively refer patients to its hospitals by 39% since 2007. Tenet COO Stephen Newman says the hospital system's liaisons target physicians who split referrals or do not yet refer to Tenet facilities.

    According to Christine Perry, manager of Duke University Health System's physician liaison program, "I think everyone wants to grow their market and lots of hospitals see that the No. 1 way to get referrals is physician-to-physician interaction, and the second best way is physician-to-physician-liaison interaction" (Galewitz, KHN, 12/13).

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