The Growth Channel

8 imperatives for physician outreach during Covid-19—and beyond

by Colin Gelbaugh and Nick Hauger

To navigate periods of crisis and recovery during America's new coronavirus epidemic, consistent and ongoing communication with referring physicians is paramount. Physician outreach teams are well positioned to use their relationships with physician offices to coordinate a unified Covid-19 strategy and to accelerate recovery plans. But to do so, their roles and responsibilities must evolve.

How to navigate the physician engagement challenge

For example, the regional surges of Covid-19 cases and efforts to prevent crowding in physical spaces may force physician liaison teams to move to a virtual outreach model for an extended period. And to stay top-of-mind among referring physician offices long-term, organizations must adapt to a virtual environment and still deliver superior service. Below are eight strategies to leverage physician outreach teams to support health system growth now and in the future.

1. Overcommunicate safety guidelines, operating protocols, and Covid-19 response developments.

Given the dynamic environment, physician liaisons can serve as a consistent source of truth to referring physician offices. Liaisons should be equipped to deliver up-to-date information about hospital screening, testing, and visitation policies to ensure referring physicians are delivering consistent messaging to patients.

2. Support care continuity efforts.

As some organizations consider re-postponing scheduled services, it will be important for liaisons to actively communicate health system's changing hours of operation and service availability. Liaisons should be active promoters of telehealth options and inform practices about how urgent referrals will be handled despite reduced capacity. 

3. Expand outreach targets beyond traditional "loyalists."

While special attention should be given to top referral sources, the current environment also presents an opportunity to establish new, non-traditional relationships. Consider using the time that liaison teams are saving on travel and in-person meetings to identify and engage new contacts by providing Covid-19 updates and developments.

4. Collect new market intelligence to support more effective outreach now and in the future.

When engaging new practices, learn their preferences, including their preferred modes and frequency of communication, as well as the current telehealth platform the practices are using. This information should be logged into a relationship management platform to inform near-term interactions about Covid-19 and initiatives in the future.

5. Host virtual events and meetings.

Virtual introductions facilitated by physician liaisons may be a more efficient use of physician time compared with in-person visits if designed appropriately. Experiment with virtual luncheons and open houses that develop new relationships among clinicians.

6. Fulfill non-traditional job functions related to Covid-19 response and recovery.

Liaisons can help develop surge and recovery plans by tracking bottlenecks for volume recovery and by identifying physicians who can flex to perform tasks such as managing ventilators. Additionally, liaisons can be a valuable asset for supporting essential functions with heightened demand, such as welcoming and screening patients, and staffing the call center.

7. Work with leadership to reset growth goals.

Liaisons should communicate with health system, facility, and service line leadership to identify high-priority services to promote during the recovery period, develop realistic growth goals for the remainder of the year, and track recovery of upstream referral sources.

8. Continue to serve as practices' problem-solver in chief.

Liaison teams should inquire about issues limiting practices' ability to operate at full capacity and look for ways to resolve those issues with health system resources. For example, health systems may be able to help practices purchase personal protective equipment at acceptable price points and develop protocols that address patient anxieties about the safety of health care settings. Liaisons also should learn physicians' concerns about the safety of performing scheduled procedures or ensuring adequate OR block time—and communicate those concerns to leadership.

Physician liaisons can continue to be valuable contributors to a health system's strategy through Covid-19. By transitioning to a virtual outreach model and elevating service to physician practices, organizations may find that they are not only able to better their relationships with affiliated physicians, but also create deeper relationships with new physicians coming out of the crisis.

Navigating the physician engagement challenge

Use the three steps in this infographic to help scope your physician engagement strategy.

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