Prescription for Change

4 ways to get messages to your physicians

Health system leaders know that reaching a sustainable, value-based business model will require communicating a compelling vision and critical information to their physicians. “Communication is the essential skill of leaders apart from breathing in and out. If you can’t communicate, you can’t be a leader,” as one chief medical officer (CMO) told us.

So why is it that when we asked CMOs from across the country, “How do you ensure your high-priority messages reach 100% of physicians on the medical staff” they said “we can’t”?

Physicians confirm that organizational messages aren't cutting through the noise. CMOs may think they spend all day talking with physicians, but the Advisory Board’s Physician Engagement Survey reports that fewer than half of physicians (49%) think that they’re kept informed of the organization’s strategic plans and direction.

There are two issues here. One is lack of scalability in the one-on-one or small-group conversation approach. CMOs may spend most of their time talking to physicians at the tail ends of the spectrum—either the disengaged physician outliers, or plugged-in, energized physicians who voluntarily provide their input on key initiatives. That means CMOs typically don't connect at all with the silent majority physicians in the middle of the spectrum.

The second issue is that, while organizations may have scalable communication efforts in place, like e-mail lists, newsletters, or physician portals, those efforts are simply not effective. Maybe there are technical problems with their email lists; maybe the types of emails that physicians receive are not catching their attention.

The good news is, some health systems are reaching all physicians on their medical staffs. We've seen four common imperatives across these types of organizations.

1. Build a communication platform.
Simply over-communicating (“we say everything seven different ways, seven different times”) is not a communication strategy, but that’s the route most organizations take. Make a greater investment in infrastructure, staff, and technology to build a strategy that matches messages to the right channels.

2. Craft messages physicians want to read.
Too many organizations send out hospital-centric messages that are full of jargon and information that's not relevant to physicians. These organizations end up contributing to the noise they’re trying to cut through. Instead, consider the physician “WIFM” (What’s in it for me?) and craft messages that explicitly lead with the implications for physician interests and motivators.

3. Meet physicians at their (new) watering holes.
Hospitals are largely standing on the sidelines while physicians find new ways to connect online. Tap into new online and mobile platforms such as Twitter and text messaging to get bite-size, critical messages to physicians, 80% of whom use their smartphones daily.

4. Have a conversation.
According to Advisory Board Survey Solutions, only about 42% of physicians think the health systems they work with are open and responsive to their input . Bring disenfranchised physicians into existing communication forums (e.g., town halls, focus groups, rounding) and demonstrate a willingness to solicit and act on physician feedback. For a scalable version of the same goal, try adding more structured input channels—such as feedback surveys on issues where physicians have meaningful ownership—to your communication strategy mix.

More on effective physician communication

Our Physician Communication Toolkit offers benchmarks, templates, tips, and step-by-step guides to help physician executives and communication staff save time and avoid common pitfalls when implementing new communication strategies.