Prescription for Change

How to build a more committed medical staff

by Allyson Helmers

It’s no secret that health care executives want to build a more committed medical staff. Not only is it good for morale, but improving relationships with physicians is also just good business: it drives greater patient satisfaction and better margin performance. And for members focusing on population health, PCP engagement specifically is more crucial than ever.

For many organizations, an important first step to increasing physician commitment levels is to evaluate their working relations with both independent and closely affiliated medical staff members. However, even after such an evaluation, how to improve partnerships with the medical staff often remains a mystery.

To help answer the inevitable “so where do we go from here?”, experts with our Survey Solutions Physician Engagement team analyzed engagement data from over 21,000 respondents across 100+ member hospitals, health systems, and medical groups.

The analysis produced a number of forward-looking key insights, which are profiled in the 2015 national benchmark report on physician engagement. One particularly timely insight resonated for our members pursuing population health.

Your independent and economically affiliated PCPs most likely merit heightened focus.

Whether independent or fully employed, primary care physicians are among the least committed specialties nationally:

Measuring both engagement, which we define as organizational commitment for close economic affiliates, and alignment, or business loyalty for independent medical staff members, the chart above shows that internal and family medicine physicians exhibit low levels of commitment relative to physicians overall.

Why the growing concern about these specialties? For most organizations, partnership with PCPs is—or will soon be—an important part of economic success. While this isn’t a new idea, organizations are still struggling to develop strong partnerships.

For many organizations moving toward population health models, PCPs are crucial to ensuring continuity of care. But they are in increasingly short supply and often face unmanageable workflows.

Primary care physicians are also often more engaged than they are aligned. This is particularly concerning for organizations transitioning to models that incorporate PCPs who are not members of the medical staff, but whose activities greatly impact care delivery within the hospital.

So where should you go from here?

To effectively drive partnership with PCPs, organizations should focus on expanding and customizing their global physician strategy. The top drivers of engagement and alignment for PCPs among organizations in our 2014 cohort are nearly identical to those for all physicians, though in a different rank order.

The message here is that there are far more similarities than differences in the top improvement opportunities for partnership with PCPs and for the broader economically affiliated medical staff.

While PCPs of varying economic relationships have similar priorities to the overall medical staff, there are some important differences:

  1. Employed PCPs value work-life balance and a sound EHR strategy more than physicians in other specialties
  2. Independent PCPs notably value service excellence

So what is the main takeaway? Organizations prioritizing PCPs need to custom-fit their general physician strategy for this group. To solidify improved working relations, ongoing collaboration among organizations and PCPs of all economic affiliations will be key.

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