Prescription for Change

The real threat to mobile communication with your physicians

by Chloe Lewis

We’ve been getting a lot of questions from physician executives about their medical staff communication strategy, whether or not they should go “mobile,” and what that really means. In case you missed it, we responded with a post on why smartphones are taking over health care.

In short, a mobile communication platform—specifically, a smartphone-enabled solution—is something everyone should be thinking about. But a smartphone communication platform on its own will not solve an organization’s communication woes; its utilization has to be aligned with system leadership’s broader strategy.

Put another way, smartphone communication won’t live up to its potential unless you’ve clarified your system’s leadership roles and communication expectations. Here’s why that’s so difficult—and what your system can do to ensure the success of its mobile communication platform.

Smartphone communication only as successful as the strategy driving it

Our partners in the Advisory Board’s Crimson technologies division have seen this challenge firsthand. We recently launched Crimson Connect, a smartphone communication platform designed to improve the interconnectivity of physicians and administrative leaders across a health system.

In working with beta partners, our team discovered that the biggest barrier to effective roll-out is not the functionality of the platform itself, but rather an organization’s own clarity of system leadership roles and expectations for leaders’ communication within the organization. Not surprisingly, given the rapid pace of change within the health system over the past few years, most organizations are not sure which leaders should have control over what communication with physicians. And they’re especially unsure which messages they should prioritize.

It’s critical to figure this out. We already know, from past Physician Executive Council research, that communication is central to physician engagement. Health systems need physicians to feel that they are kept informed of the organization’s strategic plan and direction—it is a top engagement driver—yet, just 49% of the 23,000+ physicians we’ve surveyed believe that they have this information.

Furthermore, a successful communication—and in turn engagement—strategy hinges on activating the "silent majority." Most physicians don’t feel like their voice is heard or counted by leadership, but this is exactly what a smartphone communication platform can do: facilitate two-way communication with physicians, giving them a voice and the opportunity for input on system strategy.

Four ways to lay the foundation for effective smartphone communication

So what can a health system do to ensure the success of a mobile communications platform like Crimson Connect?

First, align the platform with your existing leadership structure. Health care systems must develop a nuanced understanding of their own leadership strategy and expectations for communication in order to properly set utilization controls, permissions for content distribution, guidelines for frequency-of-send, and expectations for content shared within the platform.

These expectations must be aligned with a leadership network of content creators, as outlined below. For instance, some organizations have set parameters so that physician leaders’ ability to send content depends on their purview—a system leader can send messages to all physicians system-wide whereas a service line leader can send messages to all physicians within his or her respective service line. This cuts down on the clutter physicians often have to sift through, ensuring they’re only receiving messages tailored to their role. Additionally, practicing physicians have the opportunity to selectively join specialty and initiative-specific groups—these forums allow physicians to share ideas and content with anyone within that group.

Sample Governance Model for Smartphone Communication Platform Users
Leaders' Communication Reach Scoped to Their Area of Influence

Second, train all system leaders on platform messaging strategies. All administrative and physician leaders should undergo brief training on mobile-specific communication tactics. These sessions should teach which messages should be sent through the communication platform versus over other channels such as email, along with messaging best practices for length, use of attachments, and subject lines.

Third, preserve communication space for the silent majority. Don’t make the common mistake of setting the platform’s user controls too tight—regulating communication distribution and response so heavily—that the silent majority loses its voice. Communication groups based on specialty and initiative interest will be the life blood of the platform and should be the channels where platform administrators see the most activity.

For successful adoption, the platform must be designed with practicing physicians, and not system leaders, in mind as end-users.

Finally, leverage system marketing and communication personnel. Most system leaders will not have the time or expertise to independently manage platform use. Partner with your system’s existing communication personnel to optimize the quality of the content and follow-through on the platform strategy.

For more information on Crimson Connect, the Advisory Board’s smartphone communication platform, please email Corinne Jurgensen,


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How to get important messages to physicians

Physicians report that critical messages are not getting through, and those that do get through often are irrelevant or strike the wrong tone. The good news is you don't need to scrap your entire communications strategy—you just need to make four changes to bridge the divide.


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