Deepen Physician Relationships with Smartphone Applications

By Richard D. Stier, MBA

Hospitals and physicians have financial incentives to align in order to improve the quality of care and to streamline its delivery. Extraordinary physician relationships are a prerequisite for that alignment and are built on a foundation of trust. A Tiller-Hewitt Healthcare Strategies blog post from December 15, 2011, noted, “From The Advisory Board to HealthLeaders to perhaps your own physician satisfaction survey results, the top 3 to 5 areas of medical staff contention are almost always related in some form or fashion to trust, collaboration, and communication. Meaningful relationships develop as physician liaisons focus on uncovering the needs of the physicians. The efforts of the physician liaison are ultimately measured by improved physician satisfaction and retention, quality, and incremental growth in referrals.”

Physician liaisons frequently deal with several frustrating realities:

  • Inconsistent coordination as to who has visited or is scheduled to visit with a specific physician and when that visit has or will occur
  • Scattered notes from previous visits with physicians leaving liaisons to wonder what a physician’s key issues are and what progress has been made in addressing them
  • Lack of reliable issue-tracking and follow-up process, resulting in key physician issues sometimes “falling through the cracks” – with consequently weakened physician relationships
  • Incomplete physician referral reporting, making it difficult to accurately assess trends and correlations
  • Inability to make fully-informed business decisions due to missing, inaccurate, or unreliable information or multiple sources of conflicting information

Has your physician liaison program experienced one or more of these difficulties? If you could solve those challenges that afflict your organization, how might your physician interactions improve? What could be the result of trust-based relationships with physicians who refer patients to high margin clinical services? What might be the impact of aligning with physicians who currently split their admissions between your hospital and others?

Effective physician liaisons are problem solvers. They are not about superficial promotion or transparent sales techniques. They establish relationships. They build trust. They roll up their sleeves and listen. They strain to understand physicians’ verbal and nonverbal responses to determine what they can we do to help physicians be more successful at their hospital. They restate their understanding of the response to check for accuracy and then listen for fresh nuances. Physician liaisons follow up and follow through. They earn the support of the CEO.

Physician liaisons require a database of accurate information. For example, in advance of a meeting, they want to quickly learn who has recently visited with a given provider. They need a summary of that provider’s key issues and of their organization’s progress to date in addressing those issues.

Physician liaisons also need information about admission patterns and trends. This data allows them to visit with physicians whose admissions have declined and ask, “We’ve noticed fewer referrals from your practice. I wanted to connect with you in person and talk about what might be the reasons for that. I’d like to understand what we could do to be helpful.”

The significant growth of hospitalist programs is a trend affecting physician liaisons. Fewer primary care physicians (PCPs) directly admit patients to hospitals. Physician liaisons need information about PCPs who refer patients for subsequent admission but who don’t admit themselves.

This trend has been noted in the mainstream media. USA Today reported on December 13, 2011, “…many primary care physicians no longer visit their patients in the hospital because most hospitals have full-time physicians called hospitalists who care for patients in the facility. As a result, hospitals have fewer opportunities to interact with doctors in the community to tell them about a new CT scanner or new specialist.”

Smartphone tools have been developed to address the frequent difficulties and the unique information needs of physician liaisons. These tools can connect the liaison to the provider database instantly, eliminating paper maps, handwritten notes, Post-Its, and reliance on memory. They can save time and reduce frustrations related to managing the process of visiting with physicians and replace it with the freedom to think clearly about each physician’s issues and opportunities. For example, when out visiting physicians, a liaison can immediately access critical information, such as who has visited with a given provider and the priority concerns of that physician.

With these tools, the physician liaison can:

  • Gain access to physician profiles such as contact information, education, specialties, affiliations, unique expertise, and notes, including recent visits and key issues.
  • Get directions to each practice using a link to online mapping sites for visual routing and estimated travel times.
  • Document direct outreach expenses with a running tally of the value of physician meals and gifts in compliance with federal Stark legislation.
  • Record meeting notes and follow-up items logging dates, times, and information following each contact to reduce the risk of physician priorities “falling through the cracks.”
  • Other possible Smartphone application features may enable liaisons to:
    • Administer continuing medical education and events.
    • Automate provider welcome letters and visit follow-up letters.
    • Identify, segment, and target specific physicians for visits.
    • Document what physicians like and don’t like about working with your organization.
    • Validate physician liaison program impact, generating and emailing reports.

Summary: Whatever the scope and objectives of a specific organization’s physician liaison program, hospitals and physicians have financial incentives to work together in order to improve the quality and delivery of care. Smartphone applications can help physician liaisons deepen the relationships that enable that alignment by employing handheld technology to automate this important role.

Richard D. Stier, M.B.A., is vice-president of marketing at HealthLine Systems, Inc.

[From the June/July 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]