ACHE 2017: Physician engagement—it’s not as hard as you may think

The key to engagement is understanding how physicians think and what motivates them.

CHICAGO—Without the support of physicians, most hospital quality improvement initiatives wouldn’t get off the ground. But with so many demands on their time, it’s often difficult to get the attention of physicians, let alone try to engage them in new projects.

However, it’s not as hard as some people may lead you to believe, say John Byrnes, M.D., and Susan Teman, R.N., who offered strategies on how to engage physicians during a session this week at the American College of Healthcare Executives 2017 Congress on Healthcare Leadership.

Susan Teman

The key to engagement is understanding how physicians think and what motivates them. For instance, the welfare of the patient is their number-one concern, according to Teman, a simulation specialist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, a pediatric hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a division of Spectrum Health. They want to take great care of patients and they want the best outcomes.

“They like to be the captain of the ship. They were straight-A students, perfectionists, very competitive and at the top of the class. They like to be in charge of things,” she says.

Because doctors are used to being independent, clashes can occur when they are thrown into a hospital where administrators want them to be good team members and tell them what to do and when to do it. But they are problem solvers by nature so just as they will assess a patient’s symptoms before they treat a patient, if you bring a hospital problem to physicians, they will assess and find ways to make it better.

And they are incredibly competitive so when you talk to them about outcomes, quality, safety and satisfaction, it will often drive some change with physicians.

John Byrnes
John Byrnes

The secret, says Byrnes, a healthcare quality expert who formerly served as the chief quality officer at Spectrum Health, is often being direct and getting straight to the point. “I can say that as a group, doctors across the board really want to create some of the best clinical outcomes in the country,” he says, noting it can be quite effective to simply say to a doctor, “We want the best clinical outcomes, can you help us do that?”

That simple sentence can become the beginning of a conversation to take the organization to the next level, he says.

Brynes also offers what he calls are “silver bullets” to physician engagement:

  • Pay a physician leader to spend a quarter of his or her time on a quality issue, such as working to prevent complications after colon surgery. Byrnes says it may cost $70,000 to pay a medical director to lead these types of projects, but the end result is multimillion-dollar cost savings based on the reductions in complications. To achieve those savings you have to convince the other physicians it’s the right thing to do and have them agree to follow protocols to avoid those complications. “Could I do it without physician engagement? Absolutely not,” he says. “Could I do it without the medical director? No.”
  • Leverage their competitive spirit. Because doctors are data-driven, a report that has good information on performance will lead to instantaneous engagement, he says.