When I worked in strategic planning 15 years ago, physician engagement had been a top priority; it remains so today. Despite the vast amount of literature and lectures on the topic, few organizations outside of staff-model hospitals have successfully achieved anything resembling engagement. Administrators and physicians intellectually understand the importance, but little demonstrable evidence of success exists.
IT the catalyst for physician engagement
This must change. And information technology is an excellent catalyst that can be used as leverage to move the process forward.
As the electronic health record grows increasingly ubiquitous, physician engagement related to successful adoption and usability is self-evident. One key success factor in all EHR implementations lies in physician ownership and leadership. Positioned well, this experience of deep and meaningful interaction can be a springboard for continued engagement in others areas.
Here are some practical suggestions that have worked well for other healthcare organizations:
- Steering committees. In addition to having physicians serve on steering committees, have them take leadership roles. My IT steering committee is my “board,” with a practicing physician as chair. The physicians staffing our EHR steering committee ultimately owned the outcome.
- Forums and retreats. Provide additional opportunities to focus on physician-specific issues. These groups can provide advice and insights on numerous challenges and opportunities. We continue to enhance engagement with our annual retreats, led and organized by clinicians.
- Leadership councils. Create physician councils with voice and clout. Allow them to lead and set the agenda.
- Chief medical information officer. Critical to IT success, this role offers yet another senior leadership opportunity for physicians through which they can influence the organization and medical staff at-large.
- Service line leadership. Most organizations tend to emphasize specific strategies related to service lines. Populate the leadership of these service lines with physicians and ensure that they have real influence and control.
- Rounding. Schedule regular times to speak with physicians and engage on their turf. I spend a significant amount of time not just in their lounges, but in their practices, in the OR suite, and during rounds. I take notes and follow up.
- Social media. Many physicians have a growing interest in social media to enhance their practices. Administration and physicians can learn much from one another in this booming area. Engage here for exponential influence.
- Relationships. This goes against the grain of the work-home silo mentality, but the more time you can spend with physicians outside of typical meetings, the better. Engagement accelerates five-fold in a nonwork environment yet requires formal and informal time together for maximum success.
- Levels. Engagement improves as influence on patient-care increases. The more authority you give the physicians where their decisions have direct impact on patient care, the more engagement you will get.
- Kilimanjaro. I just spent two weeks with five physicians climbing Kilimanjaro and then opening and operating a medical clinic for the underserved. I understand this is an outlier. Nevertheless, the deepened level of engagement we will carry with us now as a result of this shared journey is priceless. Find your own Kilimanjaro where neither party has direct benefit; sweat and cry together.
Move physician integration from chatter and planning documents to something tangible. Achieve success by ensuring that authority is commensurate with title. A fancy-sounding title will no longer suffice. As they say in my adopted state of Texas, you don't want an “all hat, no cattle” situation. Leverage IT as a catalyst toward deeper and shared engagement.
Edward MarxChief information officerTexas Health ResourcesArlington, Texas
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