As healthcare regulations and markets shift and change, so should a health system’s approach to building relationships with physicians.
For physician relationship managers (PRMs), one of the biggest challenges may be to stay on target and in front of physicians. We spoke with two experts from CHRISTUS Health—ranked among the top 10 Catholic health systems in the United States by size, with more than 40 hospitals and facilities in seven U.S. states—to glean their insights and best practices on engaging physicians.
From the Experts: The State of Physician Sales
Dana B. Smelser, Director of Marketing and Business Development at CHRISTUS Health Shreveport-Bossier
“The hospital is no longer the center of the healthcare universe. Outpatient services, value-based care, bundled payments, and consumerism are all changing the face of health care. What hasn’t changed is how critical the physician’s role is in health care. Managing physician sales is still crucial to the overall health of an organization. It’s our job to uncover what physicians need to do business with us, and then meet those needs.”
Lori Marshall Corbell, Director of Provider Relations with CHRISTUS Health
“One of the mistakes we make as leaders is not keeping physician relations people-focused. PRMs are the action-oriented people in the organization, and they are sometimes tapped for initiatives that draw them away from their true focus. In my day-to-day, keeping PRMs focused and in front of physicians and providers is what I have to work hardest to accomplish.”
Along with this high-level perspective about the current state of physician sales management, they offered three specific ways to successfully build and maintain these key relationships.
“Working with physicians is not ‘set it and forget it,’” Dana says. “It takes nurturing, just like any relationship does. We also have to understand how to communicate with each physician in a way that’s comfortable—one size does not fit all.”
Effective communication and physician sales do not solely rely on feel-good emotions or leaving behind food or promotional items. Dana highlights that physicians need to be positioned as strategic partners. The liaison has to have a deep knowledge of current healthcare trends and how a health system can respond to meet the needs of physicians.
Drilling Down on Data
“It’s easy to ignore data,” Dana says. “Sales professionals are relational and not always data-driven. However, you have to use data to confirm your intuition and business intelligence. Data also helps you build a road map to identify what’s missing.”
For PRMs, this means using data to analyze the market and build lists of physicians to target based on the needs of the hospital or health system. Goals should be set by strategy, as well as by service line, and they should have a deadline.
Use technology to your benefit. CRM database and software provide categorization, monitoring, and measurement of referral issues as they are reported by physician customers. This also allows for easy tracking of problems and resolutions.
Widening the Circle
Clinicians and medical practice office staff are valuable resources for building relationships that drive referrals. From information about practice growth and referral tracking to field intelligence about practice challenges and the business needs of the physician, these stakeholders can be a treasure trove of data about growing the breadth and depth of patient volume. Clinicians also have existing relationships with physicians which should be acknowledged and appreciated by PRMs.
On the other side, Dana and Lori note that PRMs can bring value to the relationship by providing market intelligence to both help clinicians understand PRM perspective and objectives and help clinicians meet their own objectives.
They recommend Involving clinicians in the strategy for building relationships and collecting data, and then telling the story of what the numbers say when reporting back on the success of referral development.
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