Integrating Physician Recruitment and Physician Relations
By Allison McCarthy, Principal, Barlow/McCarthy, Plymouth, MA
Doing more with less has become the norm. Even before this recent economic slump, we in healthcare learned long ago to live with shrinking resources. Declining reimbursement and increasing costs have become a way of life. So it's no surprise that we continuously get asked to do more with less — or assume more responsibility without additional resources.
The need to attend to key physician relationships is becoming increasingly important as the payers require more interdependence through reform and new global payment structures. In this environment, past success is no longer an indicator of future outcomes. Rather, navigating these new waters requires a higher level of attention to those in the boat — ensuring that everyone is rowing in the same direction.
So our leaders are asking us to assume responsibility for other aspects of the hospital/physician strategy. This can be more good news than bad depending on how we manage it. On the plus side, this scope expansion elevates our value to the organization. We have become center stage in helping the organization fulfill its broader strategic agenda. Along with it comes that connection to the C-suite, learning more about market position and competitive strategies and the professional growth that comes with it. The challenge is how we manage our time, energy and effort going forward. The critical framework for blending these functions successfully is determining how much attention is given to physician recruitment and physician relations — as distinct and separate efforts — versus creatively integrating strategies and tactics that can impact both.
Four criteria can be used to determine those “attention” allocations.
Organizational priorities – Since the organization’s focus can often seem chaotic with priorities moving like shifting sand, it helps to look at as big a picture as possible. There, in the broader strategies, we should find the key elements of the organization’s core definition of success. Specifically, which service lines are slated for growth? Is that growth to come from recruiting new physicians or enhancing the practices of the existing specialists? Are there services and specialties that provide a supporting role to those key strategic service lines that also need a boost? How so? Identifying these “critical few” priorities gives us the barometer needed to make good “attention” decisions.
Other resources – This is where we “stretch” beyond our own domain and creatively consider other support.
Optimize efforts – What specific tactics and actions have an impact on both physician relations and physician recruitment? The biggest bang for our “attention” buck comes from those situations when the two functions overlap. So let's consider a few areas where this naturally occurs.
Internally: Are there organizational representatives who could assist with some tactics and expand capacity beyond the traditional physician recruitment/relations group? Can we do more to encourage members of the medical staff to help source candidates, nurture newly onboarded physicians or engage a splinter group in discussion? Are there high admitters who should come off your list because they will only interface with members of the leadership team? Are there functions that just need to do more of what they should be doing, i.e. credentialing, practice management, marketing?
Externally: While we have become proudly entrenched in “doing it all ourselves,” there may be elements that don’t require an internal person to get it done successfully. Consider recruitment sourcing or physician relations marketing communication as examples.
Strengths: Both yours and those of others. What is your sweet spot? What things just come to you naturally, where you are most productive and happiest? And what is that for others? We will be more efficient and effective in those areas that we like to do and feel we do well.
Setting Recruitment Priorities
Determining physician recruitment need is more than just doing a community needs assessment. While that analytical exercise is extremely important, it is the qualitative input we gain from our internal stakeholders that is the most powerful driver of recruitment priorities. Gathering medical staff perceptions of current specialty resources — from an access, quality and quantity perspective — becomes an opportunity to also learn more about them as physicians/clinicians. We glean insights on how they practice, their aspirations, expectations, competitive concerns, etc… thus creating a physician relations opportunity.
During recruitment support
Working with practices to recruit a new colleague is another integration opportunity — if done well. Rather than meeting with the practice to run through a pre-launch information gathering checklist, take time to dialogue with them about their individual practice goals and interests, their preferences on how to keep them informed through the search process and any concerns they may have about adding a new colleague. You then just had a physician relations conversation. Additionally, while sharing insights about the current physician recruitment marketplace and recommendations on how to best position their opening, with the right approach, your advice and counsel can be perceived as a helpful benefit from the hospital.
Recruiting for relations
Physician recruitment supports physician relations when identifying and selecting those that “fit.” Recruiting with a physician relations orientation means continuously assessing the medical staff’s clinical needs. It also considers the work style and culture as well as the personality strengths of referral relationships.
Interviews and site visits
Recruiting for “fit” also means engaging as many members of the medical staff as possible during candidate interviews and site visits — not only involving all of the practice partners but also colleagues in their same clinical department or call coverage group. Including referral sources — those who would refer to candidates or those who would be receiving referrals from candidates — as well as formal and informal physician leaders adds another layer of early relationship development to the process.
Onboarding and retention
The most obvious integrative point between recruitment and relations is after the contract is signed. The challenge is getting all of the details taken care of without having to do it ourselves. This is where we put our influence skills to the test. Our role is to coordinate and manage while internal colleagues complete the tasks. It includes asking administrative and medical staff leaders to orient the new physician to the organizational culture and market strategy. When we can retain a high level view, we can assess what worked and what didn’t across multiple onboarding engagements. Working to continuously improve the practice experience for new recruits and moving the organization toward a “destination place to practice” then becomes our physician relations role fulfillment. Successfully leading these combined functions means switching from silo thinking to integrative thinking. As you step away and review your “to do” list, reflect on the organizational strategy and what has the biggest payoff potential for the organization’s success. We work with a lot of “black-and-white” thinkers, but relationship management is really gray. Our job is to find creative solutions to implement both the planned and the unplanned. The boundaries are not well defined — so we establish those delineations ourselves by working more strategically. This is our chance to learn how to work smarter and deliver more than we ever thought possible.