Strategies for Creating Strong Physician Engagement

By Kelle Laws, RN MN CNOR(e), Executive Director, Medical Devices

Visit with physicians every day, at different times, and not just in meetings attended by administration. Meet them at the operating room sink, accompany them on patient rounds, and give them tangible examples of opportunities for change.

JHC-June16_StrongHealthcare organizations that continuously advance in their relationships with physician leadership are recognized for their progressive nature.

Their goal is often to bolster the physician-hospital relationship so that it’s comparable to the physician-supplier relationship, which has traditionally been viewed as the most challenging for supply chain executives to disrupt.

More often than not, physicians want to better understand what their hospitals are going through. They are hungry for information, want to share their opinions, and appreciate being asked for their assistance. Physician groups won’t have all the answers, but they do tend to have uncomplicated and thoughtful input when viewing situations and coming up with solutions.

However, if physicians, particularly those in informal leadership roles, do not participate in organizational strategy discussions and lack understanding of the cost pressures facing their hospitals, they can’t help drive the organization toward improvement.

Physician engagement with the supply chain is vital to healthcare organizations
Building a strong, collaborative and transparent relationship between hospital leadership and physicians can make health organizations’ cultures more harmonious. Co-workers will feel it, patients will pick up on it, and the communities served will begin to recognize the sentiment.

Especially in metropolitan areas, where healthcare dollars are highly sought-after with duplicative services and television advertisements, the hospital organization that projects a cohesive administrative and physician relationship demonstrates valuable attributes that set it apart from the competition.

Additionally, if the aim of the organization is to launch an accountable care organization, such work is founded in physician relationships and alignment of objectives and purpose.

Elevating physician engagement starts with communication
First, visit with physicians every day, at different times, and not just in meetings attended by administration. Meet them at the operating room sink, accompany them on patient rounds, and give them tangible examples of opportunities for change. Showing them summarized and understandable information on utilization or surgery procedure preference cards could have an impact on their appreciation of the variation of practice to performance.

Use the following methods to include physicians in the conversation:

  • Ask for input. What changes could make their days better? How could elements of their practices run more smoothly? Physicians often have great ideas for altering the course of action, which they do all the time in order to treat patients without wasting energy or resources.
  • Know your audience. Overcoming communication barriers with physicians is often a struggle. Hospital leaders and physicians commonly speak different “languages,” and both groups must remember to speak in a manner that is understandable to the other. Hospital leaders cannot just talk numbers on a spreadsheet; they have to put data in real terms.
  • Focus on the bigger picture. Physicians commonly ask supply leaders how their product conversions will translate – in practice – to the cost of their patients’ care. Though it is rare in the short term to show the link between a product price decrease and a decline in the cost of a patient’s hospital care, the changes will become apparent in the big picture.
  • Strive for a two-way dialogue. Listen to physicians and empathize with them. At the same time, challenge them to relate, think differently, take chances, and champion a change (no matter how small).
  • Find a role that works for them. Some physicians are eager to sit at the contract negotiation table. Find a way to use their collaboration to your advantage with coaching and strategy discussions. Other physicians will prefer to remain unconnected from the process of negotiation and conflict, but they can still be engaged. Approach them individually, and make it clear that you value their input.

For hospital leaders, true innovation starts with the physicians. Find what resonates with them, get them involved, and aim for a mutual perspective toward high-quality care and patient satisfaction.


Kelle Laws is a member of ROi‘s Integrated Sourcing Solutions team, which collaborates with healthcare providers to manage the evaluation, selection, contracting, standardization, and utilization of products and services to support patient care. With more than 20 years of experience in healthcare supply standardization and process improvement consulting, she helps healthcare providers with contracting and clinical guidance for physician preference items, such as cardiovascular, orthopedic, and neurosurgery implants.