Winning the Hospital Physician Engagement Battle

Employee engagement is critical to healthcare providers, as the Harvard Business Review notes. Value-based purchasing with Medicare and Medicaid requires improved operations to ensure better patient outcomes and improved care. Miss the desired outcomes and the losses could literally come to millions of dollars for many hospitals. “It is, quite literally, a make-or-break moment for financial sustainability,” wrote Rick Sherwood of consultancy Towers Watson.

A Towers Watson 2013 study showed that less than half the U.S. hospital workforce was highly engaged. People who aren’t engaged are unlikely to provide the focused level of services needed to meet expected outcomes and preserve funding.

Hospital leaders have come to recognize the importance of employee engagement, according to Gallup. But the consultancy, most widely known for its work in opinion polling, says that many hospital management teams are still missing an important point: physician engagement.

[F]or some reason, the concept of physician engagement isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Perhaps healthcare leaders assume that physicians are self-motivated and their interest in their patients or research trumps the need to engage them.

But physician engagement is vital to a hospital’s or system’s success. In one hospital system that Gallup studied, for example, fully engaged and engaged physicians gave the hospital an average of 3% more outpatient referrals and 51% more inpatient referrals than physicians who were not engaged or who were actively disengaged.

Part of the problem might be the normal working arrangements for physicians. Doctors typically work in their own practices and have admitting privileges and care for their patients when in a hospital. Not being employees of the institution adds to the difficulty in improving engagement. As Craig Kamins of Gallup notes, even when they are employees, physicians function both as stakeholders and customers of a hospital and may also act as employees as well. That dual role, plus their demanding schedules and an often arms-length relationship with hospital administration, can make it difficult to measure engagement.

Administrators must more directly work with the doctors to help assess engagement and work to both understand the stress physicians are under and show that they actively pay attention to physician input. Bring a cross-functional team of doctors in to review communication processes. Management can learn about the stumbling blocks to communication and engagement. Appointing physician liaisons to other groups of front-line caregivers can “provide the ‘voice of the physician’ on key issues that front-line caregivers have identified as barriers to their own engagement and are working to correct in their action-planning processes.”

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