Historically, physicians and hospitals have had an almost adversarial relationship that too often has been chacracterized by a lack of trust. But recent shifts in healthcare now emphasize the need for greater cooperation between them. For example, payers now are tying reimbursement to outcomes such as reductions in unnecessary readmissions, operating room times, and disease rates. Hospitals cannot meet these expectations without the help of physicians.
On the flip side, the infrastructure required to engage in timely and accurate data reporting is becoming too great for physicians to handle on their own. Furthermore, patients are demanding a better overall healthcare experience.
Building robust physician-hospital relationships can be challenging, but the benefits to all parties—patients, providers, hospitals and payers—are significant.
Here are five strategies for strengthening physician-hospital relationships that can lead to better clinical decisions and patient care:
When developing a physician contract, hospitals should clearly define their expectations in terms of performance improvement activities such as reducing infections, establishing better communication with nurses or achieving clinical benchmarks. Physicians should be involved in setting these expectations and in making strategic decisions about how to support them. If physicians feel a hospital is dictating what they must do and how they must do it, they are likely to resist.If they’re involved in setting expectations and goals from the start, they are more likely to embrace and support alignment.
Put a physician leadership structure into place
To keep the hospital-physician partnership alive and growing, hospitals need physician leaders who are adept at fostering communication by reaching out and listening to their colleagues. These individuals should frequently visit providers to talk about expectations and share data. Physicians do not want to feel they are being managed by hospital administrators. Therefore, it is critical for physician leaders to take a visible and active role in establishing and sustaining rapport among their peers.
Offer something tangible
For physicians to feel that they are fully part of an organization, they need to see how they are benefitting from the arrangement. While money is certainly a motivator, it is not necessarily the best or only one. Sharing technology can be a great way to engender a partnership while also improving a hospital’s interoperability. Hospitals that share their electronic health records (EHRs), for example, make it easier for physicians to “talk” clinically with the hospital. At the same time, physicians gain the ability to report information to payers along with the hospital, improving reimbursements for both parties.
Hearing from a hospital’s medical director once a year is simply not sufficient to foster a strong connection. Hospitals need to commit to regular two-way communications, such as bringing all affiliated and employed physicians together for quarterly dinner meetings with speakers, networking opportunities and chances to swap information.
This may be the single biggest factor in solidifying physician-provider collaboration. Physicians need to feel that they are just as much a part of decision-making as the hospital CEO. As with all relationships, if physicians feel a hospital is hiding something, it can derail the partnership. When physicians and hospitals have a robust and interdependent relationship, everyone wins. Patients receive better care, physicians receive more support, the hospital achieves its goals for quality and cost reduction and payers save money—all because the ability to treat patients effectively goes up while the costs go down.