The 10 commandments for engaging and aligning physicians

June 23, 2014
What do the following numbers have in common? 30%, $2.4 trillion, 12 minutes, and 1.8 million

The answer is physicians.

  • According to the Dartmouth Atlas Study, at least 30% of resources spent on healthcare have no impact on patient care.
  • About 80% of the annual US healthcare spend, roughly $2.4 trillion, is allocated based on decisions made by physicians.
  • The national average for the amount of time the typical physician is able to spend with a patient is 12 minutes.
  • Of 1.8 million scientific academic articles published annually, half of the articles are only ever read by the author and the journal editor.

Given the above, it is clear that getting and keeping physicians’ attention is not only critical, but it’s also very hard. And influencing their decisions is even harder. Regardless, aligning physicians to make decisions that reduce variation and achieve the “Triple Aim” of delivering high quality, cost-effective care that meets patients’ expectations is a challenge every hospital or health system is faced with.

Most health systems know the challenge of physician alignment, but struggle to meaningfully engage their physicians. Most have physician liaison programs, web portals, forums with the chief medical officer, medical staff newsletters, and meetings, which provide part of the solution. What is often missing, however, is a scalable and sustainable way to keep physicians engaged.

Technology has the potential to serve as the spine of physician alignment because of its mobility, flexibility, personalization, dynamic modality, and immediacy. Used in combination with a well thought out strategy and effective engagement methods, technology offers a cost-effective, highly-scalable way to enable effective engagement and alignment.

But before you ask a physician to look at a mobile phone, download an app, read an email, open a file, attend a meeting, or change anything they’re doing, realize that there is a secret handshake among them, a password or algorithm that holds the key to getting and keeping their attention and making them open-minded to doing something differently.

Call it empathy, but we’ve learned through trial-and-error that there are 10 questions—we call them our 10 Commandments—physicians ask themselves before deciding to invest their limited time and attention:

1. Is it brief? Driven by throughput targets and other time-based pressures, a physician’s or provider’s day is lived in 12 minute increments. Make sure what you’re asking them isn’t too time consuming.

2. Is it credible? Whoever is asking for their time and attention must be a credible, recognized expert on the topic being addressed.

3. Is it current? The massive scope and rapid turnover of information that drives physician decisions requires that you understand the shortening shelf-life of what is considered current.  

4. Is it engaging?  If it’s true that physicians don’t have time to read, engage their other senses and use tools and methods to get and keep their attention. And remember, there is no better indication that a physician is engaged than when he or she is typing or talking. Ask yourself what will inspire him or her to do either.

5. Is it practical? If something asking for physicians’ time and attention is not action-able, and therefore not practical or relevant, it will be dismissed. Physicians don’t have time for theory.

6. Is it convenient? Don’t make them come to you. Make it easy for them to engage within their hectic and demanding day.

7. Is there too much?  There are nearly 6,000 medical “apps”, 40,000 medical journals, 1 million medical blogs, and 12 million medical websites all vying for physicians’ attention. Hence, less is more.

8. Is it important? When everything is important, nothing is important. Physicians are desensitized to urgency, so understand what they consider to be urgent and why.

9. Is it transparent? Physicians smell agenda like dung on a shoe. Tell them what you want and why.

10. Is it safe? When they invest their time and attention, they want to know that their interests are protected—their reputation, personal information, and financial security. 

Like the Biblical Commandments, you can’t get where you want to go by ignoring two or three and adhering to the other seven or eight. They really are Commandments. However, in the context of healthcare in America, engaging and aligning physicians to help achieve the “Triple Aim” is the moral equivalent of heaven on earth. So it’s worth it. 

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