Cultivating a great physician champion

Sept. 25, 2015
Michael R. Udwin, M.D., FACOG, Executive Director of Physician Engagement Services, McKesson

As the healthcare industry transitions to value-based models, hospitals, healthcare systems, and physician groups have come to recognize the value that physician champions can bring. In fact, in a recent survey of healthcare executives, The Advisory Board Company found that nearly 90 percent were interested in engaging physicians in cost and quality enhancements1 – which had been ranked third in importance in 2014. Physician engagement has emerged as a top strategic priority among healthcare organizations because institutions have discovered that buy-in from clinicians is imperative to value-based care, and this in turn has made the role of the physician champion more important than ever before.

Along with improving engagement, a strong physician leader can also influence those clinicians who are concerned about how the transition to value-based care will impact their ability to provide high-quality care to patients. A 2015 survey of primary care providers conducted by The Commonwealth Fund/Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that many providers have mixed views about medical homes and accountable care organizations, and have negative opinions about the increased use of metrics to assess performance.2 Additionally, nearly half said they are considering early retirement because of recent health trends, which underscores the need for leadership.

Part nature, part nurture: Finding the right physician champion

The process of finding the right physician leader within an organization is just as crucial as the need for the role itself, and it can be very challenging. Many healthcare organizations do not have a formal selection process in place. While physicians are some of the most highly educated professionals in our society, their formal education does not typically prepare them to address the challenges that come with leading the operation of a healthcare facility. This can make identifying the right candidate internally – one who possesses the leadership and skills to improve hospital outcomes, meet evolving industry needs, influence clinicians about value-based care, and ensure that patients receive the best possible care – a daunting exercise.

Here are some guidelines that provider organizations should consider when searching for the physician champion who best suits their needs:

  1. Establish clear objectives and metrics. Before reaching out to candidates, take a step back to set expectations and make sure that there’s a consensus on what success should look like and the path to get there. For example, is there a need to address whether or not physicians at the organization are concerned about penalties for things they can’t control in the new value-based care model? What’s most important to tackle first: reducing the number of unnecessary lab orders or improving patient satisfaction? To achieve success, first define key values, strengths, needs, and priorities, then seek out candidates who are already meeting or exceeding those standards and expectations.
  2. Acknowledge needs and current workflow. No single person can do everything by themselves, and no two physicians are the same. It’s important to understand the unique challenges that your champion may already be facing. Also, be sure to prioritize workflow goals as this will help physician leaders avoid burnout or dissatisfaction – which could easily spread throughout the wider physician community.
  3. Set leaders up for success with an evidence-based approach. Provide data and leverage analytics to help the leader determine those drivers and circumstances within the organization that are affecting performance. Objective data can empower physician leaders when coaching other physicians.
  4. Establish realistic short-term goals for quick rewards. By setting short-term, realistic goals, physician champions can achieve early success and serve as a role model or advocate for other physicians, patients, and executives. For example, a provider could be tasked with improving diabetic hemoglobin A1C levels among his or her cohort by 10 percent over the course of six months. By implementing tailored blood-glucose monitoring, nutrition counseling, and exercise, a physician could achieve this within the established time frame to showcase not only how a process improvement can be successful, but also significantly improve patient health and satisfaction. Starting small creates early successes and lays the groundwork for future, larger scale projects.

While these guidelines are a great start, the actual process of identifying and cultivating a physician champion will vary greatly between organizations. The most successful healthcare organizations will be those that are strategic about selecting and investing in the best physician champion for their needs.



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