3 ways health systems can enhance physician engagement in digital initiatives

October 14, 2019

Why engaging patients means getting buy-in from physicians

The digital experience is a vital aspect of the consumer-centric access strategies health systems need to attract and retain patients, but to be successful, related initiatives must embrace the providers whose digital profiles will dictate much of the end result. In order to create a digital experience that is useful and satisfying to patients, health systems need to be mindful of the providers represented and whether they also find the associated processes, and final product, both useful and satisfying.

Designing a profile curation process with this goal in mind may seem daunting, as providers are geographically dispersed, often unaware of the initiatives underway, and have a heterogeneous appreciation for their role in the work. Given the effort to overcome these obstacles, many health systems make the mistake of deprioritizing physician engagement, often not realizing the associated missed opportunity to create supporters in their digital access initiatives. In fact, a recent study found that, while their reasons may vary, 91% of physicians actually want to be more involved with the curation of their digital profiles – either directly (49%) or by having their staff play a bigger role (42%). So, with a more willing audience than often presumed, there are some key guiding principles for maximizing physician engagement.

Principle 1: Set Meaningful & Tailored Context

Understanding the business reasons behind why you’ve embarked on your digital patient experience strategy is of incredible importance to your provider audience. You are not inviting challenge to the merit of these reasons, but rather providing valuable context for how related activities fit within your strategic aims. Explaining the value of digital experience, and how it fits within your priorities for consumer access and care, as well as your health system’s overall competitiveness, cultivates a deeper understanding of organizational goals and how individual physicians can support them. As part and parcel of this context though, it’s critical to acknowledge the direct benefits to the physicians from participating, which may differ from the main benefits from the health system’s perspective. For example, while the organization may be most focused on driving patient acquisition with digital initiatives and providers recognize the importance of a strong digital presence for patient acquisition, this is not necessarily their top reason for valuing a high-quality profile. In fact, while 90% of providers in the aforementioned study agreed that a high-quality profile is important for patient acquisition, when asked to rank the reasons why a high-quality profile is important, patient acquisition was number four behind showcasing their academic research, publications and experience; displaying accurate information about their professional experience; and improving visibility to referring providers. Include such concurrent provider-centric benefits when establishing the context for your initiatives to convey how participating can create a pathway towards greater personal satisfaction for providers.

Principle 2: Communicate Clearly & in the Ways Providers Prefer

If you have great content around your business case that is clear, concise, and resonant, but your intended audience never hears it, you’ve lost before you’ve even begun. Tellingly, 94% of physicians see room for improvement in communication from their health systems around digital initiatives. It’s clear that email alone is not a sufficient communication strategy. It has a place, but truly nothing beats a road show. In the same survey, when asked about preferred methods of communication around these initiatives, in-person visits to the practice was the number one answer, followed by email, and then communication via the department chair. To achieve your desired outcomes, go out to the various sites, speak to your physicians where they work, and get on medical staff and department meeting agendas. Enlist the leaders you speak with to further spread the messages to their colleagues. It is certainly true that it takes considerable energy and time to accommodate such in-person meetings, but going on-site is a powerful way to facilitate productive discussions and address concerns early on. Emails make far less of an impression, so while they’re a necessary component of your communication plan, more varied means of reaching your audience are always necessary.

Principle 3: Make Clear Asks & Report Back on Impact

Awareness is crucial, but action is necessary for true engagement. What does provider participation actually mean? What specifically is it that you need them to do? How should they meaningfully contribute to their digital profiles? Timelines and discrete tasks, with visibility and reports on completion, are the benchmarks of engagement. One of the best practices to employ in this regard is to lean heavily on trusted operational/administrative partners of the providers. Having practice managers and operational leads work with you to drive providers’ understanding and completion of these tasks is much more effective than relying on your communications directly to the providers. Creating dyads of operational and clinical leads will help with everything from getting those meetings scheduled (and attended) to having profiles completed effectively. After the project is up and running, readouts on the impact of digital profile completion and its measurable impact on project goals (e.g., web traffic, appointments booked) will drive further engagement, open up avenues for additional discussion, and foster ongoing clinical team collaboration in efforts to enhance the digital experience.

Combine These Principles to Make Providers Your Partners in Access Improvement

Stakeholder management plays a big role in successfully executing  any of your strategic visions. It takes awareness, a collaborative culture, and often a sense of urgency as well. When creating a new digital experience as part of your patient access initiatives, don’t forget to plan for and develop a sound strategy for engaging  physician leadership among your other stakeholders. Ensure they are represented and their voices are heard along with other key colleagues such as IT, marketing, access, and experience leaders. Invest in a diversified communication process that can effectively reach physicians – make it more than just emails, and more than just easily dismissed tasks devoid of context. The reward is not just a more successful digital access initiative, but also a more robust culture of consumerism – one that is both patient- and provider- centric.

Erin Jospe, MD, is chief medical officer and senior vice president for account management at Kyruus.