Physician engagement is more than a neat catchphrase. It’s an important concept that impacts all sectors of the healthcare industry. Engaged physicians improve organizational metrics, productivity and patient outcomes. They also experience more professional fulfillment and less burnout. This seems like a win-win, but understanding how to get there is a little more complex. There is no one way to achieve physician engagement. Each organizational makeup is different and the roadmap to engagement will be unique to your situation and goals. The one thing we can say, though, is that engagement requires an active partnership between both the administration and physicians.
Engagement is an Emotional Commitment – Tom Atchison succinctly describes engagement in his book, Leading Healthcare Cultures: How Human Capital Drives Financial Performance. He writes that “physician engagement is an intangible process that depends on the degree to which doctors are proud, loyal, and committed to a hospital’s mission, vision, and values.” This is separate from physician-patient engagement and needs to be addressed at an organizational level.
Policing Physicians Brings Friction, NOT Focus – It’s easy to draw up a list of quality assurance goals and endpoint metrics for physicians to accomplish, but instituting further checks and balances on physicians can backfire. To understand why, we need to look at the main factors contributing to engagement.
Record Keeping is Frustrating – Physicians entered the field to practice medicine. Administrative and clerical tasks, such as completing forms and filing paperwork, take time away from clinical work, which is their ultimate goal, and can lead to frustration. Engagement policies should be mindful of physicians’ schedules and seek to minimize non-essential clerical tasks.
Assembly-line Medicine Feels Devaluing –The physician’s primary goal is to provide quality patient care. If his or her productivity is measured through patient volume, he or she may feel rushed and unable to connect with patients. These high-volume performance metrics contribute to disillusionment with the organization. If a physician feels that the organization’s goals and values are not in alignment with his own, it can deter engagement. While productivity measures can be valuable, active communication between administrators and physicians should emphasize the end goal of organizational success to providing quality patient care. In this way, physicians and administrators understand that their true missions are in alignment.
Loss of Autonomy is Demoralizing – Physicians are trained to make autonomous decisions about patient care. When engagement policies attempt to dictate terms without room for collaboration the result can be frustrating for all involved. Imposing time limits, patient quotas or care directives without discussion takes the control away from the physicians. Successful engagement policies will seek to collaborate with physicians so that all parties can contribute to the organizational policies.
Professional Fulfillment Needs Consideration – Studies have shown that professional fulfillment is a leading driver of engagement for both employees and physicians. For physicians, this is motivated by providing quality patient care, creating positive impact, and gaining understanding of their context in the organizational whole. Some physicians will prefer to maintain more traditional roles in relation to the organization, while others will emerge as organizational leaders. The latter group will embrace a role in the organizational whole and will enjoy collaborative problem-solving at the organizational level as well as at the clinical level.
Communication is Key – Sarah Rothenberger, managing director at Advisory Board Survey Solutions, emphasizes the importance of communication: “When we look at the top drivers of engagement, across the board for physicians and employees, they are communication and connection with senior leaders in administration.” When employees and physicians feel unheard in the organization, their commitment is tested. Administrators and physicians need to approach communication issues head on and create meaningful dialogue. Effective communication can change the mindset from an “us” and ‘them’ mindset, to a ‘we’ mentality.
Engagement is a Two-Way Street – When you put the problem of engagement solely on the administrators, you are missing the bigger picture. Engagement is a conscious emotional commitment from all parties with both administrators and physicians being responsible for their parts in the equation. It is not up to the administrator to tell the physician what to do. Rather it is up to the organization to build a coalition that works together for optimum organizational health and patient care.
For more information about CTI and how we can help implement effective engagement strategies, visit us at ctileadership.com or give us a call at (813) 333-1401.