In a world where new terminology emerges every day to describe some new technology on the market, it is almost impossible to grasp a full understanding of what a name or title represents. Luckily, something as straightforward as Physician Engagement is self-explanatory. However, applying the principle to daily practice within a healthcare organization isn’t as simple, in fact, it is about as easy to engage physicians in some companies as it is to not have a teenager roll their eyes during a serious conversation.
No healthcare establishment can say they have reached a pinnacle of perfection, where clinical quality is improved, and clinical costs are under control. Physicians are at the forefront of the decision-making processes as a natural consequence to their position. When quality changes are either required or requested, one of the most important steps should be to make the physicians a part of the development and implementation. Fostering a sense of ownership not only builds trust between administrators and physicians, but also creates a partnership where everyone is invested. Back and forth discussions are seen as constructive, and allow for strategizing and prioritization. As long as this tool is utilized early in the process, it can effectually motivate and encourage.
The thought of being able to personally champion quality improvement ideas to each physician would be ideal, it is also impossible. This is when delegation can have a farther reach. Finding leaders among leadership helps to promote a trickle-down effect. With the endorsement of changes coming down from heads of department or other leader, who are seen more as colleagues, and questions being answered on a more personal level, the full weight of carrying a program doesn’t fall on one small group of individuals. Instead, largely organized groups have a spokesman who can convey information in both directions. Most people are going to follow a leader they know and can interact with, rather than a perceived out-of-touch bureaucrat.
Most established organizations are made up of many different departments, specialties, locations and other diversities that makes implementation of any quality improvements an enormous task. As the old saying goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. This is also applicable to carrying out changes: Choose one are of focus. Not only do the modifications happen in a more manageable fashion, but this also allows for providing proof to other departments as to the validity of the changes.
To perpetuate orderliness, teams and leaders must be structured. This doesn’t mean everyone’s roles are reorganized and redefined, however, the necessity to have designated experts to whom a team or department can turn will alleviate errant projects. More importantly, it will breed commitment and oversight to drive and motivate physicians to stay the course. To a small extent, this is related to having a spokesman who is able to communicate for a group to the administrators.
Any great plan is only as good as its results. Thus, putting the plan into action is also a key ingredient to implementation and reaching a goal. Nevertheless, it is easy to become discouraged when the plan loses momentum. Many people take this as a sign to give up and move on to something else, when it is the opposite that is true; by sticking to the plan and trudging through the challenges of quality improvements, you are showing your physicians that you have faith in the plan and that it is worth any bumps in the road. You are also demonstrating that a plan may need outside input and insight that may only be available through the physicians that know the underbelly of the system. Working together to fine-tune a plan will reinstill enthusiasm for the end results.
Improvements, no matter what kind, are measurable by some comparison. Physicians, like any true scientist, are curious and methodical to their core. As such, they want to see that improvements are happening, whether it be in overall performance, reduction in errors and waste, or increase to financial achievements. Simply saying that everything is getting better is not sufficient. Data-driven evidence communicates where changes have occurred, if they are positive or negative, and if goals are being met. Evidence of this sort doesn’t come without having collected, grouped and analyzed data. Many healthcare organization utilize enterprise data warehouses (EDW) to store data in a unified database setup, that allows access company-wide, and can be analyzed for planning purposes. When you are able to create reports that show progress and improvement, physicians are more likely to remain steadfast.
It almost goes without saying that none of really like change, especially changes to routines that may be very well established. Change can be a positive thing, and prove to be helpful in many respects. You must be an advocate for change at all times. When you don’t fight the battles, no matter how small, resistance and outright resentment can creep in, and all the work for physicians to actually be engaged will have been for nothing. It may be as simple as walking through the above steps again, or just letting someone vent frustrations for a while.
Having everybody on the same ship, headed the same direction, with the same intent will go a long way to moving forward more quickly. Even though this is more a perfect scenario situation, there is nothing to say that you can’t help everyone to make the move forward. Your physicians are a strong driving force within your organization, and they need to be utilized to their fullest potential.