Physician engagement continues to help drive hospital performance and growth. With the last few years of tremendous change, what has evolved in their strategy?
Kriss Barlow, Principal of Barlow/McCarthy and author of Physician Relations: The Model, The Method and The Impact, and Chris Hemphill discuss recent insights and strategies for moving a physician relations program forward.
A few themes discussed include how to add value when growth isn’t a priority, communicating with leadership, and how roles are being redefined.
This conversation is brought to you by Actium Health in partnership with the Forum for Healthcare Strategists.
VP, Applied AI & Growth
Kriss Barlow (00:00):
Tactical intelligence tells me the what. Really good strategic intelligence tells me the why and the how, and what’s behind it. So we’re really working with teams to say let’s go deeper with that. And I will tell you leaders want to see the data because it validates their trust in what the team does. But if you talk to any CEO in this country, what they’ll tell you is, “I really, really need to get a pulse on my market.”
Chris Hemphill (00:36):
Hello, Healthcare. We’re coming back at you from the floor at HMPS. And with physician relations being such an important key topic, and also very much a field in transition. We brought in the person who actually wrote the book on physician relations, Kriss Barlow, with the book, Physician Relations, the Model, the Method, the impact and the madness, right?
Kriss Barlow (00:59):
Yeah. No kidding. Very well said.
Chris Hemphill (01:02):
Kriss, just a few words for you. Your background in physician relations, and just wanted to hear from you about what’s brought you here.
Kriss Barlow (01:09):
Terrific. Thank you. And a pleasure to be here. A pleasure to be at the conference to talk with physician relations people after what’s been a really challenging 18 months. So I’m Kriss Barlow, the principal with Barlow/McCarthy. We’re a consulting firm that works nationwide in that space of physician relationships, physician strategies, physician recruitment. So it’s a pleasure to be with you, Chris and Kriss.
Chris Hemphill (01:35):
Yes, Chris and Kriss. We’re going to try to make it less confusing by spelling our names differently. But what we’re really excited about here is the ability to be back together, but to hear from Chris Barlow, who has worked with so many thousands of physician relations professionals and so many hundreds of different healthcare systems and teams.
Chris Hemphill (01:55):
We’re getting to see these or we want to explore some of the overall trends that we’re seeing as our workforce changes. And we’re at the second day of HMPS, so it’s going to be exciting to hear some of the newer things that we’re hearing from the floor. So Kriss, just to start digging into that. What about maybe a quick state of the union on the nature of our work as we’re moving to 2022?
Kriss Barlow (02:20):
Yeah. As I mentioned, it’s been in quite a 18 months and that ability, I think early on in COVID to say how do we stabilize and nurture these relationships? How do we make sure that we are adding value even when growth isn’t a priority? I think right now, most teams have shifted back, not everybody. But across the country, I would say 80% are spending more time back in the field. And what an enriching experience to be back with these practices.
Kriss Barlow (02:53):
So within the practices, I think liaisons are finding gatekeeper strategies have ratcheted up, no surprise. Practices are a little reticent to allow a lot more people in. And if you are coming in, you better be adding value. The other thing that I think we’re seeing in-house is an interesting dichotomy, organizations need growth now, and they need volume and they want it fairly quickly. We also, because of some staffing and some other changes are afflicted with challenges of access. So we’re at a place where we’re needing to grow business and our hospitals are struggling with how to get it in more quickly. So an interesting change there.
Kriss Barlow (03:39):
The last thing I would say that’s happened in the state of where we are as physician relations teams is some redefining of rules and expansion in some cases to do more physician alignment, markets softening around expanding the practice space. In some cases, some CIN alignment. So some organizations are getting more creative with how they’re using their talent and looking at where that’s moving in the future.
Kriss Barlow (04:09):
The one other thing I will say back to what’s happening with the liaison teams is some challenges with motivation for teams. And I think you heard a couple of talks yesterday. I think leaders are struggling with, “Is it on the screen? How much do I get my teams together? How is this working to make sure my team is really motivated in sync after they did a very different job for a long period of time?”
Chris Hemphill (04:38):
Very interesting. And it sounds like it would be a very taxing situation.
Kriss Barlow (04:43):
Chris Hemphill (04:43):
All these different roles, new hats to wear, how do we wear them and how we balance the time within that. One thing that I latched onto when you were talking about was this demand for growth. There was a demand for, of course, people to return to health systems, people who have delayed care and with the increase in things like healthcare consumerism, increased competition from right virtual health providers and retail and technology providers.
Chris Hemphill (05:11):
There’s a lot of turf to defend here. So I’m curious if this changing landscape from this consumer perspective and all this competition have the growth requirements and growth interests given leadership a new lens to be looking at the position liaison team? And real short just to make the question really much shorter, is are leaders expecting more or expecting different of their position relations teams?
Kriss Barlow (05:39):
Yeah. Well, and I think consumerism is on the rise and it’s real and relevant for all of us in healthcare. It’s also very real and relevant for all of our physicians. More people are coming to them and saying, “Well, what about this choice or that choice?” And they’re making their choices on their own. But the role for physician relations is still in a lot of those acute areas. Patients who are very sick are going to be in a doctor’s exam room. And they’re going to say, “Doc, where should I go?” And that doctor is going to give recommendations.
Kriss Barlow (06:11):
Now, they don’t always stay with that. And sometimes they will switch around with consumerism, but I think there’s still a very strong role for physician relations in that space and in that track, even with consumerism. The other interesting thing that we see happening is patients will go to their doc and say, “My neighbor had their hip done by Dr. Smith. What do you think of him?”
Kriss Barlow (06:37):
And docs are still in that chair of being the blessing. So I think with consumerism, I think it’s alive and well. It’s such an important part of our marketing strategy, but I think we’d be remise if we didn’t pay attention and really attend to the needs of that referring physician who either is making the decision or blessing the decision. I think for organizations, what that means is right now, a little bit of show me the money. We’ve got great physician relations teams, expectations have moved beyond nurture into that place of, “I trust you. I like you as a team. I think you do good work. The docs say good things. But as I look at my dollars and my resources, I need to see the impact of that.”
Kriss Barlow (07:31):
So better visibility through our connection tools, better data driven tools to do that. Better meaningful stories and conversations with leaders about the role we’re taking. I think all of that becomes a meaningful part of what the future of physician relations is going to be.
Chris Hemphill (07:50):
Okay. So that’s actually really exciting to hear when they say show me the money. That means we’re on the radar, right?
Kriss Barlow (07:56):
Show me the money. Right.
Chris Hemphill (07:59):
So would you say that’s often a newfound spotlight?
Kriss Barlow (08:04):
Well, and the radar is something that you’ll hear liaison teams, they’ve begged for that forever. And I’ve often tried to say it’s not given, it’s earned. Our ability to be on the radar means we’re consistently adding value to leadership conversations. And I think we have to continue to think about not what we want them to hear, but what they want to hear from us. What’s adding value. And I think we need to get better at our storytelling, our use of data to tell some of those stories to leadership. So it’s just continuing to elevate the role, elevate our position inside the organization and make sure to evolve so we stay meaningful.
Chris Hemphill (08:48):
Excellent. So do you have an example in mind. I know that you’ve had an expertise, we actually had a webinar about discussing that data storytelling aspect, that value there. Is there an example that comes to mind when it comes to how to discuss with a leader, not just saying what you want them to hear, but really understanding how to that impact in a way that compels and earns that spotlight?
Kriss Barlow (09:18):
Well, I’m a sales girl. And so in my mind, this is how do I sell my message to the leadership in a way that will impact them. If you heard Deborah Jasper this morning, it was so good.
Chris Hemphill (09:32):
Oh, she’s awesome.
Kriss Barlow (09:32):
Right? And you think about how oftentimes we’re giving leaders because we want to cover everything 10 pages of reports. And I thought from one of her slides about how much executives really want detail, that ability for us to say, “Can I have three graphs or one graph that I can tell a story with?” That ability to say, “In cardiovascular, you asked us to focus on the EP side, over the last six months, here’s the number of impacts we’ve had. Here’s where we’ve seen it grow. Here’s what doctors are asking us about related to the program. And here’s some of the change that our program has made as a result of that field intelligence.”
Kriss Barlow (10:14):
So it could be as simple as one graph and four bullets that I talk about. The the other thing we always start with is, “My intent today is that I’d like to share with you where we’re in cardiovascular. I’m going to talk through the progression in electrophysiology. But before I do, we’ve been in the field for the last four months. Mr. CEO, anything you’d love for us to share that we’re doing.” So I always give them the opportunity to talk before I do. So it’s sales, but it’s internal sales. And it’s projecting a message in the way that they want to hear it.
Chris Hemphill (10:51):
If I had a pen, I’d be writing all that down.
Kriss Barlow (10:53):
Oh, you’re so funny.
Chris Hemphill (10:54):
Fortunately, if you’re watching on YouTube, you can rewind and take notes on this because that is data storytelling in a nutshell.
Kriss Barlow (11:01):
Chris Hemphill (11:04):
So we’re talking about the impact, being able to communicate impact and the relationship between activity and impact. But one of the other things themes that I’ve seen is around this field intelligence concept.
Kriss Barlow (11:16):
Chris Hemphill (11:16):
I’m curious about the types of questions that you see leaders newly curious about with this on the radar, not just impact, but what are our positions? Like what are some of the questions that leadership teams are starting to ask?
Kriss Barlow (11:31):
I love, love, love that topic. And it’s trying to evolve teams away from just tactical intelligence about, “Did you know Smith’s office is building a new building or recruiting somebody new.” And it’s helping teams to take information and go deeper. So if Dr. Smith says, “We’re recruiting a new partner. She’ll be joining us in May.” That opportunity for me to say, “I’d love to understand why you made the decision to add.”
Kriss Barlow (11:57):
I might find out somebody’s retiring that I didn’t know or I might find out we’ve just felt like to compete in this market we need to expand to another partner. And my ability to go further and say, “Has that drawn you to look at other partnerships? Are there ways that we as a hospital system could support that growth for you?” So tactical intelligence tells me the what. Really good strategic intelligence tells me the why and the how, and what’s behind it. So we’re really working with teams to say, “Let’s go deeper with that.”
Kriss Barlow (12:31):
And I will tell you leaders want to see the data because it validates their trust in what the team does. But if you talk to any CEO in this country, what they’ll tell you is, “I really, really need to get a pulse on my market.” And now think about COVID, and the fact that we’re not catching up with anybody in a social environment, doctors lounges have been abandoned. People are coming back, but that pulse on the market and that voice of the referring physicians, our leaders crave it. And I think it’s our job to bring it forward in a way that is not gossip, but in a way that is meaningful and relevant and can be actionable either action for them just to say, “I just need to pack that away for the next time I talk with Dr. Smith.” Or that actionable to say, “I need to get my leadership team to convene on this topic.”
Chris Hemphill (13:27):
Excellent. When we started the conversation about what we should be focusing on on 2022, we talked about data, but we talked about the expectations of leadership and now it’s like where we’re shifting is. Okay. So based on those changing expectations, here are the types of questions, here are the types of engagements that our liaison teams should be asking about.
Kriss Barlow (13:48):
Yeah. Well, and for me, it’s really about being a nimble team and listening to the voice of what your internal audience needs and what your external audience will buy. So it’s that ability to be nimble and to be flexible and not to say, “Pre-COVID, here’s how I did it. I want to come back and do it in the same way.” Let’s use COVID for some good to say, “Great time to be vulnerable. Let’s look at our teams, let’s assess where we’re, let’s listen to leadership, let’s listen to our referring physicians and let’s create a formula for 2022 that matches their needs and our needs moving forward.”
Chris Hemphill (14:33):
So when we’re on that leadership radar, I think that we get to be in a position where we think more like leadership and start asking the same kind of questions that they’re naturally going to be interested in, that’s that’s where the conversation goes. But I think there’s a potential frustration here too. If the liaison team or group or individual has done all this research, has gathered all this intelligence, but then it runs counter to the way the organization’s been doing things, runs counter to the way that leadership has previously thought, I wonder what teams can do in face of resistance or to reduce resistance.
Kriss Barlow (15:09):
Yeah. And there is frustration. Frustration comes two ways: Either they aren’t listening to what I have to say or I can’t get airtime to give the message that I want to give. And I think all that’s on us. So if they can’t understand it, they won’t buy it. So if my message didn’t resonate with you, it’s on me. I’ve got to go back and say, “Okay, option A didn’t work, let me try option B.” And they do it 100% of the time in the field with practices. And yet we go inside and we expect people either to be more proactive in giving us information or that they take information and they’ll work through things to figure out what’s relevant. So it’s internal selling to me, that ability for us to find a message that will resonate.
Kriss Barlow (16:02):
The other thing is, there’s long been these conversations about a seat at the table. For me, we have to earn that. And we earn a seat at the table the same as I earn the opportunity to sit across from a primary care physician. It’s by adding value. It’s by going in with a message that is relevant and resonates. I’m short, I’m concise. I’ve practiced what I’m going to say. I’m organized with my delivery, all of those tools they use every single day when they’re out in the practice.
Kriss Barlow (16:35):
It’s our opportunity to say, “I need to think about same techniques and same context.” And to not assume I’m going to get it right away. You stay the course, like all of us. You stay the course in your business and I do. Just because somebody didn’t love what I had to say round one, it doesn’t mean that there weren’t nuggets that resonated and maybe I get brown two.
Chris Hemphill (16:59):
No doubt. Yeah. Stay the course and deliver value. So even if you do encounter that resistance, the truth will come to bear. And if you stay the course and you’re continually delivering, maybe that conversation didn’t go well, but there other moments of value.
Kriss Barlow (17:16):
That’s right. That’s right. And the other piece with that is if it didn’t work this way, change it. Sometimes we keep saying, “I print the same report every month and nobody pays attention.” At a point that’s on me, right? That ability to say, “Okay, that didn’t work. Let me change it up.” Yeah.
Chris Hemphill (17:35):
Excellent. Yeah. Let’s focus on what we can control ourselves.
Kriss Barlow (17:37):
That’s right. Yes.
Chris Hemphill (17:39):
Well, Chris, I’ll always have a good time in these conversations and-
Kriss Barlow (17:46):
Chris Hemphill (17:46):
Thank you. Thank you. We probably need to do one on data storytelling.
Kriss Barlow (17:53):
Love that topic, right? Yes.
Chris Hemphill (17:53):
That’ll be exciting. So we’ll talk about that, but between now and then, and the people that couldn’t come and hang out with you or just the people that want to reach out, get in touch and share some more of these ideas and good thinking. What’s the best way for people to look for you?
Kriss Barlow (18:08):
I would love that. And zero obligation. That opportunity to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or even our info site on our website, Barlow/McCarthy. I believe in this industry, and that opportunity to say if I can help with a quick 30 minute for phone call, I would love for people just to reach out and let’s talk about your program and your needs and your stories.
Chris Hemphill (18:35):
Fantastic. Yep. Physician relations is on the rise like leadership is looking at it. This is a great opportunity to get in and have these discussions and understand how to better craft that conversation and that data story for leadership.
Kriss Barlow (18:49):
Love that. Thanks for the opportunity.
Chris Hemphill (18:51):
Thank you. And for everybody watching, we hope you enjoyed this little taste of HMPS.
Speaker 3 (18:56):
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