The Value of Field Intelligence in Physician Relations ft. Laurel Hopkins


The pressure is on for health systems to make up for lost business during the pandemic, creating big opportunities for physician relation teams. How can physician liaisons seize the moment to help bridge communication gaps and grow meaningful volume?

Join Laurel Hopkins, Director of Physician Relations at Seattle Children’s, and host Chris Hemphill, as they discuss strategies to gather field intelligence to better inform and influence growth plans.

This conversation is brought to you by Actium Health in partnership with the Forum for Healthcare Strategists.

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Chris Hemphill

VP, Applied AI & Growth
Actium Health


Laurel Hopkins

Director, Physician Relations
Seattle Children’s


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Laurel Hopkins (00:00):
How can we provide you with good patient experience? How can we, referring provider, provide you the best continuum of care for your patients? And we do that through understanding what their needs are, what our competitors are doing, so we know how to do that better. And then the key is gathering that information and then putting it in consumable packages, if you will, for specific stakeholders within the organization.

Chris Hemphill (00:37):
Hello, healthcare. We’re excited to be on the floor at HMPS 2021. I know that not everybody could make it here, not everybody could meet in person, but fortunately, we’re bringing a little bit of that HMPS experience to you, especially if you want to relive a few moments. One very important topic that we are just discussing with Laurel Hopkins, who is the manager of physician relations at Seattle Children’s, is on the intelligence that we can gather from the outreach that we’re doing to our physicians. There is a ton of intelligence. There is a ton of opportunity to gain intelligence that we have in our physician liaison teams. And what can that intelligence inform us? All kinds of things from strategic decisions to things that make our physicians’ lives better and help to do things like retain their efforts and referrals and reduce burnout. So with that, Laurel, just wanted to give you an opportunity to say hello.

Laurel Hopkins (01:29):
Hello. It’s good to meet you, and thank you for having me today.

Chris Hemphill (01:32):
Excellent. Excited to meet you too. I think we’ve had a very lively conversation already, and I’m just so happy to bring YouTube and everybody else into the fold of this, because there just is so much kind potential energy, latent opportunity out there. Could you just tell us some background? Laurel’s been with Seattle children’s in provider relations for the past nine years and in healthcare for 25, and there is a lot of unique perspectives here that we’re going to uncover when it comes to this field intelligence within the position liaison space. Could you just give us some background in your experience and your journey here and what’s made you hot on this topic?

Laurel Hopkins (02:12):
Yeah. So it’s interesting because the topic of field intelligence has become all the rage lately, if you will, because we’ve been in this pandemic. And it’s really caused a disruption in how we approach customers, how we are interacting with customers, but for certain, for everybody’s bottom line, we’re looking at some statistics that we’ve heard at HMPS today are healthcare systems are losing to the tune of $56 million. And that’s a lot of money to the bottom line for health systems. And the dirty word is sales force. Physician liaisons are really out in the field trying to figure out how to position ourselves, our systems within our competitive landscape, which changes tremendously. It’s changed tremendously over the last five years, then add this new situation of a pandemic that we’re in. And then couple that with the money that’s being lost, our senior leaders and people are getting really worried about what we’re going to do next.

Laurel Hopkins (03:37):
So that’s the journey of the last 18 months, the last two years. But the thing is we’ve been doing this all along, gathering field intelligence, understanding how to show up and say, “You need me versus,” or let me rephrase that. “How can we provide you with good patient experience? How can we, referring provider, provide you the best continuum of care for your patients?” And we do that through understanding what their needs are, what our competitors are doing, so we know how to do that better. And then the key is gathering that information and then putting it in consumable packages, if you will, for specific stakeholders within the organization.

Chris Hemphill (04:27):
That’s really powerful when you mentioned the recent stakeholder interest. Actually I want to back up just a little bit. You mentioned field intelligence is a hot topic right now, whereas I would have considered it, with the intelligence I’ve seen from business liaison team, so I’ve always wondered about how to bubble that information up into strategic objectives. What is this way of packaging that you are referring to?

Laurel Hopkins (04:54):
That’s the fun thing about being … You talk about all the energy and being in person right now. It’s the fun thing about being face-to-face with my peers again is like, “Hey, field intelligence, everybody wants …” So-and-so leader will come to you and say, “I need to know what this customer is doing now.” And you have to be able to turn. They don’t want to wait three weeks until you say, “Oh, let me go out and get it. I’ll figure it out. I’ll ask a few people.” They want it now.

Laurel Hopkins (05:21):
And so there’s two things going on there. One, we have to be ready to rock and roll for that particular instance. And then two, as that middle management group, we need to help our senior leaders who are really dealing in this chaos right now, how to help them slow their role and say, “You know what? We’re going to do this right, and we’re going to do this in a way that is sustainable for us.” So when we talk about how we take that field intelligence, we’ve had it forever. And what can we do to package it from a consumable perspective in terms of consumable for whoever’s asking for it.

Laurel Hopkins (06:07):
So to your question, how do we do that? We do that via having specific reports that we’re using. PRMs, CRMs are great tools that we’re equipping our teams with right now to be able to collect that data. And not only do we collect it, using these types of tools and resources allow us to slice and dice the data to say what needs to be said at a specific time. When we have that data, it does help inform decisions and strategies, where we want to show up and how we want to show up.

Chris Hemphill (06:44):
So when it comes to this packaging then, do you have an example of maybe a report or way that you delivered it or had a team deliver it to a senior leader? Like you said, let’s make it consumable. I wonder, they’re asking for this stuff. Once they consume it, do they start changing their directions? I would love to hear a story if there’s something to share about that.

Laurel Hopkins (07:09):
Excellent. So let’s use an example of, we have a market that we were having some feedback, an effect in orthopedics. And all of a sudden things weren’t going the way we’d expected them to within the orthopedic department. And the field intelligence that we’d had sitting there for a few years said there was an adult provider. Again, keep in mind, Seattle Children’s, standalone children’s hospital, there’s an adult provider literally right next door to our facility that was all of a sudden seeing some sports medicine cases for older adolescent patients. They were seeing scoliosis. These things that we just took for granted that would always just come to a children’s provider, and children’s meaning a pediatric provider.

Laurel Hopkins (07:57):
And the field intelligence was that, hey, there’s this provider over here that our referral group is referring over to this provider because number one, they can get in, and number two, the access is much, much easier. So getting in is one thing, but then the whole process of getting in was just much easier. Once we were able to say, “This is what’s happening in that market and it’s affecting us by the variance of this,” then we were able to help redeploy in a way that was suitable to address the situation that had happened.

Chris Hemphill (08:40):
So I love hearing the fact that there was a specific challenge, and the part that’s bothersome is, hey, we’ve known this all along and we’ve been trying to say it. And it seems like now the trust in this data that’s already been collected is just now recently bubbled up.

Laurel Hopkins (08:59):
Exactly. And you keep coming back to, and what does that look like? So back to that whole being able to answer that question of consuming the data in a way that is meaningful to the question how it was asked, we’ve got very, very high level. It’s archaic, but it works. A big spreadsheet that will have who are those competitors, what the market that they compete in and all the way across for service lines. And it’s literally just an X here. So if somebody’s at a glance in this market, who’s offering what services that actually compete with us? They can look at this and then there’s some notes too. They can look at that and say, “Okay, that’s out of glance.”

Laurel Hopkins (09:38):
Then we have another piece of data that backs up that data that’s basically a SWAT analysis. There are a couple slides, and that’s the other thing, these are constantly changing. Anytime we get new pieces of information we’re going in and updating these pieces. Then the other thing. So that you’ve got at a glance, then you’ve got the 10,000 foot overview, and then if you want to get really granular, then we go into our PRM, and then we can slice and dice the data. And it can say, “This provider said this in this market.”

Laurel Hopkins (10:10):
So however they want to be able to see that, we can package it up. I try and keep it to those three pieces to make it consistent. And that’s the other thing, consistency. To make it relevant and to have it bubble up, you want to always have it be relevant, be able to have it consistent. So if one service line asks, “Well, they gave us this data,” we can say, “Yes, we gave orthopedics the same data. It’s all from the same data set.” So there’s that.

Chris Hemphill (10:46):
Yeah, absolutely important is no cherry picking.

Laurel Hopkins (10:49):
No cherry picking. It’s got to be the good, the bad and the ugly.

Chris Hemphill (10:54):
Yes. Ah, love it, love it. Especially if we’re open to hearing about the ugly, if we’re the good, the bad and the ugly, then it’s not just, hey, how do we make ourselves look good and important? It’s how do we course correct based on things that might not have worked out as well as we thought.

Laurel Hopkins (11:10):
Yeah. And then using those course corrections. Here’s the other thing is being able to use those course corrections where we might have missed the mark and learning from that is like when the same thing starts to happen in another market. Let’s just say, for example, what we saw in that one market with the adult provider taking business from our older adolescent population. If we can start to see the signs of that, we’ve used that experience. We’re not going to miss the mark next time on that. We’re going to know that there’s a dip in performance. There’s a dip in whatever market metric we’re looking at and say, “Oh, is this the same thing that’s happening? Let’s go back to our field intelligence to look.”

Chris Hemphill (11:51):
Has this newfound trust in field intelligence, the questions that you’re getting from leaders, which I’m sure there’s all kinds of different questions and they want answers now, has that had an impact on how, when we’re training our physician liaison team, we’re preparing for physician outreach, has it impacted the types of questions that you go out and seek?

Laurel Hopkins (12:11):
Yes. Well, it does. Ah, it’s a good question. I was going to say yes, but then there’s part of me that’s like, no, we’re just asking. Because the liaisons, at the granular level, they’re really wanting to make sure that number one, the patients that the referring provider are working with are really going to get the best care. And of course, we’re liaisons for that organization, so we think our care is the best. So when we hear, no, we didn’t refer for that, we’ve always trained our liaisons to ask why and where did we miss the mark. We understand what drivers of choice are for our referring providers from market research that we did, and so if we couple that with field intelligence, it’s like, then we can figure out how to craft a message, deliver a message that’s the right message at the right time to the right people that will ultimately affect our strategy and our growth.

Chris Hemphill (13:14):
Excellent. So I guess my question was predicated on … I’ve talked with a lot of different teams that have different types of questions to ask, but it seems like there’s a really good process in place already to say, if we’re learning something like a piece of bad news comes up, we’re not burying it, we’re asking why something happened. So I think it’s a really powerful way of looking at it. But one thing that comes to mind though, and I don’t know exactly how engaged leaders are after they’re presented with the data, but I’m wondering, do there tend to be any additional steps, or are the leaders, are they now pretty strongly listening to this field intelligence that you’re referring to?

Laurel Hopkins (14:02):
They’re for sure strongly listening now, just because we’ve been hit with the pandemic, but as in any organization, and there’s a great consultant firm here called Barlow McCarthy, Chris Barlow just put out a brand new book about physician relations and the structure. And one of the things that I’ve taken out of that is there are people in the organization that absolutely get physician relations. There are people that don’t. And the people that get it are the people who are always going to listen to you. And those are the people, just like in anything, you want to champion them to say, “You are my partner, and you need to help me champion and get this information to the right people at the right time.”

Laurel Hopkins (14:46):
The thing is with physician relations, we did a hilarious conversation here just earlier is like, I challenge anybody to say, what department in a healthcare organization does physician relations not touch? And nobody can think of anything. Nobody could really think of anything because we have that many stakeholders within our organizations. And so it’s just getting people, champion those people to help you become that enterprise asset, but then also always delivering credible relevant, timely, and trustworthy information is the other thing too.

Chris Hemphill (15:27):
Absolutely love it. Having a champion is so powerful. When it comes to a lot of these challenges around data storytelling that we’re encountering, it’s not necessarily the types of charts that you use or whether they’re not using a powerful BI tool or whatever. It’s about did you have a relationship at that leadership level, you’re going one-on-one with somebody, and then they’re shepherding you into the rest of where you need to make influence with the team.

Laurel Hopkins (15:56):
Exactly. Exactly.

Chris Hemphill (15:57):
Cool. Well, I love the foundation of that process, and hopefully for folks that aren’t doing this already and that don’t have the executive year on that field intelligence, hopefully they’re able to listen to that and gather more insights on what they could be doing.

Laurel Hopkins (16:14):
And the other thing is that as we’re talking about, you need to make sure that you’re having a consistent dissemination of information, whether it’s on a quarterly basis, whether it’s on a monthly basis, weekly basis. At Seattle Children’s, and I think aside from the champion, this also plays into our favor as well and I think why we’ve been so successful, is we have a physician relations advisory group that meets on a quarterly basis. Key stakeholders in the organization are in that advisory group, and we talk through field intelligence and how that’s shaping and informing how we’re moving forward with our strategies.

Laurel Hopkins (16:56):
It also allows us to get their inputs, like this is what we’re hearing in the field. This is what our competitors are doing. How do you think that you would want us to respond to that? Because this is what we’ve proven. So that’s happening on a high level on a quarterly basis. On a monthly basis, we disseminate a report. It’s a one-page dashboard that has the highlights of competitive verbatims, themes and issues that we’re hearing, and they’re consistently getting hit with this. And then from a service line perspective, we have monthly meetings with our specific service lines as well. So there’s a consistency to the dissemination of information, which I think is also key. If they’re used to it coming to them, they’re used to looking at it, and then we get it in their mind of, oh, this is coming to us, and it’s valuable.

Chris Hemphill (17:49):
Fantastic. Let’s not hit people with all of a sudden in a meeting there is some dashboard that I’ve never seen.

Laurel Hopkins (17:55):
Right? They want to be familiar with it and they want to know where to go to look for it. That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.

Chris Hemphill (18:01):
Fantastic. Well, a lot of our conversations today have gone in this direction of we’re talking about an overall strategic issue, but then it becomes a data storytelling question.

Laurel Hopkins (18:10):
Yeah. So you have to root everything in data. However, you can have data say what you want it to say, right?

Chris Hemphill (18:22):

Laurel Hopkins (18:22):
So it’s this overlaying. The data helps you tell the story. The field intelligence, which I call anecdotalytics. Anecdotalytics plays to that, adds the color to it. And then you’ve got the people, the liaisons who are out there. These folks, I’ve got a really well-seasoned team. They’re fantastic. Yes, I’m their manager, but man, I’ll do anything to support these people. They’re that good at what they do, because they’ve built these relationships with people that are built on trust, integrity, credibility, and respect. And it’s almost like they’re the bartenders in the world. They hear everybody’s stories, and there’s a lot of value in that. So add those three components together, and you’ve got a really good, solid story to inform a strategy, inform a growth plan, and just inform everybody what’s happening within your competitive landscape, which changes all the time.

Chris Hemphill (19:24):
Well, these are some really powerful examples that you’ve shared. I’ve got one wild question that I’ve been thinking about this whole time is that there’s so much collect the light. People are taking notes on their interactions with physicians and things like that. And it makes me wonder, and you could say no to this, but do you see a potential role for AI in helping to sort out that field intelligence?

Laurel Hopkins (19:45):
I don’t want to say no because I don’t know, but I will tell you what I do want to know is what’s possible in that realm. As we get to this point where we’re getting busier and busier, everybody with the new Great Resignation that’s happening right now, more work is getting piled onto everyone. And so I would want to know what’s possible. Because if we don’t stop looking at what’s possible and what’s next to help us be efficient and effective, then we’re going to flounder, and everything else is changing so quickly. Healthcare comes at a slower pace, but we need to keep pace with it. And so my answer is I don’t know, but I do definitely want to know what’s possible.

Chris Hemphill (20:33):
Cool, cool. Well immediately, it depends on the quality of note and the volume of note that are coming in. But let’s say that there’s a few thousand notes left every year. And how do we read through that? How do we sort through that? How do we look at trends? There’s a field of AI called natural language processing that could be helpful if a smart team puts something together for them.

Laurel Hopkins (20:54):
Yeah. This is more than a Wordle, isn’t it?

Chris Hemphill (21:01):
But overall, I am so happy to have been able to have this conversation. Laurel, I wish I’d been able to see that speech that you gave. So this is just me getting some of the highlights from it. But for all the folks that are looking at this YouTube video and they’re super inspired, they’re like, I want to learn more. Laurel’s got the answer for me. Is there a good way for them to reach out to you?

Laurel Hopkins (21:26):
Yeah. They can reach out to me via email, and it’s just It’s the easiest way to get in touch with me.

Chris Hemphill (21:33):
All right. Well, I hope that this conversation helps with the liaison physician relations community. I’m really glad that you volunteered your email address so people can talk and get in touch and have these conversations. And with that, thank you for joining us, and hope that everybody has enjoyed this little taste of HMPS 2021.

Laurel Hopkins (21:58):
Likewise. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Speaker 3 (22:01):
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