“The greater the loyalty of a group toward the group, the greater is the motivation among the members to achieve the goals of the group, and the greater the probability that the group will achieve its goals.” – Rensis Likert
Loyalty. People generally tend to have loyalty to each other, their country, perhaps their favorite sports team, some, maybe even to their favorite peanut butter brand. However, I would bet that very few people would think of the word “physician” when speaking of loyalty… except one particular group of individuals: the hospital executives.
Hospital executives think of nothing but the word “physician” when loyalty is mentioned. Why? Well, because physician loyalty is something hospitals across the country desperately seek, yet have the most difficult time securing given the challenges of the healthcare environment today.
It is no surprise that the healthcare environment is in constant flux and is creating a great deal of competition among hospitals around the country. Hospitals are not only competing for new technology and financial support, but more importantly and critical to the organization’s longevity, they are competing to attract and retain respectable, qualified and above all, loyal physicians.
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The healthcare industry typically defines a loyal physician as one who has the following1:
- Tendency to refer patients to the hospital
- Commitment to remain on the hospital’s medical staff
- Resistance to join or start another organization
In addition, a loyal physician also must feel a positive, emotional attachment with their hospital affiliations. These days, physicians may love what they do, but not where they do it. Two out of five physicians attach no positive associations with the hospitals in which they practice2. If there is not positive association with a hospital, it is difficult for a physician, by industry definition, to be loyal.
So what drives a physician to remain loyal and view the hospitals in which they work in a positive light? Based on numerous studies and interviews with physicians, the key drivers to physician loyalty are simple3:
- Superior hospital customer service and quality -Physicians are more likely to refer patients to hospitals which they believe to provide optimal care and services. The Advisory Board Company states, “85 percent of patients choose a hospital based on the recommendation of their physicians and that customer service and efficient hospital operations are extremely important in the physician’s selection of a hospital in which they chose to practice3.” This could include things such as quick turnaround on ordered tests, availability of services, knowledgeable and trained nursing/medical staff and ease of obtaining information. Physicians are genuinely interested in giving quality care to their patients and they expect the same commitment from their hospital.
- A culture that supports medical staff participation in decision-making and planning – It blows my mind that many hospital executives still feel strategic planning discussions should be left strictly to the MBAs rather than including the MDs. Who better to provide insight on the business’ processes than the individuals who provide the services? Physicians enjoy and need to be part of the decision making process and contribute to the overall strategies which will eventually guide the way they provide care to their patients. Physicians who feel that they are just a means to an end for the hospital, rather than an integral part of the organization, will likely lack loyalty.
- Technologies that are of practical use to physicians – Using technology to increase efficient and effective care helps maintain physician satisfaction. New, flashy, “state of the art” medical equipment may appeal to patients and the general public, but physicians prefer equipment that will increase integration and productivity, knowing that, in turn, this will increase revenue. Physicians prefer equipment that is more practical to deliver high quality care to their patients rather than equipment that is first to market and has no practical use to the physician and/or hospital.
- Meaningful physician practice support – As the saying goes, money can’t buy happiness. Physicians prefer practice support rather than financial incentives, such as bonuses. Hospitals have access to many resources and services such as contracting, business planning, marketing, group purchasing, etc., that physician practices do not. Offering management services to enhance a physician’s practice’s basic operations and revenue stream shows commitment, support and partnership in the eyes of the physician, which can increase collaboration and loyalty.
- Ongoing referral tracking and management – Physicians like to know the results of their referrals quickly and be able to assess their patients’ outcomes and experiences with the hospital/medical staff, as it helps them determine next steps for their patients-continue referring to that hospital or not. The hospital should track the increase or decrease in referrals from physicians. Given the results of the tracking, the hospital can visit the physician to determine the cause and either continue/enhance what they are doing or make necessary adjustments. Physicians appreciate these types of efforts made by hospitals to sustain and/or improve issues that impact their practice and patients.
In addition to the aforementioned operational types of drivers that need to be in place to increase loyalty, it is important to understand that physicians also need to feel an emotional attachment to the hospital. Emotional needs of physicians can include, but certainly are not limited to2:
- Confidence and trust – Physicians view hospitals in a positive light if they do what they say and say what they do. They like knowing that the hospital is trustworthy and will deliver on its promises to the staff and its patients.
- Integrity – Physicians need to know that the hospital is fair in its decisions and processes. They want their issues resolved fairly, promptly and with competence.
- Pride -If a physician feels that their affiliated hospital reflects positively on them and that they are respected within that organization, they will view the hospital in a positive manner and be proud to work there.
- Passion -Physicians who are passionate about working at a hospital typically find the hospital irreplaceable and therefore remain loyal.
To stay competitive, healthcare administrators need to make physician loyalty part of the overall strategic plan. Strategies need to be developed WITH physicians, and the hospital administration needs to communicate a plan with specific objectives and regularly update physicians on the hospital’s progress toward achieving those goals4. Any and all problems need to be dealt with in a timely manner and communicated to physicians so that through joint efforts the issues can be resolved. A collaborative team approach and open and honest communications are a must to build a strong hospital-physician relationship.
Hospitals need to be attractive not only in operational efficiency, but also appeal to the physician’s emotions. Hospitals must realize that patients are not the end all be all of the success and sustainability of a hospital. No loyal physicians, no loyal patients! Hospitals require respectable, happy, dedicated physicians to build a strong reputation, keep patients satisfied and sustain financial health. Good physicians are a commodity these days, don’t let yours get away!