Want to Engage Physicians? Listen to Them

Posted by on November 23, 2019

by Marcia Simon, APR

Note: a version of this post originally appeared in Strategic Health Care Marketing.

The communication team at any hospital or health network works hard to produce content that engages physicians. The problem is that your clinicians may completely ignore it. How do you get them to pay attention?

Recruiting, retaining, and communicating effectively with your attending physicians affects everything from patient satisfaction and operating costs to hospital reputation and safety. As health care networks get bigger, communication to an expanding employee base becomes a growing challenge.

Communication teams need to get pertinent news to clinical departments throughout their networks as efficiently as possible. The problem with this is that doctors don’t really care what’s happening across the network; they care about their specialty and their hospital. They didn’t sign up to hear about enterprise solutions that don’t directly relate to their workflow, according to Jim Blazar, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at Hackensack Meridian Health.

Hackensack Meridian is New Jersey’s largest integrated health care network, with more than 6,500 physicians working across 17 hospitals and 500 patient care locations. The system needed to create a solid strategy for physician communication.

“We needed a solution that would work well not just across the network, but also at any one facility, one specialty at a time,” explains Blazar.

Times Have Changed

“It used to be that doctors would arrive at the hospital in the morning, stop at the cafeteria for coffee or breakfast, and run into other physicians, nurses, and lab personnel. They didn’t have to call each other because they knew they’d see each other to talk about cases and share information,” says Blazar. But times have changed, and doctors now spend more time in ambulatory settings. “We’re not seeing doctors rounding as much as we did back then either,” adds Blazar.

With attending physicians stretched thin among several network locations, Blazar and his team felt the need to regain a sense of community found in a hospital setting. They realized that the newest high-tech piece of equipment or software wasn’t going to improve communication. To better understand the current situation, they conducted a communication audit.

Listening to Physicians’ Concerns

Research began with informal hallway conversations, then moved on to scheduled interviews and focus groups to find out what physicians care about, want to know, and how to open the lines of communication. One important revelation was that often doctors didn’t use ANY of the communication tools the hospital had worked to create.

Physicians identified their top-three concerns:

  1. “We want to be able to spend more time with our patients.”
  2. “We get too many emails and newsletters.”
  3. “Corporate technology is too frustrating.”

The Pilot

The cardiac catherization lab was chosen for the initial pilot program because the department regularly had scheduling issues. For example, a physician would arrive at the lab to perform a scheduled procedure only to find that the staff there wasn’t ready.

The first phase of the pilot required convincing the stakeholders — cardiology department chiefs — that the plan had merit. The second phase involved recruiting cardiologists as clinical champions so that the pilot would be a physician-driven project. In phase 3, the pilot team worked with marketing and communications to cut back on the volume of communications and create targeted, relevant communications focused on what’s most important to a cardiologist. Finally, following the community-building concepts behind LinkedIn and Facebook and playing off Hackensack’s marketing theme of “perfectly orchestrated care,” a new digital platform was introduced: Maestro.

Maestro: Orchestrating Physician Communications

Maestro connects doctors with people in their specialty as well as related specialties at the locations they use. Users can easily access information and communicate with one another to optimize their time.

For example, with Maestro, a physician receives an alert if the cath lab isn’t ready at the appointed time. Blazar likens it to an airline app that sends a notification when your flight is delayed and continues to provide updates until you board.

Maestro is now Hackensack’s front door for physicians. Once inside the app, they can see schedules, charts, imaging, and can access the network’s complete directory. They can also personalize their contact database to include other doctors and preferred consultants, with back-office phone numbers for calling specific radiology departments and nursing stations throughout the network without waiting on hold.

“We created a virtual community in which everything is encrypted, fast, and easy,” says Blazar. Rather than juggling multiple passwords throughout the day, each physician uses a single password to access all the communication tools he or she needs, including HIPAA-compliant secure texting.

On the content side, a web-based portal delivers specialty-specific news of the day, which ranges from new FDA approvals to a community measles outbreak. Continuing Medical Education (CME) across the network can be sorted by specialty, location, or other criteria.

Besides streamlining communications, Maestro helped to identify root causes of the delays in the cath lab. Pinpointing the problems made it possible to complete a business plan that involved updating some equipment. Making the department and network more efficient enables the doctors to be more efficient, too, resulting in increased revenues.

Rave Reviews from Docs

Since the April 2017 launch, feedback has been excellent, says Blazar, especially when it comes to scheduling.

“It’s easy to get someone to download an app; the hard part is getting them to keep using it,” says Blazar, adding that the doctors really like the one-stop approach to secure texting, paging, and email messaging between patients and other clinicians.

As a result, email volume has gone down, although the hospital continues to send e-news tutorials and tips for learning all the features in Maestro. The strategy team continuously monitors to see how doctors are using the platform and what’s working.

Hackensack Meridian has been aggressively rolling out Maestro one hospital at a time, averaging two or three hospitals each month. Getting more locations to use the platform further allows doctors to easily communicate with a wider network of their preferred clinical teams.

“We make it easier to be at Hackensack Meridian Health. We want to make sure our doctors stay with the network,” says Blazar. The launch was successful because of a strategy that uses a physician-led approach and a phased rollout, coupled with targeted, relevant content and tools that are easy to use right out of the gate.

“You need to listen to the physicians, and then you need to respond to what they tell you if you’re going to maintain credibility,” says Blazar. “It’s a constant evolution.”

Marcia Simon, APR, writes about health, medical issues and wellness. As principal of MSE Public Relations, she manages content, communication and media relations for clients in the fields of digital health, sustainability and travel. Connect at marcia@mseusa.com or LinkedIn.com/in/marciasimon.