Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Physician Outreach

Part One of Three

By Ryan MacDonald
Director of Outreach and Engagement

As the health care landscape evolves, effectively engaging with physicians is critical to the success of new initiatives. Physicians can be key allies or tough adversaries, depending on the effectiveness of the engagement strategy.Outreach Staff

Harbage Consulting has extensive experience conducting physician outreach to assist states, counties, and other entities in implementing new or making changes to existing health care programs. Specifically, our firm has worked for over five years to ensure that providers involved in California’s Coordinated Care Initiative receive accurate and timely information about the program as it evolves over time. Following are some “do’s and don’ts” based on this experience:

3 Do’s of Physician Outreach

Use these tips to facilitate effective physician outreach.

1. Engage early and often

Physicians are influential and can offer valuable insights into policy and process decisions. Including physicians in initial and ongoing workgroups and when soliciting stakeholder feedback will add credibility and increase buy-in to your initiative.  Additionally, physician focus groups are a good tool to gain perspective into how changes and policies will impact providers and/or patients. Evaluating how changes impact physicians can provide important insights into the potential long-term effectiveness or challenges of the new approach.

2. Deliver value and listen

Physicians are busy and only have time for valuable and impactful information.  Demonstrating the clinical relevance and value of the new initiative or policy change is key. Listening to a physician’s needs, concerns, and questions will help in crafting an effective message and inform the type of outreach and level of detail needed.  Ensuring presentations and conversations are succinct and value-focused is important to keeping the physician engaged.

3. Find three types of champions

Identify non-physician, staff champions, such as practice managers, who can help influence physicians. Staff champions are often gatekeepers, can help open doors, and can help draw a physician’s attention on a topic or decision. They might also be a decision maker in the practice.

Physician champions are key to a successful health care outreach effort. Identify physicians who already support the outreach initiative and encourage them to take ownership of helping to advance the policy or program changes. Physician champions help with buy-in from other physicians and give a message or program credibility.

Educating patients, when appropriate, can be an effective way to reach physicians—making all patients potential champions. Word-of-mouth endorsements from patients may influence physicians and can have a significant impact on the programs physicians decide to support.

3 Don’ts of Physician Outreach

Avoid these mistakes, which can make or break the effectiveness of physician outreach.

1. Make sweeping assumptions

Avoid treating all physicians the same based on assumptions. Practicing the same specialty or in the same practice does not mean that two physicians will have the same needs or interests. Physicians from diverse backgrounds often have different questions, concerns, and motivations. Further, do not assume that a physician is knowledgeable about all aspects of their practice, the insurance industry, or government programs. They often have others handling those issues and might not have time to keep-up on changes to programs and policies that might affect them.

2. Provide too much information/engagement

Physician practices spend a lot of time working with various health care representatives.  Some have dedicated staff just to manage the volume of information coming into the practice. Because of this, it is important not to overwhelm the physician and/or gatekeepers with information. While it is important to be a consistent presence, it is best to limit the amount of contact with the practice or physician. Early on in the outreach process, learn what physicians need to know and streamline your outreach strategies and messaging to meet those needs.

3. Include physicians as part of the problem

While some physicians may play a role in the issue that the outreach is aimed at fixing, treating physicians as part of the problem is a quick way to lose them. Find ways to avoid pointing fingers at physicians or shaming them, their colleagues, or their industry, while still conveying the message in an objective way. Look for ways to involve the physicians in designing the solution rather than treating them as a source of the problem.