2015 will mark my 30th year in Healthcare Leadership. I have been fortunate to work for great organizations in growing areas and have been a part of building and growing some great clinical programs. In the process I have provided well for my family and am positioned to leave a personal and professional legacy for the next generation. Along the way I have determined that there truly is ONE KEY to my success as a healthcare leader and that is creating and maintaining GREAT Physician Relationships.
I will share some guiding principles for great physician relationships shortly, but first we need to understand what I call:
The 1st Law of Healthcare Administration: Only Physicians write orders.
An important corollary to this law is Physician Orders must be carried out.
The impact of these two principles as a healthcare administrator is this:
Whether one is working on a growth strategy or an efficiency strategy, she will not succeed unless physicians are aligned with the initiative.
Follow these guiding principles and you will succeed with physicians and thereby succeed in healthcare leadership:
First Things First: It is all about the patient!
If you want to align with physicians this principle will get you there 80% of the time. Most physicians have this at the core of their being. If you want alignment, it needs to be at the core of yours. If it is not, you really should find another line of work. No one will follow or respect a healthcare leader who is all about the business mission or the academic mission except to the degree it aligns with what is right for the patient. That is the sweet spot of success in healthcare. Keep swinging there and you will knock it out of the park!
Find, Fix and Follow-up
This principle was taught to me by some consultants along the way, probably the Studer Group. If you want to improve your healthcare operations, listen to the physicians. They are in the middle of the fray. They know what is broken. Find the root cause of the problems and Fix them! Do not let them linger forever. Remove the barriers to great patient care and let the care givers function at the “top of their licenses.” By the way, when you do that, Follow-up and let them know you have fixed it. This is VERY important for your credibility. I have had the experience of fixing something and 2 years later something similar occurred causing a physician leader to determine it had been broken for two years! Get credit for the work you and your team do to fix things by circling back and communicating the actions you have taken and confirm the results with the physicians.
Create Win, Win, Wins!
Everyone knows that there is an engrained distrust between physicians and “Administration” in healthcare that has to be overcome. Too often, I have seen Healthcare Administrators try to succeed by looking at the factions within Medical Staffs and trying to pit one faction versus another and thereby maintain enough of a power edge to stay “in control.” This strategy can win in the short-term, and is exactly why we have what I call the “3 and out cycle” in healthcare leadership… A new healthcare CEO comes in and surveys the landscape, determines a strategy, aligns with one side or another of the medical staff to execute on the strategy, succeeds and moves on before the backlash can catch up with her. In the wake is a disgruntled, untrusting medical staff that is waiting on the next CEO to come in and see what they can do to get their agenda heard this time around.
This win/win leadership is not enough to sustain long-term success in healthcare. Instead we need to create a win/win/win strategy, embracing all factions by engaging medical staff leadership around “first things first,” the patient. Work with them to define sustainable strategic initiatives that deliver the best care to patients and support the mission and vision of the healthcare system. This is not a quick hit strategy. It takes time because it relies upon creating relationships and trust. Will everyone embrace the vision? Probably not, but the few who are not aligned when this is the approach usually marginalize themselves. All the other stakeholders will see them as outliers whose selfish interests outweighed the interests of patients, and their complaints will fall on deaf ears.
Finally, remember Physicians are People Too! Get to know them. Care about them as mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, wives and husbands. They have lives outside of their roles in our healthcare institutions. Help them have balance in their lives.