As hospital CEOs take on more of a market manager role, it is crucial for them to build and sustain relationships with employed and private practice physicians in the community. We all know that referrals follow relationships—and that all relationships atrophy over time—so hospital executives need a coordinated way to proactively visit with physicians on an ongoing basis.
One way you can assist your CEO to stay focused on physician relationships is by creating an executive rounding program, where hospital or healthcare system executives meet with targeted physicians on regularly scheduled visits.
The following steps will help you on your way to building an executive rounding program that is both meaningful and effective.
1. Ask the right questions.The first step in setting up an executive rounding program is to create parameters and a process that the executives support. As you prepare to create this plan, you will want to address the following questions:
- Who will manage the executive rounding program?
- Who will be in charge of scheduling?
- Which executives will participate in the program?
- Which physicians will participate?
- How many hours per month will be expected from each executive?
After you’ve addressed each of the questions above, put together a formal plan and present it to your vice president or executive council for approval.
2. Make it easy.
To ensure an optimal level of support, take as much work off the hospital executive’s plate as possible. Although an executive will physically make the visits, it’s important to do some work behind the scenes to ensure that every appointment will add value both for the physician being visited and for your healthcare facility—without adding too much to any one executive’s workload.
Creating a call script is one way to make the appointment easier for the executive. This should be a general guide to help the executive stay focused on the purpose of the visit. When developing a call script, write out bullet points with topics or questions the executives should discuss with the physicians during their appointment. For each topic or question, include a checkbox for “needs follow-up” and “delegate to” to expedite the follow-up process once the executive has returned from the physician office.
Provide each executive’s administrative assistant with a hard copy stack of scripts to keep on hand and an electronic version as well.
Though it may be uncomfortable to ask the executive to use a script, it’s important to keep in mind that many executives haven’t had formal training in this sort of communication and may need reminders about how to appropriately “sell” your healthcare facility and engage physicians. A call script provides a visual cue that can assist executives in simultaneously meeting the objectives of each visit and improving their own rounding skills.
3. Determine physician targets.
The next step in setting up an executive rounding program is to determine who the physician targets are. You want your administrators to feel comfortable in the conversations they will have with their physicians. You also want to make sure the physician is comfortable speaking to an executive about his or her experiences at the hospital or healthcare facility.
To accomplish both these objectives, we recommend focusing on your loyalists for executive rounding programs. These physicians are relatively easy to find, as the 80/20 rule typically applies to them: They comprise 80% of the hospital’s referral volume. In other words, over 80% of their non-office revenue is generated at your facilities. (Dissenters generate less than 20% at your facilities, and splitters are those who fall between 20 and 80%.)
Whether you decide to focus on general admissions, outpatient referrals, or a specific service line like oncology, determine which physicians make up the bulk of the patient referral volume and start there. Since these are loyalists, they often have bigger process issues and/or alignment or growth questions that are most appropriate for executives to handle first and then assign for follow-up.
4. Schedule time blocks for executive visits.
Once you’ve determined your physician targets, the next task is to schedule appointments with those physicians. Be sure to tell the scheduler you're calling from your healthcare facility on behalf of the executive. Explain that the physician has been identified as one the executive would like to meet with on a regular basis. Ask for available time on the physician schedules, but be prepared to give open time blocks for any available executive in the coming weeks.
Here’s the crucial key to this approach: Schedule the physician’s rounding appointment in any slot available, regardless of the hospital executive who will be available to make visits at that time. In other words, depending on the way schedules align, a physician might meet with the hospital CEO on one visit and the CFO or COO on the next.
This varied approach to rounding is beneficial to all parties; with each different executive, the physician may bring up different types of questions, comments, and conversations. A physician might be comfortable talking about finances with the CFO, for instance, but would only ask about new facility projects when meeting with the COO.
Another benefit of non-specific relationship assignments is that if one executive is unable to make it, another executive can easily fill in at the last minute. This greatly reduces the time lag between visits and often precludes the nightmare of re-scheduling.
5. Follow up after the appointment.
After a rounding appointment, the executive should return the call script and notes to an administrative assistant, who will be responsible for loading the script into the customer relationship management technology solution and for assigning all follow-up tasks. The assistant may do this by scanning the notes, creating a simple history, and/or creating action plans and open issues.
Another option is to have the assistant send the completed script to physician relations for entry; but be sure to determine the responsibility for this task upfront so there are no questions about who is accountable.
In addition to following up with tasks generated from the visit, it is important to send reports to your executive team regarding the success of monthly executive rounds. Include a correlation between physicians visited and issues resolved, processes changed, additional physicians employed, physician engagement scores improved, or any other valuable analytic data that will support and justify the executives’ time spent off site.
Quantitative data are best for proving success to executives, so include as much as is appropriate, and provide this data on a regular basis. If supported in your organization, a quarterly presentation to the executive team will further help you demonstrate the value of this program.
Executives should repeat the rounding process every 90-120 days so that your loyal physicians have a chance to connect with an executive on a regular basis. By following these steps, you are facilitating a program for your hospital CEO and other administrators to become better market managers, increase physician engagement, and ultimately gain market share.