Physician Engagement and Collaboration: The importance of aligning physicians with organizational goals to achieve and sustain service excellence

February 9, 2009

Medicine is in the midst of a new era. An era that redefines the influence that patient perception of care is having on market share, reimbursement, and the doctor-patient relationship. Patient-centric care founded on trust and communication has taken on a new priority in healthcare, replacing technology as a driver in the public’s perception of quality. Now more than ever, hospitals recognize the need to work with their medical staffs to develop and execute a service excellence strategy that drives patient satisfaction. Here’s why.

Today, patients are much more savvy in their desire to understand their diagnosis and plan of care. With the Internet age upon us, patients often come to physicians’ clinics, hospitals, or emergency departments informed with ideas on what their diagnosis may be, what tests need to be ordered, and what treatment they feel is necessary. Additionally, the age of transparency has made it possible for patients to differentiate average care from great care. This places a greater burden on us to deliver care that is perceived by patients as meeting their expectations as well as achieving desired clinical outcomes. Our failure to meet patient expectations adversely impacts patient loyalty.

Medicine is undergoing a transformation like none other in its history. We are moving from a pay for service to a pay for performance model. For the first time, reimbursement will be directly tied to patient perception of care. HCAHPS is just the beginning. In the near future, CMS and third party reimbursement will be directly linked to patient satisfaction metrics that will inevitably impact both inpatient and outpatient practices. Given the unsustainable medical inflation rate and continued rising medical costs in the US, a system to reward organizations for delivery of great and cost-effective care from those who deliver anything else but that, is long overdue. The pay for performance concept will drive competition and give consumers greater decision-making ability on where they want to receive care. Organizations that fail to effectively prepare themselves, and execute a successful strategy for the evolving pay for performance initiative will have a hard time surviving.

The common theme that ties together the above discussion points is the concept of patient perception of care. And what drives that more than anything else? Effective communication. Chang’s study as published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in May of 2006 clearly showed that patient’s global ratings of their health care are not tied to the technical quality of their care, but rather, to the quality of provider communication (Volume 144, Issue 9, pages 665-672). Effective physician communication is the key driver of overall patient satisfaction. Resnick’s recently published study in the Journal of Surgical Education (2008;65;243-252) showed that 61% of the variability in patient satisfaction is tied to physician behaviors. The remaining 39% was linked to nursing behaviors. Physicians more than any other group influence patient perception of care the most.

It is critical then, for healthcare organizations that want to effectively compete and survive the tumultuous economic uncertainties facing us today, to engage and collaborate with physicians to create an aligned strategy on the delivery of patient-centric care that promotes effective communication at all levels. Healthcare systems recognize the importance that physicians have on an organization’s ability to effectively compete and financially succeed. The problem is, hospitals and physicians don’t always think alike. There is often distrust, misalignment, and differing opinions between the two sides. This was again demonstrated in the recently released Press-Ganey 2008 Check-Up Report on physician perspectives on American hospitals. Three of the top five listed physician priorities on what impacts the physician-hospital relationship the most dealt with how well hospital administration communicates, responds, and collaborates with physicians to meet their practice needs.

In the evolving pay for performance initiative, physician behaviors will not only influence their own reimbursement, but hospitals’ as well. It is imperative that healthcare systems recognize the importance of collaborating with their medical staffs to create an aligned platform that promotes patient care quality and safety as well as drives patient perception of care, and executes an effective reimbursement and growth strategy that is mutually beneficial. Studer Group recognizes how critical this has become for physicians and hospitals.

Studer Group is creating a physician specific service line for 2009. The physician service line will help organizations engage and collaborate with their physicians. From an initial survey and analysis of an organization’s situation and specific needs, a comprehensive physician coaching plan and strategy will be formulated and executed to drive patient perception of care and satisfaction results. Paralleling the success of Studer Group’s inpatient coaching service line, the physician service line will utilize the evidence-based tools and coaching tactics that Studer Group has developed to achieve successful outcomes for the hundreds of clients that we have partnered with in the past.

This is an exciting yet uncertain time in medicine. There is real potential to significantly impact nationwide patient care quality and raise it to a level never before seen. Pay for performance will drive that. Many organizations face financial constraints never before experienced prior to the recent economic downturn. One thing is clear. Implementing a successful patient perception of care strategy and creating a culture of excellence is not only the right thing to do, but necessary for organizations to survive and thrive in the today’s economic uncertainty. The return on investment for engaging and collaborating with physicians is enormous. It is physician behaviors that ultimately drive patient satisfaction, impact loyalty, and create trust. Studer Group’s physician service line will help physician groups and healthcare organizations achieve their desired outcomes.

If you are interested in learning more about Studer Group’s physician service line, please contact me at, or visit

Yours in Service,

Wolfram Schynoll, M.D., FACEP
Studer Group Medical Director and Physician Coach


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