One of the insights that arose from the 2018 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference was “You must operate as a health system, not just call yourself one.” That’s a difficult task, especially for large systems that are geographically dispersed across a state—even more so across the nation. It can be equally challenging for small- or mid-tier systems if their current communication strategy lacks key components.
For example, one hurdle is not realizing the effectiveness of targeted email campaigns. A hospital newsletter—whether printed or in digital form—can only cover so many announcements. Social media serves as an awareness tool, but again, too broad or generic of a message falls on deaf ears.
On the other hand, a highly-targeted email campaign can be department-specific or even more granular to address matters within departments. Whether messaging provides critical recall information or reinforces health system values, email is the best digital channel to communicate with physicians.
Email is a cost-effective way to send multiple reminders and encourage adoption of updated treatment protocols.
Here are six areas email can be used to support physician engagement, optimize interactions, and promote continued conversations.
1) Expedite Urgent Protocols: Get the Word Out Immediately
Too broad or generic of a message falls on deaf ears.
Emergency Protocols. From a tainted spinach E. coli outbreak to a spike in Zika cases, emergency personnel need to be aware of directives as soon as they become available. Even this past year’s influenza virus presented cause for alarm due to its severity—not only in the ER, but in clinic settings as well. Physicians needed to be apprised of potentially unknown indications, particularly in typically non-risk populations.
Drug and Device Recalls. As physicians well know, getting a drug to market is a laborious process, heavily regulated by the FDA. Unfortunately, that doesn’t guarantee undesirable effects won’t pop up after the drug has been approved. In 2017, the FDA issued 1,036 drug recall enforcement reports for all drug products from 2012 to 2017. That averages out to almost three per day. Just this month, the FDA alerted health care professionals not to provide patients compounded drugs from Cantrell Drug Company. The agency became concerned about “serious deficiencies” that put patient safety at risk.
Whether messaging provides critical recall information or reinforces health system values, email is the best digital channel to communicate with physicians.
Medical device recalls produce another need to relay urgent information. Medtronic recently recalled cardiac defibrillators because of a manufacturing defect which could prevent devices from delivering the life-saving, electrical shock therapies patients need.
Serious complications like these regularly arise; most times without warning. Both examples could be addressed in real time via email.
New Drugs, New Devices. Not all “drug and device” news is adverse. Sometimes the call to action is to replace a less-effective medication or device with its new and improved counterpart. Immediacy comes into play here, too. For the good of both the patient and the health system, rapid implementation of new therapies is the goal. But, habits are hard to break. Email is a cost-effective way to send multiple reminders and encourage adoption of updated treatment protocols.
2) Enhance the Patient Experience: One System, One Mission
Frequently engaging physicians, NPs/PAs, and other staff members with the health system’s mission to provide superior care reinforces shared values and instills proper patient protocols.
Patients Demand Top-Notch Care. Ensuring a consistent, positive patient experience isn’t easy under a health system umbrella that spans a wide geographical area. All those moving parts leave room for dissonance among facilities. With patients increasingly taking control of their own care choices, you can be sure they’ll factor personal experiences into future decisions. And, news travels much faster these days, thanks to online chatter via social media and public review sites. An issue as seemingly simple as excessive wait times at one location might damage the brand’s reputation as a whole. Frequently engaging physicians, NPs/PAs, and other staff members with the health system’s mission to provide superior care reinforces shared values and instills proper patient protocols.
3) Foster Relationships and Keep Communication Lines Open
Partnering With Urgent Care and Quick Service Clinics. Along with top-notch care, patients also want convenient care. A survey by Health Research Institute revealed that approximately 50 percent of consumers age 18-55 would be likely to choose new options, like quick service clinics and telehealth services, if they were readily available.
To meet this changing shift in healthcare, many hospitals and health systems are establishing reciprocal referral relationships. Email’s efficiency opens up communication lines between entities to keep every party abreast of particulars, such as a list of services available at each location, hours of operation, and the logistics of referral processes.
Supporting Physician Liaisons. A high-quality email list (which you should be using) provides specific details about physicians, such as specialty, case mix, procedure codes, and referral patterns. This data informs which physicians might need a check-in from a physician liaison. For example, if an orthopedist consistently refers cases to surgeons out of network, you can support the physician liaison by sending the doc a “heads up” email and then do the same for a post-conversation follow up. This communication approach helps everyone do their jobs better.
4) Educate and Help Newbies Navigate and Acclimate
All those moving parts leave room for dissonance among healthcare facilities.
Physician Integration. As the “conglomeration” trend continues—with health systems acquiring smaller practices and enveloping regional clinics—quick physician integration becomes a key part of successful growth. A doc who has been part of a boutique practice his entire career might need some gentle coaching on how to navigate his new environment. Email serves as a tool to welcome onboarding physicians, expedite familiarity with your service lines, define your brand, and provide insight into your health system’s history. Applying email in this way also conditions physicians to expect to receive other important communications in their inboxes, such as administrative memos or operational changes.
5) Promote Yourself and Your Staff
Good News Announcements. Hospital and clinic settings, by nature, are mostly filled with angst. Staff members work long hours, no matter if their top surgeons or administrative support teams. Behind the scenes, administrators are tasked with the ongoing battle of furthering prosperity. So, when something good happens—such as being recognized as a U.S. News & World Report “Best Hospital” or the completed expansion of your children’s oncology department—it’s a reason to celebrate. It’s also an opportunity to entice potential referrers to consider your facility over another. Again, using a high-caliber physician email list allows you to segment docs based on specialty, geographic location, and diagnostic data, thus ensuring you’re connecting with individual physicians in a personalized, meaningful way.
6) Get Feedback
Physician Input. Email is clearly the preferred way to communicate with docs, but its use should not be a one-way street. All of the aforementioned email implementation examples work towards building stronger physician relationships, but perhaps the greatest value email yields in that regard is opening room for physician dialogue. What do your physicians really think about their work environment, colleagues, and management team? Is there need for improvement among daily hospital operations? Are they getting too many, too few, or just the right amount of email interactions from you? Asking for direct feedback from physicians should be a welcome addition to your email program. Those conversations are integral for furthering growth and success.
A solid email game plan supports these categories and more, affording the congruency to truly operate like a health system—not just carry the name.