digital physician relations Physician Relations Webinars

COVID-19 and Physician Relations

Today at 2pm CDT, The Forum for Healthcare Strategists, together with Healthgrades, is hosting a webinar titled: Coming out of COVID-19 – The Changing Role of the Physician Liaison. Here’s the link to register. This is an important topic and I encourage you to attend. Physician Relations has always been an area of healthcare that is close to my heart. I’m encouraged by the thought that this pandemic may lead to some significant changes in the ways we do physician relations moving forward. Obviously, in the context of COVID-19, having liaisons visiting physician practices to meet with physicians and their staff is not a strong business model (if it ever was). Here’s a link to a blog post I wrote on the subject back in 2014 that still feels relevant today.

I started working to change the discipline of physician relations about a decade ago. In 2011, I began working on the development of a new model of physician relations – one that has now been adopted by a number of health systems around the country (but not nearly enough). It was the concept of “Digital Physician Relations.” The idea was to take the outdated method of visiting practices and interrupting the physician’s day, and begin to replace it with digital outreach. Just think of how a physician liaison could extend his or her reach by using digital tools to engage community physicians. We piloted the program with the physician relations team at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Below is a quick introductory video I produced on the subject of Digital Physician Relations.

In August 2013, my colleague Lyle Green and I published the first of many articles on the subject: “The Digital Future of Physician Relations,” eHealthcare Strategy & Trends. We would later contribute articles on the subject to Healthcare Marketing Report, Healthcare Marketing Advisor, EndoEconomics, Healthcare Strategy Alert, and the Journal of Management in Healthcare. We presented our notion of Digital Physician Relations at any number of conferences: American Association of Physician Liaisons (2014), 2012 National Healthcare Marketing Summit, AAMC 2012 National Professional Development Conference, 2012 Physician Strategies Summit, and 2012 New England Society for Healthcare Communications. Below is an excerpt from a piece I wrote about Digital Physician Relations:

“The physician relations department has always been an aggregator of content relevant to the referring physician. Typically, that content, once gathered, was distributed to medical professionals and practice administrators by way of newsletters and collateral material handed out during practice visits. Today, how does the availability of, and the need to distribute, large quantities of digital content impact the function of the physician relations team and, specifically, the physician liaison? One of the challenges facing physician relations departments in the current health care environment is how to handle this abundance of content and the addition of these new digital communication channels, often with fewer financial resources and a reduction in FTEs. For the last year, I’ve been going around the country, presenting at conferences, sharing my perspective on the future of physician relations. Below is the draft of an article I wrote recently that captures some of those views.

In response to these challenges and opportunities, the roles within the physician relations department may need to evolve or change. One new position that seems likely to develop is that of the digital physician relations content marketer. This individual would be the point person within the department responsible for aggregating digital content and for disseminating it across numerous digital channels. Content would be aggregated on a primary platform developed specifically to meet the needs of community physicians. That could be a microsite, the “for medical professionals” section of the organization’s website, a LinkedIn Group, or a blog. By continually updating the content, the information would be attractive to search engines and improve rankings.

The digital content marketer could also manage the department’s daily digital outreach to physicians and practices. This would involve using electronic marketing and social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others) to post links to specific pieces of content that referring physicians may value. Of course, the digital content marketer will also have to monitor social channels and respond to Retweets and questions from followers. Active listening would an important part of this job, noting and then responding to requests from physicians and practice managers.

The Digital Physician Relations Specialist

It is likely that the physician liaison’s role will need to evolve as well. Although many physicians are now comfortable with digital communication tools, many are not. We are now only part of the way through this transformative process. This means there exists a significant opportunity to educate community physicians, clinicians, and employees of the practice about ways to access information about the medical center via digital channels. An important part of the liaison’s role moving forward will likely involve using practice visits to familiarize these individuals with the digital platforms being used by the healthcare organization and acquainting them with the range of information available.

Another potential future role for the physician liaison involves them becoming digital physician relations specialists. This would significantly expand the reach of the liaison by adding digital communication to their role. Today, liaisons are limited in the number of practices they can visit in a day. However, with the help of social media, they can freely disseminate information about their organizations and reach out to practices far and wide, no longer encumbered by the obstacles of geography and time.

For the digital physician specialist, in addition to the traditional functions of a liaison, a portion of each day would be spent using social media to post content linking back to the organization’s digital hub (website, blog, microsite, etc). They would Retweet information shared by “faculty tweeters” and direct community physicians to the organization’s online resources for referring physicians.”

In the context of COVID-19, it seems like this is the perfect time to re-examine the way we do physician relations.

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