The Hidden Costs of Declining Physician Engagement
by Dan Smith MD, FACEP, Studer Group Coach, International Speaker, and practicing Emergency Physician
Like most people who chose healthcare as a profession, physicians are deeply committed to making a difference in the lives of patients. Combine that passion with the demanding and ever changing environment physicians work in—and the outcomes that must be achieved to maximize clinical effectiveness and garner full reimbursement—and we understand why maintaining physician engagement and alignment is a critical focus. At a time when the demand for physicians is already expected to outpace the supply over the next 12 years, we cannot wait to address this opportunity.
Focusing on physician engagement is also crucial because engaged physicians are less likely to leave healthcare. Instead, they can make substantial and meaningful contributions to the mission, clinical outcomes and financial health of their organizations as they serve as partners in supporting long term sustainability.
The ROI on Physician Engagement
Let's do the math. Annual physician turnover is at an all-time high of approximately 6.8 percent.1 So how does physician turnover affect an organization? When the costs of recruiting, start-up, and lost revenue generation are figured in, the cost to replace a single employed physician often exceeds $500,000. (This is without adding in fees for sourcing and advertising, interviewing, moving and signing bonuses.)
An example: For a physician that generates $1.4 million in revenue annually, average recruitment costs are $64,0002 and start-up costs for a replacement physician are $100,000. If it takes just four months to replace this single physician, it will cost the organization approximately $630,000.
What is the best solution to avoid these costs? Engage physicians in a partnership that truly serves patients and physicians, and provides them a great place to practice medicine. In turn, physicians will feel a sense ownership and alignment to the organization and they can enjoy purpose, worthwhile work, and making a difference. (Note: To watch a webinar on building an operational framework for medical staff integration with Quint Studer and George A. Ford, III, MD visit www.studergroup.com/burnout.)
Quick Wins and Final Tips
Earlier we mentioned the importance of rounding on physicians to improve engagement (See "Physician Must-Haves") Physicians appreciate the foundations of rounding: the opportunity to recognize ones value to the healthcare team, the opportunity to provide perspectives and knowing that leaders will follow-up on any issues or concerns. When leaders consistently and frequently round, physicians are more likely to align and support system priorities.
Just as physicians like to provide input, they also like to receive feedback and status updates. The key here is to be honest and direct. If you don't have the answer immediately, that's alright, but offer a time frame, owner and ensure follow through versus an "I'll get back to you."
Never underestimate the difference that physicians can make. A handwritten thank you note, preferably with specifics, is one way leaders can acknowledge the efforts and worthwhile work of the physician and offer feedback.
We are in the midst of continuous changes in healthcare, yet one constant is passion. Strategies that align and engage physicians become an imperative to fuel that passion and help us achieve the best outcomes for our patients and organizations.
1 Cejka Search. "Financial Health Check Up Addressing Record Growth in Physician Turnover." Apr 19, 2013.
2 Cejka Search and AMGA 2012. Physician Turnover – What You Don't Know Can Cost You white paper