The term “physician engagement” is ubiquitous in today’s healthcare conversation, and it is often prescribed as the solution to a number of hospital management issues. But what does it really mean, and why is it so beneficial?
To be engaged means “to be greatly interested or committed.” Physician engagement centers on a physician’s commitment to enhancing the performance of the organization by continuing to develop their own clinical and managerial skills, as well as those of their teammates.
When physicians are engaged, they are actively involved in their organizations – they go beyond treating their patients and performing the accompanying administrative duties. Engaged physicians participate in and lead education courses; they also serve on boards and committees within or on behalf of their organization. They dedicate their time and effort to the larger goals of the hospital or health system, beyond their immediate goals as individual physicians.
There is much discussion about how hospital leaders can achieve physician engagement. At its core, the process is similar to creating a successful business relationship: hospital leaders must establish mutual trust, empower physicians to voice their opinions, involve physicians in crucial decision-making processes, and ensure they have the access to the resources they need.
Benefits of Engaged Physicians
The benefit to having engaged physicians is three-fold: happier physicians, healthier patients and a better performing hospital.
Not only do physicians themselves benefit from being engaged, but so do their patients. Engaged physicians demonstrate a deeper commitment to improving their own performance. One important aspect of a physician’s performance is demonstrating empathy. Patients with empathetic physicians are more likely to confide personal details that may help in diagnoses, and are more willing to adhere to treatments that improve their health. Recent studies have shown that a positive doctor-patient relationship can actually improve outcomes for patients with obesity, diabetes and asthma. Additionally, patients of engaged, empathetic physicians are more likely to be satisfied with the care they have received.
With more hospital reimbursement tied to patient satisfaction and health outcomes, hospitals will benefit enormously from an engaged physician group and the improved patient outcomes that come along with it. Not only are patients happier and healthier, but when physicians are engaged, they think about the goals of the organization at large. Therefore, change management and process improvement initiatives have a higher likelihood of succeeding in hospitals with engaged physicians.
Physician engagement may indeed be one key to hospital performance improvement on a number of different levels. It is important to spend time thinking about what engagement really means before developing a strategy to cultivate it.