When I want to challenge my colleagues at Microsoft to see if they really understand the healthcare business, I’ll often ask this question. “Who is a hospital’s primary customer?” Most people who’ve had no first-hand experience working in a hospital will answer, “Well of course, the hospital’s customer is their patients.” “Wrong!”, I’ll exclaim. “A hospital’s revenue is driven by physicians who refer patients to the hospital. So the hospital’s true customers are the physicians who practice there.”
Perhaps that is why the March edition of Hospitals and Health Networks magazine has as its lead story, “Building Better Relationships with Your Physicians”. As the magazine’s editor points out, better relations with medical staff have never been more important. The successful development of Accountable Care Organizations as called for in Obama’s health reform package will be impossible without the full engagement and cooperation of community physicians on medical staff.
The magazine article focuses on 5 things that physicians want from hospitals - Responsiveness, Agility, Communication, Trust, and Ease of Practice. It seems clear to me that the first 3 things have a lot of bearing on the success of items 4 and 5. The article also provides 5 tips from experts on how to improve relationships with physicians; Be Visible (management by walking around), Appoint a Physician Champion, Credit Doctors for Success, Be Transparent, and Align Incentives. To that list I would add one more thing – implement contemporary software solutions to support all of the above.
Least you think this is yet another essay on why you must have electronic medical records or a comprehensive hospital information system, it is not. In fact, HealthBlog readers know I am adamant that while absolutely necessary, EMRs and HIS systems do not, by themselves, add a lot of value. They digitize health information. It is how you use that information once it is digitized and therefore accessible that creates the true value.
No, this time when I say implement contemporary software solutions to support your medical staff I have something quite different in mind. I’m talking about “customer” relationship management software and technologies to enhance communication and collaboration in your hospital enterprise and across your community.
When I came to Microsoft after working for 20 years in clinics and hospitals, I was blown away by the tools at my disposal. And over the last ten years, those tools have only gotten better. With a single click of the mouse, I can reach any of my colleagues anywhere in the world, by instant message, text message, e-mail, voice (computer + phone), or video conference. Because of something called “web presence” I can also see if my colleagues are on-line, in a meeting, away, or how they would prefer to be contacted. With another click or two, I can share my desktop or reach out to additional colleagues. I can invite them into a virtual group meeting. We can edit shared documents or slide presentations in real time. My voice mail, e-mail, messages, and other communications are all organized in a singular interface. What makes this possible are powerful information worker applications fully integrated with unified communications technologies. And of course it doesn’t hurt that our extensive use of these technologies saves our company tens of millions of dollars each year.
In addition to the above, many of my colleagues (and our customers) are using customer relationship management (CRM) tools that are fully integrated with the technologies mentioned above. With CRM, we are able to handle complex workflows, communications, and relationships in ways that speed business processes and responsiveness to customers’ needs.
I can’t tell you how many times I have thought, “If only these tools were routinely used in healthcare – how much better things would be!” Certainly these tools would help address what your most important customers (physicians) want from hospitals – Responsiveness, Agility, and Communication and with that, Trust and Ease of Practice.
Are you looking for ways to improve relations with your most important “customers”? If so, talk to your Microsoft account executive or certified partner about solutions for information work, unified communications and customer relationship management. You’ll be glad you did.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft