In Their Shoes: The Top Five Ways to Build Relationships with Physicians

**This article kicks off a new WHPRMS series titled: In their Shoes**

As healthcare communications experts, we interact with a wide variety of audiences. From simple messages to extremely complex topics, what we learn and share is often based on the connection we develop with physicians. They drive our strategies, provide content expertise and/or lead our teams. Communicating with them, however, can feel like crossing an ocean without a compass – intimidating and filled with guesswork. We asked several physicians from various organizations, specialties and locations how we can better understand them and their needs so we can build relationships that meet our mutual goals. We compiled their answers into the following five common themes.

  1. The business of healthcare? Some physicians struggle with the very idea of marketing healthcare. From the start, physicians are trained to focus on what is best for their patients; which doesn’t always mesh with what you, a marketer, administrator or some financial expert, thinks is best for the business. Regardless of your opinion, one sure-fire way to build a beautiful relationship with a physician is by simply hearing them out. Consumer-based health care is –shall we say – trending, so listen carefully to those who spend the most time with the ‘consumer.’
  2. Go away? A physician who works for a large healthcare organization may see very little tangible benefit from marketing ventures and may not be receptive to marketing strategies; conversely, a physician in private practice may be very interested in your work because they need patients to drive revenue. In either scenario, physicians who are already extremely busy may not want to contribute to efforts designed to bring in more business. Spend time studying their patient base and business needs. Ask them what types of patients they enjoy seeing and compare that to what types bring in the most revenue. Find a balance that lets them know you’re paying attention, and highlight your successes related to both.
  3. Say What?! Physicians listen to physicians. Without a medical degree on your wall, you’ll have to work to prove yourself and establish trust. Before tackling new possible naysayers, share your ideas and work to gain consensus from physicians with whom you’ve already built a connection. Their support will elevate your efforts.
  4. Doctors are people too. They handle many of their non-clinical requests on nights and weekends and typically have more to do than time to do it. Keep requests to a minimum and build a large network of go-to experts to cover a variety of issues. Ask them how they prefer to receive communication and keep exchanges brief and to the point. Triage, prioritize and place a deadline or “response needed by” date in the subject line of an email. A bulleted list of your three most important issues or a few yes/no questions will make it easier for them to respond in a timely manner.
  5. Yay science! Physicians are scientists who study and apply data and facts. Although our approach may differ, we share those abilities. Remember you’re the marketing expert. Don’t underestimate your ability to drive this work. Presented with the facts, goals and outcomes, most clinicians will embrace and support your work, even though many have little to no training (or a strong interest) in marketing.

Kathy Schultz is the President of WHPRMS. She’s been building relationships with physicians for 26 years. Most of those physicians still like her.

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