The Changing Role of the Physician

By Mark Dixon  /  05 Aug 2014

As provider organizations transform healthcare to focus on population health, they’re changing the way care is delivered within their organization by establishing best practices for patient care, investing in new technology to give better insights on patients, and making systematic changes to improve care coordination, among others. Fundamental changes like these don’t happen overnight. They require the support of clinicians, employees and other key stakeholders.

Physicians, in particular, are critical to the successful implementation of any changes. Since they direct a patient’s overall care plan, they have the biggest influence on the critical metrics of cost, quality and experience. Without physicians’ buy-in, it’s nearly impossible to create any substantive changes within an organization.

In my work as a system healthcare executive in a large IDN (Integrated Delivery Network) and in my current role as a consultant, I’ve learned that physicians are most willing to support new policies, technologies, and other changes, if they are led by a physician leader. I believe that in order to successfully transform healthcare, we need more physicians to become leaders.

Hospitals and health systems should consider the following steps to encourage physician leadership:

1. Identify potential physician leaders. For much of the past century, physicians have operated as a team of one. But some physicians are naturally inclined to be leaders. Look for the physicians who are curious about the organization and consistently ask questions about the environment around them. Also look for the physicians who consistently raise their hand to volunteer, ask questions, and offer their perspectives. These physicians are more likely to be successful in a leadership role.

2. Provide substantial leadership training. Since the majority of medical school programs do not offer executive management courses, hospitals and health systems should consider providing training on topics like executive communication, team building, and other similar skills to help physicians become better adept at creating followership among other physicians and clinicians.

3. Foster mentoring relationships. Some hospitals have found success in pairing physicians with other members of the executive team to create strong mentorship relationships. Good mentoring programs can help physicians find the guidance they need transition into a new role as a leader within the organization.

As the healthcare industry continues to undergo an important transformation that will improve outcomes of not just one patient, but that of the entire of the population, we’re going to need physicians to step up and lead their peers through these critical changes.

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