Strategies for Physician Engagement and Education

Strategies for Physician Engagement and Education

Overcome barriers preventing your providers from achieving their goals for patient care.

Physician engagement and education go hand in hand, making it impossible for some practices to accomplish either. What are the challenges for engaging and educating healthcare providers and how do we overcome them? In this article, we’ll look at why physician engagement and education need to be top priority in every medical practice, why it often isn’t, and ways to encourage physician buy-in.

Physician Engagement Strategies

The benefits of strong provider engagement include increased physician productivity, overall improvement in organizational performance, increased connections and in-network referrals, less patient leakage, and a more competitive standing in the industry.

A Gallup Poll showed that provider engagement results in an increase of 3 percent with outpatient referrals and an increase of 51 percent with inpatient referrals. This means patient retention. Patient loyalty helps improve physician alignment. And better physician alignment increases market share, which drives revenue. Providers are the backbone of the healthcare system. Their decisions most certainly impact both quality and cost of care. Some of the things providers have control of include: 1) specialist referrals; 2) prescriptions; and 3) quality of care.

Engagement is initiated by giving providers a say in how their work gets completed; allowing them to make suggestions for improvement and work processes; encouraging them to set goals and be aware of their own performance; and informing them of activities involving the patients, organization, and healthcare system.

Engagement strategies include streamlining communication, building relationships (and, in turn, building trust), and aligning physicians with the values, vision, and mission of the organization, as well as other stakeholders. Provider engagement also requires a strategic alignment of quality and economic goals within the practice. In other words, providers must have the right information and tools to assess a comprehensive view of their patients’ health. This empowers the physician to employ the appropriate preventive care measures to improve patient outcomes and close preventive care gaps.

Successful engagement results in physicians who are loyal, proud, and committed to the organization’s mission, vision, and values. Engaged providers are more ready, willing, and able to learn how to change their documentation habits, for example, when they understand how it will lead to improved patient care, clinical outcomes, quality ratings, member retention, and overall efficiency. In fact, data shows that engaged physicians are 26 percent more productive.

Unfortunately, constant change, poor understanding of new healthcare models, miscommunication, process inefficiencies, compensation-only incentives, and physician burnout threaten provider buy-in.

Face Challenges Head-on

Change is our biggest challenge in healthcare, and it poses its own set of challenges. For example, patients are fickle, often switching healthcare markets or plans and providers; coding and guidelines are revised annually, quarterly, and sometimes even more frequently; and revised healthcare regulations, good or bad, complicate matters even more.

For many of us, it is hard to go with the flow and make changes, especially when we have known a process for years. I’m sure many of you have heard these statements before: “But this is the way I’ve always done it.” “This is what I have always known.” “I do not want to add five more clicks.” “But the administrator before you told me I could do it this way.” Through all of these concerns, we must keep our cool and show support, guidance, and leadership to hold it all together.

When a physician is faced with changes in documentation, coding, new record systems, or payers, they may have a poor understanding of the changes and become overwhelmed. It is challenging to care for patients all day, every day, rotating inpatient shifts, making hospital calls for consults, and the list goes on. Then, on top of that, they have to remember all of the ins and out of documentation policies and coding practices. This is where teamwork and collaboration with coders, billers, administrators, and auditors come into play.

Communication Is Key

Miscommunication can be another obstacle to provider engagement. Communication is not limited to speech; it includes body language, demeanor, writing, signs, signals, and behaviors. With all communication, there is a sender and a receiver. There are messages and interpretations on both ends of communication. If there is a lack of communication, or poor communication, then engagement will not be achieved.

Regardless of how we communicate, we must respect one another and remember that we’re on the same team, working toward shared goals. Successful engagement begins when physicians, staff, and patients alike are able to communicate on the same level.

Engaging Ideas

Here are several approaches you can use to enhance provider engagement in your organization:

  • Have a united purpose. Help providers see that you share their mission and goals and can be trusted. Trust can make or break a working relationship with a provider; without it, you’re unlikely to get much cooperation.
  • Appoint leaders. Identify physician leaders who are willing to accept and adhere to the vision and mission of the organization and be role models for others to follow.
  • Create partnerships. Recruit physicians who are willing to assist in planning and implementing improvements. Engage and partner with them to devise solutions for improved efficiency and quality of care.
  • Set expectations. Physicians tend to be perfectionists but explain to them that the goal is improvement, not immediate perfection. Working together and learning from each other’s mistakes is progress.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Administrators must communicate to providers and maintain transparency on the outcomes of changes put in place. What is the result or outcome of the provider’s plans, suggestions, thoughts, requests, or questions? Be ready to discuss why something worked or didn’t work. We do not always have the answers, but keeping your physicians engaged requires keeping them informed.

After identifying your organization’s challenges, prioritize who needs to be engaged and focus on those who have the greatest impact on the practice’s goals and plans. Do not limit your focus on physicians. Widen your focus to include patients, staff, and administrators. With engagement comes the ability to educate.

Provider Education Strategies

The healthcare system is inundated with clinical documentation, both paper and electronic. While no documentation process is perfect, the goal should be a clinical record that is complete and accurate. The problem is that the rules for documentation have changed over the years. Educating providers on the new rules can help them produce more specific and comprehensive documentation that paints a complete picture of the patient encounter. This, in turn, facilitates accurate coding, proper payment, and improved patient outcomes.

Insufficient documentation includes that which lacks specificity, isn’t complete, or is of poor quality. Be able to identify poor documentation and be aware of factors that contribute to it such as inaccurate entries, unspecified or inadequate information, note bloat, spelling errors, and physicians failing to make addendums to errors. Before reaching out to physicians about documentation problems, however, ensure there is truly a problem and go to them with solutions.

Similar to provider engagement, challenges to education include change, communication, burnout, electronic medical records (EMRs), and process inefficiencies. Documentation burnout is a true problem, and it’s up to us to help combat it. Let’s consider some barriers to education and solutions:

  • Change: Support physicians and guide them through the changes so they are well-informed.
  • Communication: Make sure the information you share with providers is tangible and valid. This will create trust.
  • Burnout: If providers are falling behind and feeling pressured, they may rush through the documentation, which could lead to mistakes or things being overlooked. These errors could impact patient care and, ultimately, revenue for your practice. Recognize the signs of provider burnout.
  • EMRs: As administrators, we are not just responsible for learning what we need to perform our responsibilities; we also have to know everyone else’s piece. It’s important for administrators to shadow and train their providers to see what they are experiencing and understand how they are documenting in the record. Take the time to work with your physicians to resolve EMR pains; help them with templates; and gain compliance approval before utilizing them.

Impactful Documentation

The primary focus of educational efforts should be what constitutes good documentation. Beyond its impact on patient care, it plays a vital role in protecting the physician. It can help avoid liability and steer away from fraud and abuse claims. When documentation does not support medical necessity, we have to pay back claims. No one wants to have to refund due to lack of support in the medical record. Documentation communicates the quality of clinical care that providers are delivering to patients. It also facilitates patient care, execution of treatment plans, and the continuum of care. Proper documentation reduces risks and the chance of malpractice. It does not eliminate it, but it lessens the probability.

A provider’s documentation is their account of them managing and treating patients. The more accurate, detailed, and specific it is, the better the support for what was performed. Accurate and comprehensive documentation in a patient’s medical record has always been important but is now more than ever due to increasing payer scrutiny and more stringent guidelines. It’s our job to find the best way to communicate this to our providers. Instead of focusing on guidelines or code books, focus on how documentation affects the patient, and the rest will fall in line.

Documentation Improvement Tips

Bottom line, providers need to focus on using clear, concise communication that will benefit the patient as well as anyone else reading the medical records. After achieving strong provider engagement, methods to help us make the most of educational efforts on improving documentation include:

Standardize practices. Use benchmarks and industry standards to create guidelines and map out processes for your office or organization.

Perform regular reviews. Review records and encounters within the EMR. Audit processes should be in place and performed regularly to catch errors and provide timely feedback.

Arrange peer support. Pinpoint provider leaders to be in charge of providing peer education. Having an appointed go-to will help take some of the pressure off of administrators, as well as minimize the number of inquiries coders have to field.

Secrets to Success

There are several strategies you can employ to increase engagement and promote education. For example:

Train: Have regular, ongoing trainings and refreshers for providers. Training should be incorporated as often as regular meetings. Schedule one-on-one time with your physicians to go over updates, changes, questions, etc. This will help maintain open, ongoing lines of communication. The more you engage with your providers, the more receptive, trusting, and engaged they will be with you as the administrator.

Incentivize: Provide incentives, but do not incentivize alone. Incorporate other types of incentives, such as outcomes or goals, and show the positive outcomes that result from any changes made.

Appoint: Designate providers who are more fine-tuned with the system to help their colleagues. Allow these appointed leaders to have a hand in template changes, favorite lists that are specificity-friendly, and other such decisions.

Innovate: Physicians can become rather savvy and creative with the EMR system. When they have the capability of designing a note or a system in the fashion that best works for them, this creates improvement, empowerment, and happier physicians. Just make sure what they are proposing meets requirements, is compliant, and is detailed.

As administrators, we must overcome any obstacles that stand in the way of improvement efforts. Recognizing the importance of provider engagement and education and having strategies in place to achieve success in these areas benefits both patient care and the revenue cycle. Make addressing any challenges your practice faces a top priority, as overcoming them is key to improving the quality of care, efficiency, physician retention, and patient satisfaction.

Sherrie Anderson
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Sherrie Anderson, CPC, CPPM, CRC, CPC-I, AAPC Fellow, has worked in the healthcare industry for 20 years, including managing coding, billing, and compliance, and aspects of the revenue cycle. She has specialty experience in pediatrics, orthopedics, neurology, general coding, and risk adjustment. Anderson was a recipient of the Mueller Health Care Award and received a Master of Science in healthcare administration from Lindenwood University.

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