Barbara Paul, MDAlthough both physicians and supply chain professionals have the same ultimate goal—improving patient care—sometimes the pursuit of that goal can seem to take divergent paths. Barbara R. Paul, MD, chief medical officer at Community Health Systems Professional Services Corporation, outlines some of the challenges from the perspective of a medical practitioner, as well as some solutions for helping physicians and supply chain professionals work together more productively:

Understanding the physicians’ perspective

  • Physicians are trained to be individualists. Most have little to no communications or negotiations training. In a survey of MBAs and physicians, when asked, “What percent of your grade in training was based on team projects?” MBAs answered 30 to 50 percent, while physicians answered zero.
  • Employment doesn’t equal alignment. Being employed by a hospital isn’t sufficient to spur physician’s engagement on administrative issues. It may move those issues up the list, but it won’t necessarily move them to the top.
  • Physicians have multiple loyalties, appropriately so. That’s why they must believe in a project’s ability to positively affect patient care in order to fully participate.

Avoiding the pitfalls of poor engagement

Physicians are trained to take large amounts of information and distill it to a single diagnosis. It is in the DNA of docs to be problem-solvers, but they need to have the data.

Physician/supply chain meetings can go astray when:

  • Physicians are brought into meetings as figureheads, not participants.
  • Progress isn’t charted, leading physicians to think that nothing is getting done and their time is being wasted.
  • Physicians are given grudging acquiescence (“let’s call a truce”), instead of full partnership and leadership.

Framing the physician/supply chain meetings properly

  • Choose the right words from the beginning. Frame the project so that it’s clear how it will make a difference in patient care. Give the clinical rationale.
  • Bring good data. Physicians are generally objective when using good comparison data and criteria.
  • Say “no” when that is the answer. Sugar-coating the hard issues isn’t necessary.
  • Bring in a few physicians early to help frame the project, create a shared vision and set the final goals. These lead physicians also can serve as personal mentors to others who will be part of the project’s implementation.
  • Discuss goals and milestones upfront. Divide the project into chunks so that all can watch the progress. Come up with a written action plan of interim outcomes that can be physically checked off as they’re done.
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