The Winning Strategy for Physician Engagement

Imagine a world of healthcare where every physician is engaged and contributing their full capacity. A world where physicians are happier because they feel listened to- a world where every physician is a leader.

Physicians are the lifeblood of healthcare organizations. Engaging them in leading transformation is critical. Many healthcare organizations do worry about alignment, but few take the time to establish an end- to- end strategy for developing physicians, let alone create an action plan for physician engagement. Much potential is lost without this commitment.

In a report by Deborah A. Paller called What the Doctor Ordered: The best hospitals create emotional bonds with their physicians, we learn:

Recent Gallup Organization studies of more than 6,000 physicians in the United States show that only 10% of physicians are fully engaged with their hospital, while 42% are actively disengaged. Although it’s intuitive that physicians who are engaged with a hospital would prefer to practice there, this assumption is proven by several case studies that demonstrate a clear linkage between physician engagement and referral patterns. The result is better financial performance at the hospitals where these physicians practice.

…physicians may also believe that their employers don’t often ask for their input, and when they do, they may note that they aren’t asked about programs and policies most important to them and that decisions still aren’t made with the proper context.


Our work at the Physician Leadership Institute (PLI) facilitates physician alignment and engagement, resulting in improved culture and performance. While the above statistics about physician engagement are troubling, they provide a map from which we can strategize a way forward.


PLI Strategy for Physician Alignment & Engagement

1. Listen to your physicians

Ask the right questions on an ongoing basis, and listen to understand. Thoughtful questions are crucial tools for ongoing assessment of engagement. Questions must be asked with physicians in mind as people, not just clinicians. To build trust in this dialogue, you must intend to give physicians a voice, listen to what is being said, and act upon it in a cycle of continuous improvement. Know their top concerns!

2. Help physicians see the big picture

Take time to explain the “why” behind initiatives, and describe what success looks like. The majority of the time, administrators spend too much time speaking to physicians about WHAT to change and not enough time providing the context of WHY change. Communicating the idea simply and clearly, like Dr. Martin Luther King’s messaging, is critical to success. For more info, read our work on the four steps to great leadership communication.

3. Empower physicians with knowledge and skills 

Provide physicians with education in how to lead. Physicians need skill-building in how to address change and conflict in healthy and courageous ways. Other essential development includes strategies for identifying and preventing burnout, appreciative inquiry techniques, adaptability to change, and resilience. The Physician Leadership Institute can help you build these skills while applying the learning to real-world challenges. This experience and reciprocal trust-building is directly linked to increased physician satisfaction and engagement, improved organizational alignment, and improved quality and safety metrics.

4. Identify and remove hassle factors  

Walk in their shoes. Physicians will bristle at what they perceive to be a lack of understanding by administrators regarding what their work is really like. Walk alongside your physicians. Round with them. Sit and talk to them, one on one. See and hear their challenges, firsthand. Have them identify their hassles and create plans to remove or neutralize them.  Even removing one hassle or obstacle will build trust and goodwill. You can’t afford to not do this. 

5. Create opportunities for collaboration 

Actively engage physicians in your organizational strategy!  Collaboration is a muscle that must be exercised. Create intentional projects for administrators and physicians to work on together. Ask physicians to lead in areas like the patient experience, readmissions, and reduction of outcome variations.

6. Develop physicians as Change Agents for peer communication and influence 

Trust physicians to lead, and empower them to do so daily as your organization’s primary agents of change. In an expert culture, physicians value peer communication and accountability. Developing physician leaders from those in the trenches improves engagement and trust building. PLI trains and certifies physician change agents that Lead with Purpose, Lead with StrategyLead Others through Influence, Lead Self, and Lead for Results.

7. Coach your physician leaders for success

Providing coaching to support your physician leaders. Leadership is not taught in medical education and residency, and supporting your physician leaders through coaching is a proven strategy. Coaches increase physician self-awareness, effectiveness, and bridge the gap between ideas and execution to deliver results. PLI has an elite group of coaching professionals and a suite of evidence-based tools to serve in this capacity.


Alignment and engagement do not happen overnight! A deliberate strategy and practice will provide your turning point toward the transformation you seek, and it can be achieved through a strategic commitment to physician leadership development.

For more on the winning strategy for physician alignment and engagement, we invite you to ask us about what we have identified as the upcoming paradigm shifts in healthcare that will require ongoing strategies for alignment and engagement.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

Together, let’s make engagement a habit.

VHA Southeast Teams up with The Physician Leadership Institute to Create a Physician Leadership Program

VHA Southeast, Inc. teams up with The Physician Leadership Institute (PLI) to create a leadership development program designed for physicians.

Collaboration between clinical and administrative leaders has never been more critical as VHA Southeast health systems strive to provide high-quality, patient-focused, and efficient care in an environment that faces declining resources. The Academy for Physician Advancement and Transformation (APAT) is designed to transform physician leadership at all levels and build the next generation of physician leaders charged with leading the transformation of healthcare during this time of great change.

“VHASE created the leadership academy, or APAT, because our member healthcare organizations and physician leaders recognize that we can no longer afford to send physicians to generalized leadership development workshops,” said Dr. Mike Schweitzer, VP Healthcare Delivery System Transformation of VHA Southeast. “Lasting success requires an approach that is focused, high-quality, delivered conveniently, and customized to the needs of physicians and health systems.”

“Following a lengthy research process we chose to partner with The Physician Leadership InstituteTM (PLI) because of their innovative, evidence based, high quality development approach, delivered conveniently, and customized to the needs of physicians and health systems.”

The VHA Southeast Academy for Physician Advancement and Transformation (APAT) is an innovative program that utilizes experiential and adult learning models with national faculty and industry experts that contribute to the program. According to Dr. Schweitzer, “The unique characteristic of APAT is the combination of both face-to-face and virtual distance learning. This leverages the time of our busy physician leaders so they can learn many of these skills at home when it is convenient for them.”

“We are excited about the opportunity to partner with VHA Southeast and bring the leadership program to VHA Southeast Members,” said Mo Kasti, CEO of the Physician Leadership Institute. “Our innovative approach immerses physicians in five key areas: seeing self first as leaders, leading with purpose, inspiring their teams, leading change strategies, and delivering transformative triple aim outcomes. We are confident that the physicians will find the experience transformational, rewarding on both a professional and personal level, and one that produces a strong return on investment.”

The yearlong leadership academy (APAT), which starts in late winter and fall of this year, will be held in person in Atlanta and on-line.

VHA Southeast, Inc. (VHASE) is a member owned cooperative comprised of not-for-profit healthcare organizations based in Tampa, Florida. The VHASE Vision — “VHA Southeast is a member centric organization serving healthcare providers and payers across the continuum focused on improving the health of the communities and access to high quality care with excellent outcomes at competitive pricing.”

The Physician Leadership Institute (PLI) is the leading provider of physician leadership development programs nationwide. PLI is dedicated to creating high performing healthcare systems where administrators, physicians and healthcare team members collaborate to provide coordinated quality care for their patients, and aligned and engaged leadership for their organizations.

PLI is a division of the nationally renowned Center for Transformation and Innovation LLC (CTI) based in Tampa, Florida. For more information, visit

For the original version on PRWeb visit:

Hack Leadership: Experts warn 2015 could be ‘Year of the Healthcare Hack’

coderHackers may have stolen information in a “sophisticated” cyber attack on a database containing up to 80 million customer records belonging to Anthem, Inc. It may be the largest data breach in corporate history. Anthem was transparent regarding the sensitivity of the information, describing it as “personal information from our current and former members such as their names, birthdays, medical IDs/social security numbers, street addresses, email addresses and employment information, including income data”, but stated that “based on what we know now, there is no evidence that credit card or medical information were targeted or compromised.”

stacked_circle_graphicAs the depth and breadth of healthcare information management continues to grow, so will the complexity of keeping it safe. Modern healthcare leadership requires skills to rapidly drive a response to in a time of high threat to data security. According to a recent study cited by USA Today:

Attacks against the healthcare industry topped the 2014 breach list compiled by the Identity Theft Resource Center. Health care companies suffered 42.5% of all data breaches in 2014, continuing a three-year trend, the survey found. 

A sensitive data breach this large is without precedence, but it likely won’t be the last we see.  An article by Caroline Humer and Jim Finkle provides a warning that 2015 could be ‘Year of the Healthcare Hack’. They report that “Identities can sell for $20 apiece, or more”, and thieves are attracted to that sum being multiplied by millions of electronic patient records. Reporter Shari Rudavsky contends that “The Anthem data breach could be ‘lifelong battle’ for customers.”

According to Navigant, “the Anthem data breach is part of larger story”. They cite

“A Poneman Institute study of 91 healthcare organizations found 90% had experienced a data breach in the past year; 38% had five or more breaches.”


The impact of a cyber attack unfolds rapidly, requiring the leadership of an immediate, round-the-clock, well-coordinated action plan. What should leaders do when faced with a crisis like this? And what can leaders do to prevent a crisis from happening in the first place?


Taking ownership of the issue is the first step.  A leader avoids blames and focuses on immediate assessment and driving solutions forward.  Dr. Hoyte, CMIO at University of South Florida Health College of Medicine recommends:

Be forthright with customers about what happened, what you are doing to make sure it does not happen again, how you plan to help your customers manage/mitigate their downside, and steps you are taking to track down those responsible.



The CRISIS LEADERSHIP CHECKLIST from the Physician Leadership Institute provides a framework. We’ve developed 5 key areas that must be addressed based on our physician leadership model:


» Leading with Purpose:

  • In times of crisis, leaders anchor their teams in both the purpose of the organization and their individual purpose.
  • Have we clearly articulated our organizational purpose of serving others?
  • Have we clearly articulated our organization core values such as compassion, care, and service to others?
  • Have we clearly articulated our goals and capabilities for the crisis at hand?
  • Have we shared these goals with all our internal stakeholders (employees, staff, physicians, patients)?
  • Have we communicated these goals with all our external stakeholders (citizens, local institutions, press, public agencies)?
  • Are our actions timely?
  • Are we trusted?
  • Am I trusted as a leader?
  • Do we have the right communications team in place?  Do they know what to do and when?
  • Does everyone know who is in charge and responsible across the entire process?


» Leading Self:

  • Have I communicated clearly my core principles and values such as courage, duty and service to others?
  • Have my actions been consistent with my core values thus inspiring trust?
  • Am I authentic in my actions and behaviors? Do I lead by example?
  • Do I demonstrate the courage required by the situation?
  • Am I forthcoming and timely with my communications?


» Leading People:

  • Do we put our people first?
  • Are we coaching our people on all critical tasks and priorities?
  • Are there any leaders whose crisis management leadership we are concerned about and for whom we need to provide special guidance?
  • Are we present and visible? Are we leading by walking around?
  • Do our teams know standard protocols on when, and how to escalate potential concerns, issues?
  • Do our teams know standard protocols should they be approached / questioned by the press outside of work?
  • Is the communications team trained to be proactive?
  • Do we have a FAQ document distributed to our employees?


 » Leading with Strategy:

  • Have we assessed the impact of the crisis on the organization?  The community?
  • Have we planned for how can this situation escalate?
  • Is my “river of information” sufficient to provide me swift access to critical information/ breaking news internally and externally from which to make appropriate decisions?
  • Have we benchmarked and learned from other best practices?
  • How do we manage fear and panic?
  • Are we executing our strategy effectively with a plan–do–check process?
  • What will be our own unorthodox best in class strategy and actions? What innovative actions, processes can we develop to manage the crisis?


» Leading for Results:

  • What are our measures of success? And do our teams know them?
  • Are we focused on key activities?
  • Are our processes tried and tested?
  • What systems thinking models are required?
  • Are our decisions based on evidence and best practices?
  • Have we taken all possible safety precautions?
  • Are we optimized for productivity and effectiveness?
  • Have we published a regular communications frequency and are we communicating to our teams per that schedule: our progress towards our goals, any concerns and responses, updated FAQs, reminder of linkage between purpose, actions and results, etc?


It’s not enough to rely on healthcare informatics specialists to navigate the complexities and daily threats presented by healthcare’s “big data”. All hands must be on deck, ready to respond.  Are you up for the challenge of crisis leadership? 


For more information on our crisis leadership program, contact us >>

How physicians will lead: A response to top health industry issues of 2015


PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute recently published a compelling analysis entitled Top health industry issues of 2015: Outlines of a market emerge, stating:

As the health sector moves beyond the Affordable Care Act and onto consumer-centered, digitally enabled care, here are the top 10 issues dominating the agenda in 2015. A truly consumer-driven market is slowly taking shape.

Top 10 health industry issues How physicians will lead  
Issue 1: Do-it-yourself healthcare
US physicians and consumers are ready to embrace a dramatic expansion of the high-tech, personal medical kit. Wearable tech, smartphone-linked devices and mobile apps will become increasingly valuable in care delivery.
A decade ago, Tom Ferguson MD (dubbed the “George Washington of patient empowerment”) introduced this concept patient engagement. Through technology, it has evolved into “do-it-yourself care.” But software developers cannot create this technology in a void. Physicians must serve as subject matter experts. While the patients themselves provide insight into usability from their perspective, it is clinicians who must drive the functions for the data itself to be useful in providing quality care.
Issue 2: Leap from mobile app to medical device
A proliferation of approved and portable medical devices in patients’ homes, and on their phones, makes diagnosis and treatment more convenient, redoubling the need for strong information security systems.
  Apps formularies: smartphone plug-ins and intuitive devices may become as important to clinicians as the prescription pad was to an MD in 1960. CMIOs are the emerging thought leaders here; they can provide not only the clinical perspective but serve as a bridge to the information security experts that are charged with protecting the influx of confidential patient data to be sent and received.  
Issue 3: Balancing privacy and convenience
Privacy will lose ground to convenience in 2015 as patients adopt digital tools and services that gather and analyze health information.
Boundaries in the mind of the patient may simultaneously become more porous as they adopt wearable digital tools, and more rigid as they raise issues of data security. Physician leaders will step up in an advisory capacity to technologists and ensure that both quality and privacy standards are maintained when it comes to digital tools that provide accurate data-driven information.
Issue 4: High-cost patients spark innovations
The soaring cost of care for Medicare and Medicaid “dual eligibles,” aging boomers and patients with co-morbidities will foster creative care delivery and management systems.
“Hacking the system” may no longer be regarded as a negative endeavor; the coordination of care at affordable rates requires a deep systems-thinker that can be found among DO specialists, and their feedback is essential to the Informatics and Billing teams who interact daily with insurers, government, and other payers. Patients are already empowering one another through shared info online. Physician leaders will engage patients (see: and in time, shape the system to support them.
Issue 5: Putting a price on positive outcomes
With high-priced new products and specialty drugs slated to hit the market in 2015, we will see increasing demand for new evidence and definitions of positive health outcomes.
“What does it mean to be healthy?” will be the question driving conversations regarding the definition of quality care – who better to guide this definition than those who work with patients directly? Admissions and Discharge teams provide tremendous insight to the physician who acts as leader and approaches them with inquiry-based mindset.
Issue 6: Open everything to everyone
New transparency initiatives targeting clinical trial data, real-world patient outcomes and financial relationships between physicians and pharmaceutical companies will improve patient care and open up new opportunities.
Consider an approach observed by researcher Susannah Fox: ”I’m intrigued by the use of unconventional means to shift the public conversation about health and health care. Where do you see examples of people wielding soft power to change the culture of health?”Physician leaders are equipped to ask big-picture questions like these. They can and should drive data sharing policies among providers using unconventional means, remembering that “soft power” is what carved the Grand Canyon.
Issue 7: Getting to know the newly insured
2015 will be a revelatory year for the US health sector as a portrait of the newly-insured emerges, fostering better care management programs and shifting marketing strategies.
The Affordable Care Act has brought a patient population that is unprecedented in its newfound ability to access non-emergency care. The physician leader will tap into data to get to know them, and to design preventative programs to best serve newly insured patients.
Issue 8: Scope of practice expands
Physician “extenders” are becoming the first line of care for many patients, as doctors delegate tasks, monitor patients digitally and enter into risk-based payment models.
This is why the physician leadership institute has been advocating for the shift from physician to physician leader. Physician leaders will have to lead collaboratively an extended team of “extender” to ensure efficacy and safety, creating a scalable model of providing services in an ever-increasing patient population. If non-physicians are trusted by patients to do more than in years past, new challenges will arise, but so will greater opportunity to have a wider impact.
Issue 9: Redefining well-being for millennials
As the economy rebounds and baby boomers retire, employers and insurers look for fresh ways to engage, retain and attract the next generation of health consumers.
As palliative care programs become more mainstream due to Boomer demand, Millennials will have their own expectations that will shape what it means to be a consumer of health services. Their expectations for healthcare products and services will shape future delivery. Physician leaders with listening and innovation skills will win with this generation.
Issue 10: Partner to win
Joint ventures, open collaboration platforms and non-traditional partnerships will push healthcare companies out of the comfort zone in 2015 toward new competitive strategies.
CVS, Walgreen, Wal-Mart, and even Whole Foods are in the process of providing clinical services to local communities – physician leadership is needed to vet whether your organization can and should partner with these models of care.


At the Physician Leadership Institute we are excited about these health care trends and issues. As physician leaders, we have a choice to be pessimistic about these issues, or we can be optimistic about the possibilities and enable ourselves to win with life long learning. 

What other issues do you see on the horizon for 2015 and beyond? How will you lead the response as a physician leader?

The Healthcare Environmental Scan 2015: Physician Leadership

environmental_scan_2015The annual AHA Scan has been released, upholding a tradition of providing a valuable summary of current trends in healthcare. From their site:  

The 2015 American Hospital Association Environmental Scan provides insight and information about market forces that have a high probability of affecting the health care field. It is designed to help hospital and health system leaders better understand the health care landscape and the critical issues and emerging trends their organizations likely will face in the foreseeable future. Categories include:

  • Consumers & Patients
  • Economy & Finance
  • Information Technology & eHealth
  • Physicians
  • Political Issues
  • Provider Organizations
  • Quality & Patient Safety
  • Redefining the H/Transforming Care Delivery
  • Science & Technology
  • Workforce





Dick Tibbits -An Executive Coach with the Physician Leadership Institute welcomed the 2015 AHA Environmental Scan:

Having been an executive in healthcare administration for the last 30 years, I can tell you based on my observation and experience, that this concise article is not only well written, it is highly predictable of where healthcare is going and the issues it will face.  Pay particular attention to the physician category, as this defines what CMOs will face and provides a direction for where they need to focus their energies.

The following is a summary of the physician 2015 trends and our recommendations on how physician leadership provides the way forward.

Physicians Environmental Scan I

Physician leaders’ primary responsibility can be described as building and maintaining a culture of accountability, a culture of commitment to excellence in care and service delivery and resource stewardship, and a culture of continued performance improvement.

This is easier said than done! Building and maintaining a culture of accountability and excellence in care  require a different set of skills than the clinical skills including:

    • Defining a culture
    •    Engaging the hearts and minds of others (Social + Emotional Intelligence)
    •    Holding others accountable
    •    Resource Management
    •    Performance improvement

Unfortunately medical education still focuses narrowly on clinical skills. We keep producing doctors for the old paradigm while the new health age cries out for new skills sets.

Physicians need to develop this core set of leadership skills to lead the healthcare transformation.

Physicians Environmental Scan II

The evolution away from payment for volume of service and toward payment for value can be seen as threatening to both physicians and hospitals that historically have been rewarded for delivering more services. Yet value-based payment both creates incentives for integration and enhances the quality and cost efficiencies that can be achieved through integration for patients, communities and providers themselves. Payers should move forward in developing these models and seeking relationships with institutions with the interest and capability to jointly manage care.

A key advisor for the Physician Leadership Institute states it clearly: …most doctors (myself included) do not know the costs of the treatment plans that we offer our patients. Many of us are disconnected from the business side of activities. I think that this is unacceptable. We need to gain a better understanding of the costs of the services that we offer to our patients; so that we can help to drive these costs down.”

We believe to win in 2015 and beyond in the value- based paradigm, physician leaders need skills such as:

  • Business and financial acumen to understand how payment models will affect their treatment plans
  • Hospital -physician alignment and integration models
  • Quality outcome measurement and reporting
  • How to build bridges to payers based on value-based models.

Physicians Environmental Scan III

The economic feasibility of an independent medical practice will continue to evaporate. The aggregate impact of declining reimbursement, growing practice overhead, mounting regulatory mandates and student loan debt is escalating physicians’ pessimism about the economic feasibility of working in private practice. While estimates of physician employment vary, more than 75 percent of physicians could be employed by hospitals or other health care companies before the end of this decade.

The Physician Leadership Institute Recommendation III:

As a physician leader you have to ask yourself: do you play to win or do you play not to lose?

Just remember that:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor E. Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

We choose our response to the shift in trends in employment. We can choose to be pessimistic or optimistic. The optimistic view is in the opportunity for innovation and differentiation of the practice such as:

  • Innovation in care model
  • Innovation in business models
  • Opportunity for Collaboration with others including administrations, specialists, and team members
  • Opportunity to make a bigger impact on care and health.

Physicians Environmental Scan IV

Several cultural barriers that may be encountered as a physician practice is acquired by a hospital include: lack of trust of unknown hospital-appointed physician leaders, imposition of measures and procedures without consensus, changes in profitability, shifts in staff loyalty, loss of relationships with team members in a more matrixed system, loss of referral networks, lack of connections and collegiality with specialists, and concern that the hospital is not providing help to improve quality in ways important to the practice.

Physicians are the life blood of a healthcare organization and engaging them is essential. Many healthcare institutions worry about alignment, but few take the time to establish an end-­‐to-­‐end strategy, let alone an action plan for physician engagement. When mistrust and conflicting purposes become a barrier to everyday tasks, work becomes even more stressful.

To build physician engagement, trust has to be nurtured between physicians, administrators, and staff at every level.

In an expert culture, physicians value peer communication and accountability. Having physician leaders from within the working physicians in the trenches, improve engagement and trust building.

To address this cultural trend, alignment with organizational goals must come from the physician leaders themselves. Providing opportunities to serve that are linked to broader improvement strategies create an “ecosystem” for sustainable physician engagement and leadership in large organizations.

In 2015, we need more physician change agents with 5 key change physician leadership practices:


    • Lead with Purpose: Understand the scope and purpose of change and can explain it to others.
    • Lead with Strategy: can assess the cultural and human barriers for change and knows how to devise an adaptable strategy for implementing a change effort.
    • Lead others through influence: Understands the dynamic of change in individuals and organizations and plans how to influence stakeholders and gain their support.
    • Lead self: Is optimistic and agile to lead change.
    • Lead for Results: Transform resistance into engagement and anchor the change in the culture.
The challenges described in the 2015 AHA Environmental Scan excite us! We are ready to serve as catalysts for lasting change in 2015. Are you ready to join us?
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