10 Tactics for Surgery Center Administrators to Communicate Better With Surgeons
1. Information should be concise and analytical. Relay information to surgeons in a concise and analytical format. Whether by email, status report or conversation, make the summary quick and include data points to convey your message.
"Surgeons relate to data and facts, which you have to remember when there is a point you are trying to make with them," says Mary Sturm, senior vice president of clinical operations at Surgical Management Professionals. "For example, if a surgeon's volume has fallen off and you want to have a conversation about how to raise their volume back up, run the report on historical volumes versus what their current volumes are. Show them the figures and show them in dollars and cents what those lost cases have meant. This way they know it isn't just a conversation asking them to bring more surgeries to your center."
It takes time and effort to gather this information, but it will make a big difference when you communicate with your surgeons about an issue.
2. Focus on data in board meetings. Information disseminated at board meetings should be concise and data-driven, just like any other correspondence. You can include benchmarking data with monthly comparisons, yearly comparisons and projections for the future.
"We tend to use quarterly reports comparing month to month data as well as year to year," says Ms. Sturm. "It is a quick snap shot of how the surgery center is doing. It doesn't require the surgeon to look through pages of financial data to try to connect the dots; it connects the dots for them."
Treat the board meetings like an annual shareholder's meeting and use graphs or charts to retain interest when presenting poignant information.
3. Provide complete information to all surgeons at once. Make sure you stay ahead of the rumors and drama by giving surgeons information quickly and at the same time. Provide complete information and anticipate their questions so you can give them all the same consistent answer.
"Get the information into the users' hands before the story reaches them by another way," says Larry Teuber, MD, president of Medical Facilities Corporation and founder and physician executive of Black Hills Surgical Hospital in Rapid City, S.D. "Anticipate the suspicions and suggestions and the filling in folks will do when the story is incomplete. You can stay ahead of the story by face-to-face interaction in meetings or thorough emails."
It takes time to coordinate meetings and often surgeons come late or leave early; email may be the most effective way of communicating with surgeons in the digital age. To avoid surgeons disregarding important emails in the pile of messages they receive daily, color code the messages.
"We have emails we call a ‘green sheet' or a ‘yellow sheet' and when the email appears green, surgeons know that information is important for them to read and understand," says Dr. Teuber. "This might be a proposed change in the bylaw or a policy change in how late surgeons are addressed. The yellow emails are information about a special project, such as building a new imaging center. This way, we send it to all surgeons at the same time and because we have the different colors they can't claim they didn't see it."
4. Send regular correspondences. Surgery center administrators should correspond with all surgeons regularly via newsletter or email blast. The emails should include information about the surgery center, new updates and plans for the future.
"You need some vehicle that lets the surgeon know what is going on in the center," says Ms. Sturm. "They respond well to financial reports and volume data, legislative updates if there are changes at the state and national level, as well as a quick update synopsis. We have found those to be really successful."
Most surgeons have iPhones, Blackberries or other mobile devices that allow them to read and respond to emails. These messages can reach them no matter where they are and everyone can stay connected to the center.
5. Deliver a consistent message. Information delivered to surgeons should be consistent as well as reach all surgeons at the same time. Surgery center administrators can damage their relationship with surgeons — and moral at the surgery center — if they deliver inconsistent messages to junior and senior surgeons.
"In a partnership or business with investors, there has to be a uniform and timely flow of information so people aren't at an advantage because they got early information," says Dr. Teuber. "The message must be consistent and reach everyone at the same time, which sometimes means forgoing individual conversations with surgeons for an asymmetrical flow of information."
As a result, email again may be the best way to communicate with all surgeons simultaneously outside of a board meeting. "Surgeons are busy people and email is the single most effective way to communicate, whether it's in medicine, sales or finance," says Dr. Teuber. "The flow of information is critical to the center's success, especially in a competitive marketplace."
6. Practice good email etiquette. Follow appropriate email etiquette for the office space to make sure surgeons will respect your message. To deliver a clear message, only discuss one topic per email and fill in the subject line so it's clear to surgeons what they will read when they click on the message.
"The subject line is always filled in for our emails so it's clear when they open that message they know what the email is addressing — a partnership issue, bylaws or new equipment," says Dr. Teuber. "We don't put multiple topics in an email. The email has to address one topic so surgeons can put it in their ASC file and know what topic that email addresses."
As with other correspondences, keep the body of the email short and concise. "These surgeons read a lot of email and they have a lot going on, so they need a fast analysis," says Dr. Teuber. "When I get an analysis report, if it isn't said in a paragraph or five or six points, the sender isn't communicating right."
7. Individualize communication methods for each surgeon. One of the biggest obstacles for administrators relating to physicians is mode of communication. Administrators should ask each surgeon what type of communication they prefer — email, phone call, message left with their office administrator — to make sure your approach is the best way to relate to them.
"You want to customize your approach so you can get through to them if necessary on an individual basis," says Ms. Sturm. "It's difficult for physicians to physically have time to communicate with administrators, so figure out what works best for them."
8. Avoid leaving messages with the surgeon's office. Leaving messages with the surgeon's office assistant is often inefficient. The message can get lost among several others delivered that day. Instead, schedule an appointment at the surgeon's office to discuss an issue or catch the surgeon in between cases at the ASC.
"Try to speak with surgeons who currently work at the center before they leave to deliver an individual message or ask them a question," says Ms. Sturm. "If they are between cases, you can catch them and have an answer right then instead of setting up an appointment with their office staff. Try to seek out time at the surgery center as part of your work day so you aren't burdening them with another meeting."
9. Gain a clinical knowledge base. Surgeons often perceive administrators without a clinical background as people who are out of touch with the reality in the operating room, and sometimes they feel administrators don't bring any value to the table. The savvy administrator will take steps to become more knowledgeable about the clinical as well as the business side of the ASC.
"While most surgery center administrators do not have a clinical background, they do need to get savvy enough to have a basic understanding of the procedures and what it takes for surgeons to perform them," says Ms. Sturm. "They can use their nursing leadership to help them achieve a better understanding of the technical and clinical aspects of surgery, or they can bring in a clinical director to act as a liaison between the two departments."
Following these steps will build the administrator's credibility among surgeons and make it easier for the two to communicate on clinical and business office issues.
10. Install digital media at scrub sites. Surgery center administrators can install televisions with news updates above scrub stations so surgeons can see the information as they are washing their hands. At Dr. Teuber's surgery center, surgeons look at the screen while washing to see any news flashes, new employees at the center, weather updates and positive patient comments.
"We have information on the screen and a scroller that includes the weather and current news," says Dr. Teuber. "We might have reminders about a new discharge policy or another standard operations reminder. There are also reminders about the number to text if they need help and favorable comments from patients like ‘Dr. Smith is a wonderful surgeon—I've never been treated so well.'"
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