Like hospitals, physicians are care providers, so the two groups are facing some of the same challenges. Both are dealing with the new shift to outcome-based treatment and payment. Both have to work with an increasingly empowered consumer in an environment where their services will be rated and reviewed like any other consumer offering. But there are also several key factors affecting the physician community in particular, starting with the basic employment environment.
The Association of American Medical College (AAMC) Center for Workforce Studies predicts that by 2020, the U.S. will see a shortage of 45,000 primary-care physicians and 46,000 surgeons and specialists. That means that each practitioner is being burdened with more and more responsibility. Record low career satisfaction levels – particularly among general practitioners – reflect the outcome of this pressure.
In an attempt to cut out the additional cost and responsibility of running their own business, those working today are increasingly gravitating toward employment by an institution instead of private practice. In fact, this number has risen to between 50 percent and 75 percent, according to The New York Times. Last year, 64 percent of jobs filled by Merritt Hawkins (one of the nation’s leading physician placement firms) involved a physician being employed by a hospital, compared with only 11 percent in 2004.
To try to fill the gaps in this shifting environment, “physician extender” positions – nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants – are playing a greater role, as are pharmacists.
In addition to workload, changing patient expectations are also transforming a doctor’s job. Patients (especially younger patients) want their doctor visits to work the same way as everything else they have come to expect. Lurrie says, “As we talk about millennials as a cohort, we need to understand their expectations of engaging with healthcare. They expect to engage with it the same way they approach everything else … So the idea that they can’t make appointments online, email with their docs and check reviews is unthinkable to them.”
Millennials want their physician to have as robust a digital presence as their bank or taco shop. They want to rely on ratings of a doctor’s performance, much the same way as they would for a restaurant. Telehealth, a premium concierge service designed to meet the demands of digitally native patients or to serve under-resourced communities, is also on the rise.
Marketing and communications can help make sense of the disruption in the physician environment. While much attention is being paid to improving the patient experience, it’s equally important to focus on the physician experience since neither exists in a vacuum. Marketers can apply their skills to mapping and understanding the physician journey, emotional and rational drivers, and decision-making process.
Marketing insights can be leveraged to develop programs and tools that equip physicians for the brave new world in which they find themselves. These insights can help them achieve digital fluency, develop better communication skills and identify ways to engage with patients.
For example, the Physician Affiliate Group of New York conducted a 16,000-person interview with its patients across eight different service lines to find out what patients want and need as well as what would make them feel comfortable. “It boiled down to, out of all of those survey questions, respect,” says Zimmerman. “People felt that when they went in to meet a physician, they wanted the physician to look at them, acknowledge who they are, that they’re here and that the physician is ready and able to help them. It’s very humanistic.”
Facilitating communication between physician and physician extender is also crucial to a good patient experience. Defining roles and educating patients about what to expect from these “new” providers can help improve the overall system. Marketers, with their wealth of insight tools, can leverage data, analytics, profiles, personas and more to close the gap.