Communicate Better to Compete

February 21, 2011

We deal with the same headaches all radiologists do: tracking down other busy professionals to make sure that they get the information they need and, sometimes, demand.

In recent years, the use of teleradiology and the competitive nature of the marketplace have put considerable pressure on groups to remain competitive. Like many other practices this means that our group has to set itself apart if it would like to continue and grow its relationships.

So what sets you apart? That is, what value do you add? Well that may be different for different groups and for different radiologists. Importantly, it may be different for different patients, referring physicians and technical-side providers (your hospital or imaging center owner).

One important part of adding value for everyone is improved communication. Evermore, customers would like the best service delivered fast. For us, that is providing important results quickly and accurately. We deal with the same headaches all radiologists do: tracking down other busy professionals to make sure that they get the information they need and, sometimes, demand.

The current world provides novel ways to provide that information and that is an opportunity for a part of the medical world that critically relies on transmission of information. While there are many ways to provide the information, customers want to receive the information in different way. So it is vital that your carefully consider what process you use for adapting to this environment.

Develop the process in collaboration.

Think about all the parties who will be interested. Perhaps form a working group or groups, that might include common customers, like ER physicians, hospitalists or representatives of most common referrers. Don’t forget about administrative staff who often are the ones receiving reports. Finally, remember to involve the IT staff and anyone involved in compliance as some methods need to be verified to be compliant.

Find out your clinician needs.

Most clinicians see value in getting the information they need more quickly and easily. They also appreciate getting it without interrupting other important tasks. Before you start looking at options, talk to the clinicians you most commonly work with. What are their most important needs? ER physicians may want information delivered quickly and briefly one way, like text messaging or a beeper message. Some referring MDs may be interested in getting a quick, secure electronic delivery of stat or important results. They may also prefer a delivery method for final reports that is paperless. Some may prefer verbal communication. If I have found anything in talking to folks about this, it is that there is not one solution for everyone.

Satisfy your hospital or organizations expectations.

Remember that your customers are not just the physicians referring to you. Ultimately, if everyone does not see value in a new process it won’t be accepted well. So what value can a new process provide? Clinician satisfaction is one valuable piece. But especially with hospitals, there are certain goals for provision of care. These may include stat report delivery or final report delivery times, sign off times, etc. Identify the ones most important, or if possible all, and make sure the process includes methods to satisfy those and, hopefully, improve on current results.

Remember too, that it is not only physicians looking for information, so think about how the non-MDs want to receive quick information. The ER administration may want information in one way, like a finalized written report in a certain period of time, but the ER MD may be interested in getting a text message or beeper message for quick results, as mentioned above.

After the process is in place, follow-up.

Remember it is a process. It may need to be modified or adjusted. Even if it is working, you need to show how and how much. So provide metrics to show your satisfaction of those hospital expectations. There are a variety of vendors who offer communication solutions as add-ons for current PACS products, so that communication can be facilitated and, importantly, tracked and recorded. This allows for an easy system to provide those metrics. As for the physicians, survey your MDs. Ultimately, you are trying to make sure you choose a method(s) that are optimal for the most people

Keep flexible, realizing one size does not fit all.

Remember you are trying to satisfy the most people possible and add value. Don’t pick a system that drives some customer nuts and helps others. That is value neutral, not value added.

Make sure you are compliant.

Leverage technology, but understand limits of HIPPA and confidentiality; consider internal e-mail, internal pagers, hospital phones only active on a hospital network, or other secure method for quick non-verbal communication. Most of all check to make sure what you propose is compliant and don’t start your new process until you are certain.