Impact Insights

Doctor, Doctor! On Effectively Communicating with Physicians Part II

One-on-One Meetings:

One-on-one physician meetings will often be brief and may occur in the middle of a chaotic workday.  To be successful consider the following:

Develop your emotional intelligence
Before beginning a conversation assess both your own emotional state and the physician’s emotional state.  Learn to control your anxiety or defensiveness to interrogation by the doctor.  He is likely testing various hypotheses and checking facts to help make a decision.  It is likely not intended as a personal challenge.

Be prepared
Determine what it is you want to accomplish from the conversation and use a structured approach to communication. By learning to anticipate the needs of the physician in terms of concise information, you are more likely to get what you need.

ISBAR is a communication tool developed and validated in Australia for successful communication between nurses and physicians and translates well to other conversations with physicians

  • Introduction (I) – Identify yourself (name, role, location) and always be professional.
  • Situation (S) – State the main reason for your conversation as well as the perceived urgency of the issue.
  • Background (B) – Provide a succinct history to contextualize the current problem.
  • Assessment (A) – Provide current condition, risks and needs.
  • Recommendation (R) – Make a specific recommendation and request authorization OR request a specific recommendation and validate.

Group Meetings:

Meetings with groups of doctors usually occur in a more controlled environment, where you may be in charge of leading a meeting.  This is no less of a challenge, but does give you a little more time and a little less chaos to deal with. To be successful consider the following:

Create and communicate the big picture
Everyone in the room needs to understand the “why” of what we are doing.

Honor work-life balance
Many doctors are contributing to your project in addition to maintaining all of their normal responsibilities.  Even if they are getting paid to be a champion or SME this puts an extra burden on them.  Many meetings will be before or after normal work hours or during lunch.  Meetings should have a firm agenda and you should manage the meeting to begin and end on time.  Have specific deliverables for each meeting and make sure that you accomplish them.  Provide timely feedback and thank the team for their hard work.

Be a good listener
Approach the meeting with a spirit of inquiry. Establish a dialogue and engage the audience.  Seek understanding through questions.  Encourage those in the group with affirmation even if they are saying only what you may believe to be the obvious.  Summarize/Paraphrase what you have heard and ask for validation of your understanding before you weigh in yourself.

Use the Socratic Method to help docs come to conclusions on how to proceed.  For example in evaluating a problem you might ask:

  • Why do you think we have this problem?
  • What options do we have for doing things differently?
  • What advantages do you foresee for the different options?
  • How do you think the relevant players would react if we did that?
  • How do you suggest we deal with the following adverse consequences of such an action?
  • Other people have encountered the following difficulties when they tried that. What can we do to prevent such things occurring?
  • What benefits might come if we tried the following approach?

Build consensus
The most effective way to influence doctors (and for that matter anyone in the C-suite) is to help them feel that the solution was (to a large extent) their idea, or at the very least, their decision.  Your role is to be an expert guide in the process of reasoning through the problem, giving them their options, giving them an education about the options, facilitating discussion regarding the options, giving them a recommendation and letting THEM choose.

Set expectations for communication to the larger group
If the doctors in your group are representatives of a larger physician network/department, set expectations for how and by when they will communicate their decisions to the rest of the network/department. Work with senior leaders to hold them accountable for doing so.

Maintain a sense of humor
With a little understanding of the physician mind-set, knowing the rules of the road and a little practice you can tame the lions and learn to have great communication with physicians.  You may still be herding cats, but at least the cats will be meowing instead of scratching and clawing. Meow!