The renowned health care consultant advises organizations to learn the key drivers that help doctors “have a good day’s work.”
Longtime health care consultant Quint Studer offers this poser when working with organizations in need of jolt: How much of your income is driven by your doctors?
The answer seems a bit obvious, even if it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
All of it. Every dollar.
“Either doc treatments, doc diagnosis or doc referral,” he says.
However, he has concerns. “Do you know any other industry that knows less about people that are driving revenue than health care?”
The No. 1 resource the health care system has is the physician, he says. “Why don’t we spend more time studying these physicians on what makes them tick, what makes them work?”
Or, as Studer says, helping doctors “identify their what.”
The goal, Studer says, is to create an organizational culture that gets physicians back to “wanting to practice medicine instead of saying, ‘I don’t like my job anymore.’ ”
“Physician leaders are the key people to walk doctors through the change process, to walk doctors through identifying their what,” says Studer, who stepped away in 2016 from the Pensacola, Florida, consulting firm he founded 16 years earlier to give full-time attention to community projects. “A physician is much more likely to hear from a physician talking about how to manage change, how to go through change, how to help the administration who’s not a doctor know what what is.”
In the 1990s, Studer served as president of Baptist Hospital in Pensacola after working as chief operating officer of Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, resuscitating both facilities through techniques aimed at nurturing employee culture. After starting the Studer Group consultancy in 2000, he has been a speaker, an author, a baseball team owner and a philanthropist. He has twice been named to Modern Healthcare's list of “100 Most Influential People in Healthcare.”
“Whenever I talk about creating great cultures, somebody whispers to you, ‘What about the doctors? What are we going to do with the doctors?’ … They’re meaning the doctors that they think are behavioral problems. That’s really who they are talking about. So, we sat down, and I go, ‘How many doctors are on your medical staff?’ and they told me, and I said, ‘How many do you wish weren’t there?’ and they came up with a handful. So, I said, ‘What are we doing with the 99 percent that cause you little or no problems?’ And they said, 'Nothing.' "
What should organizations do? Get data — doctor by doctor — to determine “the key drivers that help them have a good day’s work,” he says.
It’s part of creating the right culture, “which ties into good physician leadership, good physician engagement and helping doctors control their own destiny, which is really physician leadership.”
It’s not a complex problem, says Studer.
A Double-A ballplayer will get treated better than a neurosurgeon.
Physicians are motivated by efficiency, appreciation and responsiveness. By removing barriers to these qualities, organizations increase engagement and accountability while decreasing burnout and turnover.
While doctors are lauded for their competency and decision-making, “our pendulum has swung by treating [them] like gods,” rather than human beings. That’s where Studer draws a comparison. Health care is not the only industry driven by elite performers.
“Theater, Broadway, they have some high-producing people that help employ hundreds of people,” he says. “So, if I go to Hello, Dolly! and they have Bette Midler in it, or David Hyde [Pierce], and they’re the stars — they’re your doctors — how do you think they get treated?”
Another analogy is closer to home for Studer, who co-owns his hometown Pensacola Blue Wahoos baseball team, a Cincinnati Reds affiliate. The Reds consider their players “very important” in creating revenue streams — even at the minor-league level. “A Double-A ballplayer will get treated better than a neurosurgeon,” he says.
“Only about 5 percent of them will ever play in the major leagues, but here’s what major-league teams put into a Double-A baseball player: They’re going to give them a strength and conditioning coach that’s going to work with them every day to help them be strong. … They also are very picky and they want food in the locker room at all times, from noon to about 11 at night, that’s [picked by] nutritionists because they want them to eat right. They also are going to have a hitting coach, a batting coach and a running coach to make sure they are constantly investing in their skill sets and their development.
“Oh, by the way, they all have mental coaches now. … What it teaches them is how to handle failure. I wonder what type of coach physicians have when they have failure?
“I say [to clients], ‘Why don’t we treat doctors like we treat these athletes?’ And somebody will say to me, ‘Quint, this is a lot of money.’ I say, ‘You mean hiring nutritionists for your medical staff?’ If a doctor feels better, how many more patients will they see? How much better job will they do?”
He asks: If you look at doctors as a valuable resource you want to maximize, what type of environment would you create for them?
“It’s not the one we’ve created.”
Rick Mayer is a senior editor with the American Association for Physician Leadership.