Barlow/McCarthy Blog

Check back often to hear from our talented team of consultants. Topics covered include: Physician Relations, Physician Recruitment, Practice Marketing, Medical Staff Development, Community Health Needs Assessments, etc.

  • By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA |

    Physician relations teams spend a lot of time and attention learning FOR their field work. We focus on understanding the clinical offerings, new members of the medical staff, changes in process, schedules and what the service lines want us to tell the doctors. Much effort is devoted to preparing the message or developing questions for meeting with the doctor and practice. Preparation is essential, but learning does not stop there, it’s a dynamic process. For great field staff, almost equal time and effort is spent learning FROM the field. It’s patient and persistent attention to what’s said, what’s inferred and what’s observed that can make the difference. Consider these ideas and build your own ideas to ensure you are maximizing your field observations.

    1. “I spy with my little eye.” Clues to practice culture, financial strength and changes may be right in front of your eyes. We all observe the waiting room crowd. Make note of changes. If the areas used to be well maintained and are not so now, it may be an indication of tightening financials for the private group. If you see more and more materials from a competing facility it should grab your attention too. The power of observation is such a great tool. Pay attention and then consider whether it’s something to talk about with the practice members or just store in your brain.
    2. Really listen. Some people tend to listen so they can prepare their next statement. When we are new in the role, it’s easy to do this. With time and maturity, there is opportunity to listen better- to hear what is said, why they may be saying what they are and what they never seem to say. Be patient, let them tell you as they are ready but set the stage by listening and guiding the conversation.
    3. It’s chilly in here. The tone and temperature of the practice- both staff and doctor- are clues about your style, your organization’s perception or it can be an indication of internal change. Pay attention to changes in receptivity. Consider what has changed and factors that may have precipitated the negative climate. Determine whether to address, solve or ignore the issue based on smart business process.
      1. Let’s start with you. If you were warmly greeted in your first meetings and now you are not, don’t be afraid to get a little introspective. An example, “I used to get to meet with the doctor, now my only conversations are with the staff.” It may be a policy change, or it may be something about your early meeting(s).  Do an internal assessment of your style and approach to determine where things went south. Own it and create a plan to get back on track.
      2. My organization. At times business decisions, like aligning with another group or changing a compensation model aggravate the doctor, practice administrator, team or all the above. Evaluate what it is and then create a plan to address it or not. The strategy around this may be bigger than you so ask for internal support with the message or their presence at a meeting if you need it.
      3. Their practice. Sometimes the change of mood in a practice is because business or personal challenges become more transparent than they should. Be super sensitive to this and align your relationship strategy. It may be shift to doing only individual meetings, maybe you offer more choices that can be customized by individual, maybe you slow down a bit in your funnel management or maybe you just make sure to demonstrate the right level of empathy.
    4. Practices have a personality.  What’s the practice culture? How do they connect with each other? What do they use to learn new information? It’s the old “different strokes for different folks”. Observe and then test the tools in early conversations and it will allow you to customize your approach to match their style
    5. What can you infer about the team dynamics? Some practices are very hierarchical, others have a total team approach.  I was with a doctor last week who totally relied on her nurse to do all patient education. Is the doctor time-sensitive? Listen to the conversation to see if they are practice-inclusive and mention other partners or if the conversation is all about them. Use the same type of language when you talk about patients and services.

    Observation coupled with a healthy intuition can teach us so much about the practices.  For some people this happens naturally, for others it requires special brain power. Weigh in and share your observations and the impact on your field success.

    Blog, Physician Relations
  • By: Allison McCarthy, MBA |

    A client recently held an educational event for its family medicine residents. While the goal was to help the residents make post-training career decisions, the underlying assumption was to build awareness of the health system’s practice opportunities.

    The event was successful in many ways – a solid turnout of residents, great networking, open dialogue, a lovely venue and a keen sense of accomplishment for the host leadership team.

    For me, the big “aha moment” was learning how much residency training orientation influenced practice preferences. Given its location, the residency clinic serves a lower income population. The clinic structure resembles a community health center – with a full range of outpatient services in a single location. The residents noted how well supported the clinic model was not only  for their patients’ health care needs, but also for the benefit of providers – with the structure acting as a built-in referral compliance vehicle. When they need a patient to receive diagnostic testing or behavioral health services, the resident is confident care is received as the patient transitions from one office suite to another.

    So, when asked what type of practice venue they were looking for post-training, most of them said they would prefer a community health center environment. Beyond those initial observations, they noted the ability to do full spectrum family medicine (including obstetrics), the team environment, caring for the under-served, and other positive aspects of those practice environments.

    Certainly, that would be good news if this health system had practice opportunities in community health centers. But this system’s practice offerings are all in traditional physician office settings. While the medical group leadership and I believed that improved connection with their own residents would be a natural resource for the primary care recruitment pipeline, the event discussion made it clear that it would require more work than that.

    In the short term, the system must target primary care residents from other programs that more closely emulate the system’s primary care practice model. In the long term, the organization will need to do one of two things to retain more of its family medicine residents:

    • Increase the exposure to traditional physician practice settings in the residency curriculum;
    • Change the system’s practice venues to settings with larger practice teams and multi-disciplinary service offerings.

    As physician recruiters, we know that geographic exposure greatly influences practice choices. But we may be less attuned to the impact of the residency model on future career decisions – including the training venue, culture, patient population, case mix and other factors. That means our resident lead-generation efforts need to be more targeted. If the training setting doesn’t match the practice offerings, even if there is organizational and geographic affinity, the work may be in vain.

    Blog, Physician Recruitment
  • By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA |

    Cue the party hats, confetti and one more glass of bubbly…  the new year is here and with it, the warm glow and anticipation of what’s to come. One of many things I love about my role is the opportunity to watch how talented people embrace the new year. It’s that time of year when we each get to consider how we want the year ahead to turn out and where we’d like to end up in our professional growth. Here are five suggestions that may make your party at the end of 2017 even better!

    1. It’s the year of YOU, set a success goal

    Take the time to write a personal goal or two that you would like to achieve in the next year. Once it’s written, put it in a place where you’ll see it on a regular basis. Maybe you put it on bright paper or you laminate it. Put it inside your desk drawer or inside your car door pocket or inside your sock drawer at home. The point is, it should be some place where you’ll see it and be reminded.

    Once it’s in writing, map out your plan to get there on a calendar. Take advantage of your January motivation to look at what it will take to attain your goal and use a calendar to define your progression. For example, if I want to earn more referrals to our cardiologists from family medicine doctors in 2017, each month may have a specific action that you call out in your calendar in advance.

    1. Cultivate inspiration

    Many professions have frequent team-involved conversations creating opportunity for daily learning from others. This role is interactive, but idea sharing in the field visit is the exception. Reps are often alone with the audience and there is a great deal of “alone time” driving, waiting and waiting some more. I find my best inspiration and new ideas from people. Find someone who helps you consider new approaches or learn new things about the organization and its internal stakeholders. The right person for you may not be looking for this relationship so you’ll need to initiate.

    1. Find the right limb, go out on it

    The best idea to support a doctor with growth is likely one that none of us have thought of yet. Find new ways to make a connection or to add value to a practice. Test a new approach to get internal traction with that individual who never returns your call. If you’ve tried the same approach over and over and it has not worked yet, then try a new approach. Change might be just what you need to feel better personally and get the result you want professionally.

    1. Flavor of the year, positivity

    Vow to let the cycle of complaints be a 2016 action that does not carry into 2017. Naysayers can make you crazy, but why should they control your mood? If you are in a situation that is emotionally draining, surround yourself with people, processes and messages that fortify your spirit.  This job is tough and we all need to be valued and have a good belly laugh now and again. Find a way to take care of you and feed your needs in a positive way.

    1. Do work!

    Hard work does not always get you the result you want, but it sure helps. It’s the right blend of working hard and working smart. Assuming you have a good plan, you are the right talent, and you have a deliverable that deserves to grow, throw yourself at the job with all you’ve got. As you do, assess your impact, evaluate how you feel, consider next steps and really evaluate what seems to help you progress your efforts.

    What do you think?  I hope at least one of the five gave you some ideas as you consider 2017.  Weigh in and let me know what you are hoping to achieve to make 2017 a fabulous year at work.

    Blog, Physician Relations
  • By: Allison McCarthy, MBA |

    Some see it as an opportunity to slow down but don’t let yourself be fooled.  This is a great time to be doing all you can to build up your provider recruitment pipeline. Just adapt your approach to fit the time of year. For example:

    • People are in a more generous mood and patient schedules at a slower pace. Give your physicians a short list and ask them to network with potential prospects.
    • This is the time of year when residents learn whether they have been accepted into a fellowship. Prepare a list of those that told you that was their plan and reach back to see if it got fulfilled.  If not, they will need an alternative plan and you just might be it.
    • For those returning home for holiday visits, invite them to have coffee with a physician leader or potential practicing colleague. You then create a more personalized introductory conversation.
    • Consider those practicing physicians that will make a “New Year” resolution to search for a new position. Review your postings to be sure the content is compelling enough to trigger a response.

    The holiday season may not seem like a great time for recruiting, but if you look beyond the hustle and bustle, you’ll find many opportunities to connect with well-qualified candidates. With just a bit of ingenuity and creative thinking, you can make the most of the unique recruitment advantages that this time of year offers.

    Blog, Physician Recruitment
  • By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA |

    The mood within practices has a lot to do with physician relations effectiveness and it’s December!  How would you answer this question for the practices you call on? “The general disposition of my practices is ______.” They may be frantic, festive, business as usual or any number of emotions that accompany this time of the year. Many accomplished field staff use their December calls to gather perspectives. It’s a great time to reflect on the past or create a shared vision for the future. For larger teams, the responses can be grouped to add the customer’s voice to your internal year-end summary.

    As you create your ideal question, consider your current relationship with the doctor. Do they talk freely or need you to prepare choices? Do they see you in a narrow role? If yes, ask something that aligns with that topic. Has the year been filled with problems? What type of information would resonate with the internal stakeholders or help your team in planning for the next year? One good question might be all you get, so take the time to make it count. Let me share some starter questions to stimulate your thinking.


    • Dr. ___, your practice has had lots of changes this year. What stands out as the…
      • most challenging?
      • best accomplishment of the year?
      • most impactful for your patients?
    • Dr. ___, since you have become part of our employed network, what’s the…
      • biggest surprise?
      • best part, or worst part?
      • most significant change within your practice team?
    • I’ve had the chance to bring lots of new doctors into your practice over the past year. As you think about those introductions
      • anyone who stands out?
      • any suggestions or feedback about the process for next year?


    • Dr. __ , as you begin your planning for 2017
      • what’s your priority in the practice?
      • any personal goals you have set for your practice?
    • As you think about ways that our organization can better serve you
      • is there one topic you’d suggest that needs our attention to better serve you?
      • what one clinical area would you like us to enhance/expand?
    • As a (specialty) physician, what one message would you like to give our (employed leadership or health system leadership) as they plan for 2017?
    • Any advice you would offer for the physician relations team as we put together our plans for supporting your practice in 2017?
    • As you think about 2017, which of these topics are most important for you to keep your patient’s happy? (List the top 3-4 topics you regularly hear and let them choose one).

    As always, test and refine your question to capture the right tone and message for your audience. These “reflection questions” give you an option for December that is in-between the fruit basket drop off and pushing hard for in-depth visits.  If they are done right, you’ll have some great feedback to get back to quality visits in January and the insights can be great for internal positioning.  What works best for you to have an impact in December?

    Want to learn more about asking good questions? Check out our online course: Skill Building: The Power of the Right Question.  

    Blog, Physician Relations
  • 6-practice-marketing-basics-that-set-the-course-for-successBy: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA |

    Marketers can be heard moaning, “Just add it to the list…” Teams of excellent health system marketers are now up to their elbows in one-off needs of employed practices, tri-fold brochures, requests for leave-behinds at the community health fairs, and of course, a marketing plan to quickly bring in the right patients since the practice is losing money. Yes, many marketing techniques are the same, BUT there are nuances, that’s for sure.

    As we watch groups who do an excellent job of this, there are some clear difference-makers that can help maintain sanity and prove to be effective.

    1. The customer is complicated. While “customer first” is always the case for marketing, at the practice level this gets more complicated because many of the practices have been directly interfacing with lots of patients every day. Take the time to learn from them. This is personal for the practice, so the marketing approach needs to be more inclusive. Use your best knowledge, but add a dose of listening and observation at the site.
    2. What to do AND what not to do. The urgency makes it easier to just respond to requests. With tight budgets and lots of masters, it’s so important to craft a plan and start with the basics. Dollars are tight in this space, so we have to make sure we calculate the right strategy for the masses and do that first.
    3. The desired audience. Marketers all get this. We need to understand the desired target market and the market we can attract. It’s the “who wants us” that is often a challenging conversation. So, set up a grid that looks at the audiences and do research. In today’s environment, this is much more than “our neighborhood.”
    4. Operational readiness. Create a checklist and let the practice know that their welcoming and tracking process must be in place before you step up the marketing campaign with them. You know this drill: products and services that are of interest, access, customer experience, referring physician communication, systems for authorization and/or payor communication, etc.
    5. All 4 P’s matter. Often in a hospital or service line, the emphasis is on product/service, promotion, and our placement or distribution channel. At the practice level, pricing plays a role. This includes understanding payor relationships up close, knowing what’s out of pocket for patients and the right message to consistently demonstrate price transparency. Some practices are there and others know it’s coming. The savvy teams are working to get ahead in their planning and communication plans.
    6. Create a plan, work the plan, measure the impact. Once the plan is created and steps are in place for implementation, measurement is critical.  Many successful teams enlist the practices to support their measurement. After all, if they are begging you to do something for them, the table is set for an “ask back.” Keep the early measurements simple. Use results to prove value but also to course correct.

    The really good teams do sometimes put out wonderful new concepts and ideas. But, when you look under the covers, they all started with the basics and rely on a solid infrastructure to manage the budget and the expectations. There is no indication that practice development will go away, so someone has to own it. Where’s your process today? What did I miss that you would call out as a basic tenet for marketing at the practice level?

    Blog, Physician Marketing, Practice Marketing