Healthcare executives know that physician champions are critical to achieve successful change within their organization for many projects. However, merely selecting a physician to function as the champion for an organizational change project, is often insufficient. Things don’t always turn out as envisioned. The physician may not be effective as hoped due to lack of credibility, inability to obtain buy-in, or inadequate communication skills. It is not only important to select the right physician champion, but also to provide guidance and mentoring to maximize their effectiveness.
What is a physician champion? The physician champion functions as an important liaison between project leadership and the physician community. It is important that they represent the physician’s voice, not just their own, and can “speak” to physician’s interests broadly. In addition, they are an important communicator back to the physicians. They need to be able to speak directly to the physicians and focus on the most relevant issues. Physician champions should help identify important stakeholders, both advocates and naysayers, and communicate effectively with these important groups in order to maximize buy in for successful change.
Selection of physician champions. Obviously, selecting the best person for the role is critical. You should not assume that your CMIO or CMO is the right physician champion for every project within your organization. It certainly makes sense for them to be aware and support change projects, but they may not always be the best person to function as physician champion. Are they viewed as “a suit” and not clearly a physician voice? Are they stretched too thin for a time-consuming change project? Do they lack credibility, due to limited clinical or operational experience, to represent physician’s interests on a given project? The organization may be better suited by a physician more closely aligned with the physicians and/or the project subject matter.
Clinical credibility is often very important when selecting a physician champion. You may have physicians interested in leadership roles because they are IT gurus, but they aren’t viewed as walking in their colleague’s shoes. Or you might have physicians who view their role to be the voice of the physicians… “against any change that might ever impact the physicians.”
Supporting the role of the physician leader. Physicians tend to be independent by nature. Training has taught us to make and own important life and death decisions. Although todays medicine often focuses on team care, it doesn’t come easily to physicians nor do the leadership skills required to achieve consensus and deal with conflict. It is important to not assume that by simply identifying a good physician champion they will be successful Identify a mentor who can guide them through the core responsibilities of a good physician champion.
Core responsibilities of a physician champion:
- Develop an effective process to gather broad based physician input
- Effectively represent physician interests in governance and design meetings
- Stakeholder management through development of a stakeholder list and action plan
- Develop and implement a communication plan
- Effective dealing with naysayers, conflict, and setbacks within a project.
Selecting the right physician champion for organizational change project is only one important strategic step. It is equally as important for the champion to understand the expectations of the role. Providing the champion with appropriate mentoring and guidance will help assure success.