There’s a classic line in the movie “Jaws” when Sheriff Brody says “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Remember that? If you own or operate an independent ophthalmic ASC, you probably know exactly how he felt when he uttered those words. That bigger boat was essential to keeping Brody and his shark hunting trio from being dragged out to sea by their great white menace. Likewise, your center needs to take steps towards “bigger” to avoid being pulled under by the market forces working against independent ASCs. One way to step up and hook the big ones—productive surgeons, more complex cases, and bigger profits—is with a robust physician recruitment strategy.
But bringing on new surgeons isn’t easy, warns Rena Courtay, who spoke about physician recruitment at the Ambulatory Surgical Center Association’s 2017 annual meeting. Physicians are increasingly seeking employment within health systems, reducing the talent pool available to independent centers while making those hires more expensive. Plus, some hospitals and health systems are actively working against ASCs in bids to keep their cases—and their surgeons—in-house, Courtay says. Physician recruitment and retention “is something that requires constant attention,” she emphasizes. “You can’t just address it once a quarter like you could a strategic plan.”
“More than ever now, with the competition, you have to be a growth-oriented leader to sustain continued success at your ASC.”—Rena Courtay”
Successful Physician Recruitment Starts Here
Your reason for adding an ophthalmologist—to boost case volume, increase capital investments, add subspecialties, or replace a departing surgeon— affects your physician recruitment strategy. Before starting your search, discuss why your center needs a new provider with all of your center’s stakeholders, based on an analysis of the ASC’s needs. Then, outline the skills and necessary certifications candidates must have before soliciting any applications.
Next, Courtay suggests asking yourself “What exactly is my ‘physician customer’ buying when they choose to utilize my center?” It’s no longer enough to promote fast turnover and good outcomes—those are now baseline qualities, she notes. Your value proposition will vary depending on your market, and it may be easier to develop in some markets versus others, but “you have to have one,” emphasizes Courtay. Think about the strengths and advantages your center has over others:
“Doctors love shiny new objects,” quips Courtay.
“If the patients get great care [and] great outcomes when they’re there, the physician is going to come back. If they don’t, you’re going to have the opposite problem,” she says.
“You can lose doctors over the staff you have at your center. Or, you can gain doctors because of the staff you have at your center,” Courtay notes.
What unique procedural capabilities does your center have? What might you be able to do differently than some of your competitors?
This is a big draw, especially for younger physicians. They don’t want to work 70 hours a week like the older physicians, and they don’t want to work in a hospital where their cases are being bumped constantly, and have no control, observes Courtay.
If you’re having trouble creating your value proposition, consider conducting a SWOT analysis. Laying out your center’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats can help you organize all of the internal and external factors that affect your ability to attract physicians.
Physician Recruitment: Next Steps
The concept of “sales” often gets a bad rap. But the reality is that successful physician recruitment means selling potential physicians on the benefits of your facility. “Everyone is selling your center. Receptionist. Patients. The anesthesiologist who is there every day. Medical Director. Everyone,” says Courtay. “Every person on your staff is really selling, because whatever their job duty is, whether it’s good or bad, it’s going to impact the selling of your facility.”
To succeed at physician recruitment, you must incorporate sales into your center’s everyday operations. This happens in a few ways:
Know Your Market
Yes, the local market where your ASC operates, but also your physician market—every ophthalmologist who’s capable, available, and who is not currently bringing cases to your facility. To get to know that market, you’ll need to focus on relationship-building. Courtay offers these tips:
- “What I see in a lot of sales calls, sometimes [administrators] get so excited and they get in the office and they’re just talking nonstop and the physician is just sitting there,” Courtay observes. “You’re gonna lose that physician in about two minutes.” So let the physicians do most of the talking. “They usually want to talk about themselves anyways, like most people,” she jokes.
- Independent ophthalmologists are struggling to maintain that independence, and you need to understand their long and short-term goals. “They tell you so much about their practice—you might be able to help them,” notes Courtay. If they see you as a trusted partner, it helps build your credibility, which could encourage them to align with your center.
Tap Your Resources
Vendors and sales reps can have an amazing amount of knowledge about the ophthalmologists in your market, especially if they’ve been in their field for a long time. They spend a lot of time with their physicians, and get to know the physician’s personalities, OR preferences, likes and dislikes, even hobbies and interests.
Know Your Product
You can’t be an expert on everything, but you need to at least know enough about the operations across your center so that you can sound confident and intelligent when you’re talking to physicians. Physicians are smart, observant, and data-driven people. “They [physicians] know whether you’re a credible person or not. It doesn’t take them very long to figure that out,” notes Courtay.
Staff’s Roll in Physician Recruitment
Your staff can make or break a physician’s decision to come to or stay at your center, says Courtay. Recruiting works best as a team, so look for ways that staff members from all levels and positions in your center—physicians included—can support your efforts. “I always have the director of nursing come and spend time with recruits,” said one ASCA attendee, a financial manager. His center also has a “physician champion” who plays a similar role, meeting with recruits and joining in when the recruits tour the center.
And don’t forget to reward your staff as a team. Several attendees opt for equal, team-based incentives to encourage all staff members to bring their best. One attendee bases staff bonuses on their case volume per month. Each staff member gets an equal bonus, and “it engages every single teammate at the center to want to sell and do more volume,” he reports. Another attendee implements a profit sharing bonus, where all staff members are eligible.