Asking the Right Questions to Better Engage Physicians

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Value-based care requires a renewed focus on improving costs, quality, and outcomes. While both physicians and supply chain must adapt to this new healthcare environment, supply chain needs to take the lead on developing a much-needed partnership between the two groups.

The first step towards changing this often strained or non-existent relationship is for supply chain leaders to make their objectives clear. They must show physicians that they share the same goal of providing the best care for patients, and that this takes priority over cost reduction and standardization. Saying this is just the first step. The second step is proving it by taking action.

That means that supply chain must be more proactive and no longer only interact with physicians when they submit new product requests. They must view the world not in terms of purchase orders and contracts but rather through the physicians’ eyes. In place of surface-level conversations that address simply whether devices should be purchased, supply chain must dive deeper. They must ask the right questions—and those questions have very little to do with products.

When I worked in value analysis at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, I often asked to meet with physicians under the guise of discussing their product requests. However, once I had their attention I used the time to ask the “right” questions instead.

My aim was to understand the real world landscape, as well as the department’s priorities and challenges to determine how supply chain could help.  In my conversations, I posed these three questions, which most supply chain or value analysis leaders had never asked them:

  1. What is new or exciting in your specialty?
  2. Where do you see the field going in the next few years?
  3. Is your department hiring any new physicians with new specialties?

I knew these questions were on point because I saw a glimmer of light in physicians’ eyes as they realized that our focus in supply chain wasn’t just the bottom line.  I also knew these questions were on point because I was often surprised by the responses which included important new information that hadn’t yet trickled down to supply chain.

For example, physicians told me that a particular procedure was expected to move to an outpatient center later in the year, that a new surgeon had been hired to perform minimally-invasive procedures for which we were not properly supplied, or that a high-profile device coming on the market was expected to be a game changer and patients were already requesting it.

While I would have learned about these changes eventually, it may have been too late.

I would have missed the opportunity to position supply chain as a resource for physicians. I would have missed the opportunity to establish that we’re all on the same team. Most importantly, I would have missed the opportunity to prove that we’re all here to select the best products to deliver the best patient care—which we can only achieve by working together.