9 Ways to Productively Connect with Doctors

The doctor-patient relationship is critically important, yet the intermittent nature of the relationship often makes it difficult to make meaningful connections. These 9 tips can help facilitate better relationships.

“Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.”

—Robert Frost

It will be 20 years this fall that I was involved in the launch of a print version of Physician’s Money Digest. Early on I learned that a meaningful connection with physicians begins and ends with trust.

Readers will recall that Physician’s Money Digest was a very popular publication—achieving record readership support. Our claim to fame was that the magazine was #1 in cover-to-cover readership in primary care for 10 years in a row, according to PERQ-HCI. For a long time, we had our finger on the pulse of America’s doctors. They told us so.

When communicating with healthcare professionals, they must feel as if you respect the profession and are partners in improving the human condition—theirs and their patients. During my years of reporting for and communicating with America’s physicians here are some lessons I’ve learned:

1. Be an advocate—Physicians trust and support individuals and organizations that they know are “on our side.” I heard this time and time again. You must recognize the issues and challenges impacting the healthcare business. Commiserate with them in a thoughtful manner, yet offer practical solutions.

2. Listen to their concerns—Many thoughtful physicians want to talk about the growing challenge of medical practice, hospital policy, and patient care. They deal with a lot of issues and there’s much to distract them. When interacting with a doctor, seek first to understand. If they feel like they can trust you, they’ll unload with valuable information. This then becomes the ultimate communicative moment.

3. Educate them about business—Today’s medical professional generally has a healthy skepticism about institutions—pharma companies, hospitals, health insurers, government—even as they must work closely with them. However, if you inform and educate them on how they might better manage their medical practice and improve patient care, they will beat a path to your door. They’re yours forever.

4. Treat them like “people”—Too many marketers and communicators think doctors are ivory tower types who are tough to reach. In truth, physicians mirror society. They’re regular folks with challenges, hopes, and fears. Keep that in mind when you are promoting something to them. You don’t need to be brilliant, just clear and consistent.

5. Reinforce your message—There’s an old saying, “people don’t need to be taught as much as they need to be reminded.” Physicians are probably the busiest professionals in America today. You need to constantly repeat your message (in a thoughtful and practical manner) almost to the point of tedium. Identify the key points and pound them home.

6. Give them something useful—Marketers too frequently hand out items that are quickly forgotten by the doctor. In truth, a quality educational or service product with a practical usage is rarely offered and highly prized.

7. Go beyond clinical—Today’s clinical field is very crowded and even a compelling message is likely to be missed. Even a good story too often gets lost in the “clinical pile.” In many cases it’s wise to only be as clinical as you have to be; but always deliver a meaningful message of how the doctor can better operate his/her practice. Seek to tie the clinical to the practical. Today’s doctors are overwhelmed with data. Do the work for them.

8. Scare them a little—In a professional manner (armed with statistics and troubling stories) tell the physician about the profession’s flaws. Since most consequential decisions are based on fear, spell out in no uncertain terms where they are failing and offer up reasonable solutions. And many doctors will be glad to recite their tales of woe. This is good fodder to build future relationships.

9. Recognize they are slow to change—Patience is key when dealing with doctors. For example, on technology, most physicians will not acknowledge and accept what they do not understand. Reinforce the notion that when you are through changing—you are through. In short, most doctors are intimated by technology; many high school students are more comfortable it. Being lifetime students of medicine, however, most physicians are eager to embrace practical and thoughtful educational tools. Here’s a serious opportunity to connect.