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How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Physician Liaison

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Male doctor shaking hands with male patient while female nurse stands behind themA physician liaison role can be vital when doctor referrals are crucial to the success of a hospital or practice. I’ve met some fantastic physician liaisons over the course of my career—especially when they are in the right position, with the right culture fit, and receive the proper compensation, time, and training.

Unfortunately, I’ve also met some really great people who just weren’t fit for the job. On the other hand, some would-be great physician liaisons get set up for failure thanks to poor management of the position. These are just some of the ways you can ruin a perfectly good physician liaison role.

See Also: Our Physician Liaison Training Can Help You Multiply Doctor Referrals

Hire someone before you have defined expectations and goals

Do you know what you expect from this program from the get-go? The physician liaison role should have set goals and expectations. This position’s results are measurable in terms of revenue, and the expectations should be laid out as such.

The physician liaison role differs from your typical sales and marketing positions. This is primarily an outside sales position, so the job description should ideally target those with a background in sales. You should not finalize your job description until you know just what you expect.

Confuse the physician liaison role with marketing tasks

While we recommend physician liaisons exclusively spend their time selling, we find that practices often want to pass them the marketing tasks too. Tread very carefully here. Turning a physician liaison role into a marketing coordinator is the most common mistake we see, and we strongly suggest you limit marketing activities to a maximum of 20% of their time.

Why? Several reasons.

First, the ideal person for the job does not want to do marketing coordination. Excellent physician liaisons enjoy selling and motivating people. They hate being cooped up inside an office, and would much prefer to spend their time interacting with prospects. More than one successful physician liaison has told us, "I am the closer."

Second, the opportunity cost is enormous. A great physician liaison can protect your most important referral sources, and bring more than $1 million in new revenue to their hospital or practice every year. When you take your physician liaison out of the field, you are replacing her $500+ per hour production with a $20-$40 an hour administrative task. Not a great ROI there.

Third, marketing and sales require entirely different skill sets. The training and qualifications are completely different for both jobs. While we have seen a handful of people over the years do both roles well, 95%+ of the time they do not.

Fourth, marketing today is a world of specialists, and no one person can do it all. (Hospitals have entire teams of people, and both hospitals and practices typically outsource the specialized marketing functions.) One of the physician liaisons we recently met confided, "My doctors just don't get it. They hired me to grow doctor referrals. Now they expect me to write for the website, design their new brochure, post social media, buy advertising, host events and write press releases. I don't know much about any of those things, and now I don't have time to be a salesperson anymore. I simply feel like I am being set up to fail. Will you please talk to them for me?"

Finally, we have seen firsthand what can happen when the wrong physician liaison starts occupying too much of her time with marketing. The marketing stuff is cool and the air conditioning is even cooler (literally and figuratively) than going out and visiting doctors’ offices. These former liaisons can quickly lose sight of why they were hired in the first place, and start finding excuses to stay inside the office rather than interact with referring doctors and their staff. (Hint: if your physician liaison starts spending her time playing around with Photoshop or arguing for a bigger desk, you probably have the wrong person.)

Ask someone to do it in their spare time

As we alluded to a moment ago, a good physician liaison could become your biggest source of doctor referrals. The best physician liaisons can bring in millions of dollars. Would you really want to pass this off to someone to do in their spare time?

We’ve seen practices hand this off to someone at the front desk or even to a busy nurse. These people don’t have spare time. And even if they had a few minutes...what would that allow them to do? Send an email? Make a quick phone call? This is not the way to build a relationship with someone who could become a source of referral traffic for years to come.

Hire the wrong person

Not everyone is the right hire for a physician liaison role—including some of the wonderful people already working in your office. The best physician liaisons love producing results. Someone in your office may have the requisite clinical skills, but does she have any sales skills? The right personality? The right experience for this type of outside sales position? Does she even want to be a physician liaison? (If you force someone to do it, they will prove to you that it was a bad idea.)

A home run would be finding someone who’s good at the clinical work and sales already. (You almost never find that.) The best fallback is teaching a salesperson to understand the clinical stuff: your internal systems and processes. But it usually doesn’t work the other way around.

Teaching someone to be a salesperson is extremely difficult if she doesn't already have experience or at least the right personality. But all in all, the worst thing you can do is to train someone with no interest in the job.

Offer a noncompetitive compensation package

A good physician liaison is a good salesperson who can influence doctors. This is someone highly desirable to corporate America—not to mention your own competitors. Your physician liaison has the skills necessary to succeed in a high-stakes sales position, and that’s how you should treat her.

Related: 7 Traits of a Highly Successful Physician Liaison

So are you planning on paying someone in this role $15 an hour? Yikes. The bare minimum for this type of outside sales position should be $50,000 a year. For hospitals in large markets, think six figures. You have to offer a competitive physician liaison salary, and, preferably, a bonus based on results. (While we can’t offer legal advice, be aware that you cannot offer direct commissions, which would be akin to taking medical fees.)

Fail to train and manage them

Every once in a while, we meet that physician liaison who drops off bagels at a doctor’s office once a quarter. That’s better than nothing, but is this what you’re really looking for if you want to maintain a relationship with someone who has no other reason to continue referring you?

Your physician liaison should be trained in sales and relationship building, as well as your database and systems. And while good physician liaisons can manage themselves to an extent, you must follow up on their progress and offer further training opportunities.

No database or system to measure results and activity

Your physician liaison should be continuously touching base with physicians and prospects to ensure a steady flow of referrals. The person in this position should be armed with a CRM (customer relationship management) program so that she is accountable for keeping up these relationships.

And as with any part of your marketing efforts, you should have a system in place to measure results. Most basic CRMs include this feature, although the best measure of results is the new business your liaison generates.

Expect your physician liaison to "act like everyone else"

Physician liaisons are usually an entirely different breed than your clinical and administrative people. They often feel like they just do not fit in with everyone else. Rest assured, this cultural disconnect is typical in virtually every industry. But it tends to be even more pronounced in healthcare. Remember, a good physician liaison is a salesperson who works independently to grow your referrers. They will not act or even think like the rest of your team.

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