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Inspiring clinicians to engage in your patient experience improvement efforts is not only important, it is required to achieve results. Few healthcare leaders dispute this, but the effectiveness of getting this accomplished is inconsistent. 

Over the years, I have seen every engagement approach out there. Some leaders will try convincing clinicians of the clinical and financial benefits arising from better patient connection; many will frame the importance of public reporting and pay-for-performance risk for patient satisfaction scores; and still others build incentives into a clinician’s compensation plan around the “green box.” 

If the goal is to engage clinicians with commitment and enthusiasm, those approaches simply won’t do the trick. So what are the approaches that successfully engage clinicians? Galvanizing clinicians can’t be about the payer market, at-risk monies, or even consumerism. We have to create a cause that deeply connects to why clinicians join this profession.

Here are three approaches to consider to get that done:

1. Don’t tell clinicians what they need to do. . . ask them who they want to be.

Just like we have moved away from telling patients to “lose weight” (because that doesn’t work either), telling clinicians to improve scores or be nicer to patients doesn’t influence behavior change decisions. So, what does? Helping them define their belief system, identity and who they want to be, and using your patient experience journey simply as the path to help them get there.

When you ask a clinician, “What kind of clinician do you want to be?” you will find inspiring answers that are bold, heart-felt, and deeply connected to your patient-centered efforts. The engagement journey must be by them, not at them.

2. Use patient experience data wisely.

We have become so data obsessed regarding patient experience with so much on the line to move the needle that leaders often unintentionally give signals and messaging to clinicians that the “score” is somehow the goal. This is a nearly fatal organizational error. First, it is fundamentally disconnected to why we do what we do. Second, it is essentially wagging the dog, exemplifying greater concern for looking good, then being good. Third, it will prompt clinicians to make inappropriate care decisions out of fear the patient may receive a patient satisfaction survey. 

What is the remedy for the data use trap? Spend 90% of leader language on “what we want to become” (see point number one); tell stories of patient impact in every meeting; recognize the clinicians going above and beyond in your teams every day; share your personal testimony of what you are trying and experiencing through better connection; and ask about and respond to what clinicians need to be their best. 

Data is important, but it must be framed as a consequence of the things that matter: A quantitative, mission-verification instrument and a progress tracker to help us celebrate and adjust how we serve patients. Simply ban the phrase of “we need to improve our patient satisfaction score . . .” from your language to build an uncompromising mission over metric leader approach.

3. Help clinicians become their best.

As you ask we ask your clinicians, “What do we want to be?” and use data as a progress tracker, you can engage clinicians by helping with simple behaviors that drive immediate connection with patients. When leaders ask me the most important coaching strategy, at the top of the list is helping clinicians experience what it feels like to impact patients in an observable way. When we support clinicians with the skills to connect, clinicians feel tremendous purpose, accomplishment, and pride in the exam room, prompting them to repeat the behavior and tell their colleagues what they learned and tried. 

The process of mastery, accomplishment, and achievement are drivers of improvement and contentment and they serve as vital ingredients in the engagement journey. As a leader, you can help clinicians write their story and use intelligent data tracking and skill development to help them be the clinician they want to be. If you do this, clinicians engage, the needle moves, and the rest of the care team will follow their lead.