Why a physician liaison is a short-term career choice

Why a physician liaison is a short term career choiceTimes are tough for pharmaceutical reps, with many hospitals and physician offices banning their sales visits.

But, there’s hope for those out of a job. Consider the physician liaison.

Faced with budget cutbacks, hospitals are becoming more aggressive growing their market share. They are not only buying physician practices, they want more doctors to admit, refer to and use their facilities.

Physician liaisons are generally former drug and device reps who work for hospitals and visit independent physician practices. Instead of promoting a product, they sell hospital services. Hospital perks may include a more flexible operating schedule or use of the latest diagnostic equipment.

There is a financial bonus for successful reps. According to USA Today,

… about two-thirds of Tenet’s liaisons are former drug and device sales reps, and they can make tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses if doctors increase their referrals to the hospitals. “These people are really good and really assertive and very sophisticated,” said Stephen Newman, Tenet’s chief operating officer.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see hospital-sponsored lunches, dinners, and pens soon.

It’s entirely unsurprising that hospitals are taking such an aggressive marketing approach. Despite health reform, much of their revenue is based on a fee for service system, meaning that hospitals generally benefit from more admissions and increased use of their services.

But what would happen if there was a change away from fee for service medicine? Well, if health reformers get their way, that’s exactly what will happen. A transformation to a system with a fixed, global health budget where hospitals may not be so eager to have patients utilize their services.

And that’s why a physician liaison is likely to be a short-term career choice.

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of KevinMD.com, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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  • http://twitter.com/LDGreen66 Lyle Green

    Kevin, very thought provoking article, and something all hospitals and healthcare organizations who field physician liaison programs should be considering and developing strategic plans to address.  At the MD Anderson Cancer Center, our team not only is responsible for activating referrals from the physician referral base, but the process involves coordinating physician and staff education for the practice(s), facilitating the referral process, and interfacing with hospital and clinic operations to ensure timely and complete clinical communications and updates to the referring physician.  Our staff are also directly involved and responsible for promotion, education, and registering of referring physicians on our myMDAnderson Physician portal that automates the process of new patient referrals, and provides secure online access to referred patient medical record information.  Our team is a hybrid team, comprised mostly of clinically trained individuals who can speak to clinical trials, and specialized procedures and treatment protocols, but we also have two staff with sales and business development backgrounds, giving us the best of both worlds.   I have been involved in physician relations and referral development for the past 15 years, and we have continually worked to evolve the process, and maintain currency of strategy and approach given the ever changing healthcare environment that we work in.
    thanks – and we enjoy your posts !

    Lyle Green
    Associate Vice President for Physician Relations
    MD Anderson Cancer Center
    lgreen@mdanderson.org

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Reznick/100000549195050 Steven Reznick

      Nobody does it better than MD Anderson. As a referring physician to their Leukemia and Lymphoma division and ENT division for years I see their level of communication and handoff to the referring physician as complete , thorough and superior to other institutions. MD Anderson seems to blend the best worlds of fee for service medicine, philanthropic works, academic medicine, patient customer service. If all hospital systems worked like theirs does we wouldnt be talking about reforming healthcare

  • Anonymous

    The war against drug reps was won largely because drug reps disproportionately benefit solo practitioners compared to large academic medical centers.  So, medical academia, which holds much of the power to shape public opinion, had no problem skewering them.  I predict, however, that there will be much less outrage about hospital liaisons, since they benefit the folks with the bully pulpit.

    This, despite their motives being just as profit-driven and their shaping of physician behavior being just as powerful.

  • Anonymous

    It’s interesting how it’s acceptable to pay a rep, with all the salary and benefits approaching $60,000-$80,000 or more a year, to convince doctors to prescribe or refer in certain directions, yet it would be illegal to just pay the provider directly up to a few thousand or so.  Which one sounds like it would save more money for the health care system?

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