The successful physician of 2015: 5 essential traits

The health care scene is evolving. Rapidly. We all know that. Thanks to legislation, changing patient expectations and physician shortages, we are all in for a roller coaster of changes over the next few years.

But what does this mean for physicians? Plenty. Most importantly, it means physician’s roles in the health care system will change. Drastically. And that means the traits and skills you’ll need to be successful will change, too.

Some traits will endure. Physicians will always need to have a sense of empathy for patients. A love of people. And an uncanny ability to be virtually unflappable in the face of severe stress and anxiety.

But a whole new class of skills is emerging that physicians will undoubtedly need to remain successful when 2015 rolls around. Let’s take a closer peek:

Focusing on life goalsnot just health goals. Sure, your patient needs to lose 50 pounds. But her motivation to change lies in her desire to take that vacation with her daughter’s family to Disneyland where she’ll have to walk five hours a day. Helping your patients reach their LIFE goals—not just their health goals—will be a major focus of physicians in the years ahead.

Becoming a translator. Think of all the “languages” you currently speak. Payer language. Physician speak. Pharmacist code. Your patients don’t understand much (if any) of it. But, increasingly, they’re expecting you and the rest of your care team to translate this gobbledygook. If you’re going to deliver care as part of a single experience from your patient’s point of view, you’ll need to speak the right language at the right time to the right person. That means being a good listener—and an excellent translator. You will need to be the center of personalized-to-the-patient-and-caregiver interactions for consumers, fellow providers and other partners.

Collaborating with the enemy (at times). Successful physicians of the future will build alliances with partners and organizations that may have been “enemies” in the past. I’m talking about payers, “competing” physicians and other specialists (and even emerging “competitors” like the “bodega clinics” that are popping up in Los Angeles). In 2015, successful providers will collaborate with payers for better patient outcomes – instead of fighting with them for your fair share of the pie. Put simply: breaking down barriers will be necessary to achieve better outcomes for your patients and your practice.

Changing how you think about the office visit. With the growing popularity of e-visits, online, remote, and even retail health visits won’t be considered revenue cannibalization or quality of care compromises in 2015. Instead, they’ll be embraced. Come along for the ride. Primary care physicians will enjoy clinics unclogged of low-reimbursement visits, while patients will feel greater access to care and more control over their own health. Whether these new kinds of visits occur inside an accountable care organization (ACO) in which you participate, or somewhere independent of your practice or hospital, physicians will need to accommodate them as part of the continuum of care.

Communicating with patientseven when theyre not sickAccording to a recent study, 80 percent of respondents said it’s their doctor’s job to keep them healthy—not just treat them when they’re sick. What’s more, 50 percent said an email, text or smart phone app with tips could have helped them avoid a past health issue. Clearly, patients want MORE communication—not less—from their physicians. And this trend will only increase as more people get their hands on smart phones and tablets in the years ahead. You’ll be asked to reach out to patients every day via texts and apps—just to check in and offer advice. Keeping patients healthy will be the challenge of the day—and you’ll have to do more communicating than ever to help accomplish that goal.

Linda Ireland is co-owner and partner at Aveus. She blogs at Consumer Experience For Profit.

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  • drgg

    you are part of the problem and do not belong on this site.

  • azmd

    And the sixth and MOST important trait of the successful physician in 2015: the ability to not have any personal needs whatsoever, including the need to be paid for any of the first five traits.

    • Suzi Q 38


      So dramatic. No one said you couldn’t go to the bathroom or eat your

      6:00 dinner with your family.
      If you really wanted to eat with them every day, you would have found a different situation as far as your profession. I have a friend that works part-time as a physician. She will do so until her children are in high school.

      I will have to say, though, the author sites “perfect world” traits that are possible, but not probable for most doctors.

      • N N

        Funny, you expect a “prize” of a doctor, but admit you aren’t a prize of a patient – “What the insurance pays is not my problem.” Yup, I can’t imagine why people are leaving primary care in droves.

        • Suzi Q 38

          Yes, it is not my problem.
          I pay $850.00 a month premiums to my insurance company for PPO. My employer pays $1K a month.
          As you can see, with my high premiums for PPO, I already “pay for it.” I am not unwilling at all. I realize that paying $850.00 for PPO is better for me than paying $350.00 for HMO. To me, the difference is a car payment for a nice car. I have already demonstrated for the last 15 years that I have been more than willing to “pay for it.”

          As far as finding the elusive PCP, I am sure that there are good doctors out there, but I haven’t found one that is better than the one I already have. I am not changing doctors. Yes, I admit that I am no “prize.” So what.

          I question, I ask “why?” I want to know what the “plan” is.
          If you want to be paid more money, to ask us to lobby for you is not going to happen. I view this as a job for the AMA.

          My physician has not asked me for more money, so I think all is well.
          What do you propose my PCP do to get more money out of us if he is indeed struggling to stay open?

    • N N

      Don’t forget the most important – which is doing ALL of those traits in 15 minutes, unpaid.

  • DavidBehar

    Dr. Ireland: Your legal, moral, and professional duty is to the patient. You propose a betrayal of the care needs of the patient, and collaboration with the enemies of clinical care. Your proposals are deviations from professional standards of due care. This blog entry will be used against you in future litigation if any patient damage results from your proposal.

    • azmd

      Linda Ireland is not a doctor. She is a corporate executive and a “thought leader.” She has never taken care of a patient in her life but of course is imminently qualified to tell us how to take care of ours.

      • DavidBehar

        Whose thoughts does Linda lead? If not a physician, she should worry about her personal safety. Say those things to a doctor in person, and even old guys, will just kick her ass, take a bat and just beat her ass. She could then personally experience the new cheap Commie Care. As she lays in agony, with multiple broken bones, her doctor can be on the phone with her insurance, accepting their denials of care, changing how he thinks about the office visit. and discussing her necessary health lifestyle changes, saying, “You are screaming, Sweetie. I am listening. “

        • Suzi Q 38

          I want to say something, but I can’t.

    • Suzi Q 38

      I doubt it. Who would read this $#it.

  • drgg

    the question is why did kevin or his staff post this to begin with?

    • DavidBehar

      Kevin is a left wing, doctor hater, an ideologue and a traitor to clinical care from New England.

      • Suzi Q 38

        Dr. Behar is at it again.

        • DavidBehar

          This left wing hate speech site censors all candid remarks.

          • Suzi Q 38

            Yes, it can happen to the best of us.
            Not to worry, Dr. Behar.
            He left a few of your comments.
            I read the one to Nick to my husband tonight.
            I had no idea that happened to Princess Diana.

            There is always another topic tomorrow.

          • drgg

            I saw that too!! Interesting. I was hoping they would just delete this entire piece. It’s frankly insulting to physicians. Instead your comment is deleted?

    • Suzi Q 38

      He doesn’t have time to read it all.
      The more the controversy, the better.
      You got Dr. Behar going…..I used to think Dr. Behar was part of the problem.
      Sadly, despite his tough love comments, I am beginning to think that he may have the “answer.”

  • Nick Heap

    I live in England and fortunately we don’t have to pay directly to see a doctor (US physician). I’m lucky that mine is interested in me a person and has no incentive to sell me any treatment. This is built into the system. He’s very honest with me and explains things in straight forward language. If he ever uses technical terms to me he will explain them if I ask. I feel comfortable going to him with things that are probably trivial, like an odd skin blemish, but could just be nasty. So in this way he keeps me healthy. It’s a collaborative system. There are also nurses to deal with easy things like vaccinations and an internet and phone service so you can see if you need a visit. Of course we pay for this by taxation, but the proportion of our GDP we pay (for universal health care) is very much less than that of the US. All of the trends in the article are happening and in addition doctors can prescribe books and exercise (free access to swimming pools etc) if they judge this will help their patients. Of course it’s not perfect. No system is. French health care is better than ours, but their’s is a higher taxation, higher provision of services economy than ours.

    • azmd

      Sadly, although without a doubt we could accomplish many of those things here in the US with a single-payer system too, we will never have one. The insurance company lobby is just too strong. People don’t want to think about the fact that our healthcare system is a corrupt one filled with many perverse incentives for bad care. It’s much easier to bad-mouth doctors and point out that we could provide better care if we were only willing to work 18 hours a day for no pay.

    • DavidBehar

      Nick: What are you, a child? Try getting sick in your Third World health system. You have a bullet wound, an ice pick sticking from your skull? You need emergency surgery. You get to wait 6 days. They will fill you with blood transfusions in the meantime. You will get AIDS or Hepatitis from these, as a souvenir of your disgusting conditions health system. Your surgeon? Come hell or high water, he leaves at 5 PM.

      As to France. Sad. Princess Diana is in a car crash. No EMT. No trauma supervisor. No Jaws of Life ($300 on ebay). Those a-holes futzed 45 minutes before getting her out of the car, instead of 4 minutes. She was conscious and talking for 30 minutes. They spent her Golden Hour in the car. OK. She is out of the car. No helicopter. No trauma team. No trauma center. No nothing. Those idiots then take an hour and a half to drive 4 miles to the hospital at Midnight, with no traffic. Why? They repeatedly stop, take her out and do CPR. CPR is for a heart attack. Compress the chest of a trauma victim, and gush blood far faster from whatever hole is in there.

      Your Commie Care killed Princess Diana, as if they shot her in her head.

      • Suzi Q 38

        O.K. Dr. Behar,
        Now you have done it.
        You have crossed the line of American civility when talking on the Internet.

  • W.O.R.M.

    Try not to take these “thought leaders” too seriously. Their expertise is naivete.

    I do agree with Doctor Professor or Whatever Ireland when she said “You’ll be asked to reach out to patients every day via texts and apps—just to check in and offer advice.” I only expect two things in return:

    1. A valid credit card # from the health care consumer.

    2. Billing by the minute at a rate commensurate with purveyors of adult phone sex services.

    • Suzi Q 38

      I think that is a good idea.
      At least you will get paid for your service.
      I remember I needed my PCP to do all of this stuff for me upcoming surgery.
      An EC, order blood tests, Xray , exam…I paid him for the visit and had him bill my insurance company for the visit plus EC.

      When they had to gather everything together to FAX everything over to the teaching hospital, I figured that they should be paid again, so I offered to come in do that they could charge me for another visit.

      They politely declined.

  • QRS20100

    Because the author is not a doctor thus can’t comment on what is perfect doctor? That’s like saying because you aren’t an artist, thus can’t appreciate arts. Time to stop this personal attack.

    • N N

      She wasn’t describing a “perfect” doctor. She was stating what traits doctors need to have – all unpaid of course.

  • kevinmd

    “Physician” refers to the category of the post, as it clearly is about physicians.

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