Communication is an integral part of a hospitalist’s job: from admission interviews to conveying orders to nursing staff, communicating clearly and precisely is part of numerous best practices. When a hospitalist assumes a leadership role, however, the types and styles of communication change. A committee chair or department head must be aware of the messages they send—both literally and in the most general sense of the term. This transition to leadership can be tough.
“Physician communication is focused on clinical outcome. That’s easy for someone trained in medicine. But in leadership communication, there may not be a defined outcome,” says Timothy J. Keogh, PhD, assistant professor at The Citadel School of Business Administration in Charleston, S.C. “That’s a difficult switch from clinician to leader; maybe half of the problems a leader faces can’t be solved.”
Dr. Keogh and William F. Martin, PsyD, MPH, summarized their research data in “Managing Medical Groups: 21st Century Challenges and the Impact of Physician Leadership Styles,” published in the September-October 2004 issue of Journal of Medical Practice Management.
The most basic communication skill a hospitalist leader should practice, according to Dr. Keogh, is “being less direct than [he or she] would like to be.” Dr. Keogh, who teaches communication skills as part of SHM’s Leadership Academy, says, “Data shows that physicians prefer to be more precise and cover topics quickly. In a leadership role, the initial part of the communication or conversation needs to be chattier. Some physicians believe that this uses up too much time, but, in fact, it doesn’t take that long and it’s a necessary step.” Acknowledge others’ need for connection by making eye contact, pausing, and exchanging quick pleasantries. “Leaders need to be able to say things in passing, greet people, et cetera,” Dr. Keogh stresses.
But what about in-depth communication?
If you supervise hospitalists, you can condense discussions of your expectations—at least compared with managers in business fields. “Physicians are skilled, well-trained individuals, so you don’t have to do so much of this,” Dr. Keogh says. “They have an internal sense of quality and you don’t really need to motivate them. It’s a matter of adjusting the edges.”