Sunday, April 16, 2000

Survey blasts UC Physicians

Newsletter pledges changes

BY Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As professors, physicians at the University of Cincinnati prepare medical students so well that most graduates win their first choices in the annual, national competition for residency programs.

        But as practicing physicians, those same profs have a lousy local image.

        It's more than a matter of bruised egos. Private practices provide 20 percent to 80 percent of their income for the 450-plus doctors at the College of Medicine.

        (That arrangement historically has allowed UC to recruit and retain teaching and research talent at relatively low cost to the university.)

        Increasingly aware of resistance and hostility in the community, UC Physicians, the umbrella organization for the professors' various specialty private practice groups, commissioned a “Voice of the Customers” survey. Outside physicians, insurers and employers who buy health insurance were queried.

        “It was brutal,” marketing director John R. Gillespie told some of those same customers last week at a sales meeting meant to repair relations.

        Customers told pollsters that too many members of UC Physicians are:

        ćArrogant, pompous, expensive, guilty of patient stealing and unavailable on evenings and weekends.

        ćInadequate communicators who relate poorly to each other and outsiders and fail to provide integrated, cost-effective care.

        ćUnable to effectively demonstrate the quality and outcomes of their care, and “there is a perception that UC Physicians do not respect other physicians.”

        One critic who contributed to the survey and heard Tuesday's mea culpa was registered nurse Connie Gallagher.

        Last year, she was care manager for a group of doctors who could refer patients to UC Physicians when special skills and facilities were required.

        Ms. Gallagher said in an interview that referring doctors sometimes weren't “kept in the loop” and some members of UC Physicians didn't even tell primary care doctors when surgery was done on their patients. Also, “the patient kind of got lost in the system” at UC Physicians.

        Her group lost business when some UC Physicians went beyond the referral and took over patients' total care, she said. As a result, “they don't refer again.”

        Mr. Gillespie, UC Physicians chairman Dr. Randy Hillard and others told customers and potential customers they are reforming their practices.

        It begins by acknowledging the criticisms and what Dr. Alfred J. Tuchfarber, director of UC's Institute for Policy Research, told the gathering on Tuesday:

        UC's brand is “probably the strongest brand of any kind in this region.”

        To regain that luster, UC Physicians has begun a multiyear examination of how its members work in clinics, labs and classes and how they communicate with their many audiences.

        Most obvious is a new bimonthly newsletter and its candid acknowledgement of problems and news of UC Physicians' responses.

        The December issue concedes that the poll revealed “a lot of things about ourselves that were not easy to hear.” Among them was “we were not providing an excellent patient experience” even while delivering excellent care.

        Relations with the larger medical community were so poor, the newsletter said, “some doctors didn't know how to refer patients to us, and some doctors didn't even know that we wanted them to refer patients to us.”

        The February issue says UC Physicians is testing software that will track letters to referring physicians after a new patient arrives to make sure referrals are acknowledged.

        It also said UC Physicians must add a clinical facility in the northern suburbs to better serve shifting populations.


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