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Supply Chain’s Guide to Partnering with Surgeons – Part 3: Speak The Same Language

Communicating in the Same Language Through Shared Data

Facilitating conversations about managing clinical spend and successfully enacting change takes more than simply sharing accurate case data and adequately preparing for meetings, which we focused on in our first blog and second blog about best supply chain practices to use when presenting to surgeons.

For this third and final blog of the series, we explore the nuances of communicating with highly intelligent surgeons who are often pressed for time. The currency in the transaction relates to overcoming clinician resistance with interpersonal skills – emotional intelligence. You must speak the physician’s language and understand their perspective when presented with clinical data that represents their patients and involves an intimate dissection of their procedures.

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. It is the key to both personal and professional success.

Achieving your desired results takes emotional intelligence, visual storytelling capabilities, and speaking a common language to achieve the desired result.

Use Emotional Intelligence to Overcome Clinician Resistance

Data interpreters rely on modern technology to communicate, excel, and succeed. Many never experienced life before computers and smartphones. And while advanced technical and analytical skills are valuable talents for a healthcare supply chain professional today, presenting surgical case data also requires exceptional soft skills to really connect with the audience — beyond the shared data.

Overcome resistance and improve your connection with the audience by active listening. Brad Nash, supply chain sourcing specialist, shares a tip that’s worked for him: “Try counting to five or ten (in your head), after a key audience member has finished talking –  before you resume with your angle.  Furthermore, avoid interrupting a surgeon – or any member of the audience, otherwise you risk marginalizing them. Try and trust that presentations like these have a way of self-regulating when there’s an errant response from a surgeon to something in the data; be limber when this happens.”

Nash stresses that the art of storytelling and public speaking takes practice. He attributes his improved ability to communicate data in an effective manner to joining a local Toastmasters group to hone your public speaking skills. Additionally, supply chain professionals at any level of their career can benefit from the timeless learnings in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Whether you’re just getting started in this field or close to retiring, Carnegie’s book is full of insights,” Nash says. “The big takeaway I got was the most important word a person is going to hear in their day is their own name. Therefore, memorize the name of every member in the audience, and get it right.” He suggests writing down the surgeons’ names when they come in the door. “Make a note of who is sitting in which spot, and then address them by name during the conversation.”

Give Surgeons Visuals to Illustrate Solutions

While healthcare technology companies like Curvo provide powerful clinical supply chain data and dashboard views to help analyze clinical spend, the person presenting results to surgeons needs the right communication skills and mediums to properly articulate the story that case data reveal. 

Surgeons will listen to the story — preferably told through a visual representation of the case data while avoiding acronyms and jargon. Surgeons want the bottom line and, more importantly, the ability to think independently as they process the information. 

Surgeons want to look at data like they look at their charts: privately. Give them this opportunity to do so.” Nash says. “I let them read ahead of me and wait before I start talking about what they’re seeing.” He emphasizes that he does not tell them what they’re seeing. “They’ll know what they’re seeing, if you get the presentation right.”

Sharing information with surgeons should always include a visual data story. One study on learning found that three days after a presentation, individuals recalled only 10 to 20% of spoken or written information, while they remembered 65% of information presented visually.

Kelley Young, a seasoned supply chain informatics professional, shares that “often, I have found that physicians will look at the front page and then turn right to the back page of a presentation. So it is important to put your key messages in those places.” Additionally, she always makes sure that the details are available or that she can send them in a follow up email soon after the presentation. This builds trust and confidence in the information you are sharing.

Communicate Your Message Carefully

In addition to visually telling the story, choose language that doesn’t put the surgeon on the defensive from the very beginning. Young warns the approach presenters take when questioning surgeons can seem accusatory or feel like a personal attack.

“You want to be inquisitive and show them you’re interested,” Young says. “Don’t say, ‘You use this high-cost item all of the time.’”

Instead, Young suggests asking surgeons why they use a certain product on a particular kind of patient, so you can better understand how they make clinical decisions. “There are two different ways of asking a question to engage the physician in the conversation,” she says.

Nash agrees with Young, and recommends using the phrase “opportunity-cost” instead of “cost”.

It also doesn’t hurt to call out good results. Young shares that the first step is to “ensure you have vetted the results, usually with the surgeon leader. Then, present the positive and let the other physicians compare themselves. They will ask the questions to their peers to learn more.”

At the outset, physicians may perceive the meeting to be bureaucratic and place little to no value to it. But it can turn into something very powerful. As a supply chain leader, the presentation is your chance to inspire the surgeon to make a positive change in opportunity cost and reduce the burden on the health system. Both of these aims tie into the community-at-large, for whom the exercises are intended to ultimately benefit.

What A Successful Supply Chain Presentation Looks Like

Throughout this blog series, Nash and Young shared several tips that supply chain professionals can leverage to win over surgeons during a presentation. Start by focusing on empirical facts in order to shift surgeons from a defensive position into a neutral one. The right analysis and storytelling will generate the result where surgeons choose the solution, instead of a solution being thrust upon them.

Nash has seen this work for him time and time again: “The ultimate win-win involves the sharing of a story with accurate information where the clear solution naturally emerges. And when you get it right, it will seem like it’s their (the surgeon’s) idea instead of your own; then everybody wins.”