The combination of declining physician engagement and increasing burnout has contributed to higher physician turnover, adding even more strain to an already shrinking workforce. The key to retaining the brightest and most engaged physicians is creating an attractive work environment for physician entrepreneurs, according to Arlen Meyers, MD, president and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs.

Most of the best ideas come from the front lines. Whether they are related to process improvement, refining best practices or inventing new devices, physicians’ ideas are typically derived from areas of their work that are in need of some innovation. Providing them the means to carry out these innovative ideas and encouraging a culture of innovation is not only important for retention, it can also improve care delivery and open new revenue streams.

However, many organizations are not conducive to physicians’ desires to be “intrapreneurs,” or those who want to generate new lines within the existing business model. The most common reasons include lack of a sense that the organization values and rewards innovation, lack of support from the leadership and no forum for sharing ideas.

“Unfortunately, many of the top physician performers — those who are going to help you move the needle as an organization — quit,” Dr. Meyers said at the AMN Healthcare 2016 Workforce Summit in San Diego.

Organizations that seek to hire physician intrapreneurs and encourage innovation should take these seven steps, according to Dr. Meyers.

1. Provide physicians with the resources, networks, mentors and experiential learning they need to succeed. “Often times doctors have good ideas and then they just don’t know what to do with them,” said Dr. Meyers. Whether their ideas are good or bad — and many will be bad — it is imperative to have a structure in place to listen to and vet physicians’ ideas. From there, the organization should provide the physician the necessary educational tools and resources to help their idea become a reality.

2. Create a transparent system of leadership for innovation. What begins as a hopeful idea often transforms into a frustrating game of telephone for physician intrapreneurs. “Doctors have no idea who to talk to,” said Dr. Meyers. “They are sent from their manager to the vice president of finance to the chief innovation officer and beyond.” If a hospital has the resources, Dr. Meyers recommends creating an innovation center to make the process more streamlined.

3. Encourage team-building. Team-building is not a core skill most physicians possess, according to Dr. Meyers. The autonomous nature of their work often makes collaboration and incorporating criticism challenging, especially when the subject is their own invention. However, being able to work effectively in a team is a critical success factor of innovation efforts.

4. Set strategy, define vision and get out of the way. Not every idea that surfaces will be a fit for an organization. It’s imperative to clearly communicate the strategy and needs of the organization and help steer innovation efforts in the right direction. However, once a good idea is identified, it’s important to get out of the way and let the intraprenuers get to work.

5. Let physician intrapreneurs fail without calling them “disruptors.” Physicians who rally for change are often given the negative label of a disruptor. However, disruption is the very goal of innovation — organizations that seek to bolster this trait among its clinicians should not punish those who demonstrate it.

6. Walk the walk. “Do not promise something you can’t deliver,” Dr. Meyers warned. Trust is crucial when it comes to voicing new ideas. It’s better to be upfront about whether or not the organization can realistically act on someone’s idea than to “lead them on.”

7. Identify a range of effective motivators. Not all physicians are motivated by the same things, so it is important to customize incentives.

By Tamara Rosin for Becker’s Hospital Review, October 17, 2016