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Marketing Your Practice

August 21, 2013

Thirty years ago marketing in healthcare was primarily limited to a few aggressive individuals / practices that purchased business card sized ads in the Yellow Pages. The “ads” themselves usually listed physician names, addresses and phone numbers and, sometimes, specific sub-specialties or areas of expertise. The unspoken rule was to talk about facts and never disparage your competition. For other professionals (lawyers, accountants, etc.), marketing was even more discouraged. Now, the basic rule of not talking bad about your competition remains but just about every other restriction has flown by the wayside. There is still, often, reluctance in healthcare for physicians to “advertise”. However, focusing on the education side as opposed to this month’s special, is the future. So, how should physicians market themselves today and tomorrow?
For today, physicians still get most patients from referrals from other physicians or word of mouth among relatives and friends of existing patients. However, word of mouth has expanded from the telephone or chance meetings to the internet where bad things are reported instantly and good things occasionally get mentioned in passing. However, just like the old word of mouth method, bad things get repeated many times and we have even less control of the facts. As a recent television commercial says, tongue in cheek, “you can’t put anything on the internet if it’s not true”. The new reality is that marketing both proactively, and defensively (watching out for bad comments), is a must.
Physicians should always look for ways to market their positives. This doesn’t have to be through an “in your face method”. Better, talking about the positives of your practice such as services, and access, is a much better approach for direct patient marketing. For marketing to other physicians the same thought is true. For both patient and other physician marketing, other things like turnaround time on reports, patient satisfaction and participation in the various quality programs is important if a provider wants to try to differentiate themselves from the pack. Of course, the fact that much of this type data is available from other sources on the internet, makes being proactive that much more important.
For the future, it will be even more important to talk about the old points like access and services, but with additional, increasing, emphasis on performance. When patients can look online at quality indicators, no matter how accurate they are or how well someone understands what they mean, knowing what is being said about you, correcting it where required and possible and being out front with your own data can be critical. That is true of marketing to patients and other physicians. For example, a specialist marketing to a primary care physician might focus on the ability to communicate reports and the quality of testing they perform, while still avoiding the issue of talking bad about someone else.
There’s a new element to consider also. As payers move toward more quality and efficiency based payment methods, knowing your own data, and improving on it where needed, will be a major part of any marketing program. Being able to actually show your “patients are sicker” or you are more efficient so your costs to the healthcare system is low puts you a step ahead of your competition. For example, when primary care physicians are rewarded for efficient (quality and cost) by providers like care organizations (ACO’s, etc.), the prudent specialist should know their data and be willing to put it in front of their referring physicians. Again, this can be done by showing your data and not putting someone else down. Of course, with the Medicare Physician Compare website beginning to pick up steam, you could always let the internet handle your marketing for you. After all, everything on the internet is true and easily understandable, isn’t it?

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