Building a medical practice is harder than ever. Many specialists face a crowded market, and primary care groups are getting direct competition from retail clinics. A phone book listing and a hospital affiliation are no longer enough to establish a strong patient base.
Physicians today must take an entrepreneurial approach to marketing—actively seeking out new patients and referral sources. Entrepreneurial marketing does not need to be expensive. Practices can achieve good results with a few effective techniques.
1. Differentiate your practice
Healthcare consumers today have many choices. To compete, physicians must focus on something unique about their practice that captures the attention of patients and referring physicians.
For example, a Chicago-area otolaryngologist has built a strong practice by emphasizing his unique approach to managing allergies. His distinctive care philosophy and good patient outcomes help him stand out from “generic” ENTs.
Primary care physicians can also differentiate their practice. Focus on diabetic care, excellent management of hypertension, teen health—wherever your special interest lies.
2. Reach out for referrals
Physicians are much more likely to make a referral when they know a specialist personally and understand his or her care approach. Specialists can clear both hurdles through low-cost networking.
Lunch presentations are a great opportunity. Contact local family practices and offer to bring a sandwich platter to a lunchtime meeting. During the gathering, spend 20 minutes explaining your services and care approach to physicians and staff.
Other options include going to CME talks, attending hospital fundraisers or simply visiting the physician lounge. Any opportunity to meet physicians or office managers is a chance to develop referrals.
3. Get in front of potential patients
Health fairs, charity runs and fitness events can draw large crowds, but medical doctors are usually under-represented. Entrepreneurial practices can create strong market awareness by volunteering at these events.
Draw people to your booth by offering health screenings that align with your care approach. For example, if your practice’s focus is caring for hypertensive patients, provide a simple stroke risk evaluation.
What if a physician is uncomfortable meeting the public in this way? Identify a capable “people person” within the office to handle health fairs and other marketing efforts.
4. Provide “free samples”
Free introductory offers are effective in almost every industry. Medical practices can also use this approach with good results.
Consider offering a monthly flu clinic with free vaccines to the first ten patients. The cost is minimal and it can attract patients who might otherwise visit a pharmacy clinic. Another possibility: free blood pressure screenings every Wednesday. This could be especially effective for practices near retail traffic. Each strategy provides potential patients with a “taste” of your care approach.
5. Rethink patient service
Retail clinics are a threat to traditional practices because they offer greater access and convenience. Medical practices can meet the challenge by making small changes that have a big impact on the patient experience:
- E-mail forms to patients so they can spend less time in the waiting room.
- Accommodate same-day appointments by leaving 50 to 65 percent of the schedule open.
- Create a “fast track” for fasting patients (perform blood draws upon arrival, offer light snacks).
- When running behind, have staff call patients to say they can come in later or reschedule.
- Assign staff to contact patients the day after a sick appointment to see how they are feeling.
Remember that existing patients are your best source of referrals. Build patient satisfaction by listening carefully and communicating concern. Survey patients regularly and ask for referrals. Personally thank patients who refer friends and family to your practice.
6. Create electronic connections
Consumers increasingly expect to be able to manage their lives using digital tools. Medical practices that fulfill this expectation will succeed in forging powerful links with a strong patient base.
Start with your current Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system. Most systems can easily be configured to support a patient portal, allowing patients to access test results, receive clinical summaries and e-reminders, request appointments and download records to services like Google Health Vault and Microsoft Health.
Enhancing your website is another way to create electronic connections with patients. Provide content that keeps visitors coming back. Make patient forms available for download and update your site regularly with seasonal health information, “top ten” health habits or other useful content. You can also distribute content via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter or a simple e-newsletter.
7. Work from a plan
The key to entrepreneurial marketing is steady progress. To turn a modest time investment into practice growth, create a solid marketing plan and work it consistently.
An effective plan will identify your unique selling point, target geography, competition and potential referral sources. List specific marketing initiatives, assign responsibilities and set monthly new-patient goals.
Whatever techniques you use, make sure to track referral sources. Continue marketing efforts that are working and drop those that are not.