Marketing Medical Practices and Business Relationships

All medical practices want to be successful, and just like any business, there are specific ways to attract and maintain patients in a competitive field. First and foremost, a Physician Practice Manager (PPM) must work with the healthcare providers within the practice to create a service that will draw new and existing patients into a long term and satisfying relationship. The best method to do this is by communicating in an effective manner. You want to stand out from the other practices; offer something other practices do not.

Before beginning any type of marketing campaign, you need to do your homework. Ask yourself if the practice is running smoothly with all processes in order. Is the staff competent as well as congenial towards all patients? Are the services currently offered needed by the community? It is in the practice’s best interest to make certain that patients are currently satisfied and that all services and outcomes are positive in nature. If they are not, beginning a marketing campaign is a waste of time and money. The first item on the PPM’s agenda would be to overhaul office operations as well as personnel and then make sure patients are currently satisfied.

Marketing Medical Practices and Business Relationships

There are a many tactics for marketing, and depending on your desired outcome, you can choose a complex analysis or a basic approach. All methods are effective.

Let’s begin with Brand Development. In the medical practice you want to develop an emotional tie between the public and your services. Graphics and slogans can convey very distinct impressions and define who you are, who your audience will be, and whether or not they will feel a tie to the healthcare providers and their staff. You want to convey competence as well as trust. No matter how you choose to package your practice for marketing – be consistent with colors, design, slogans, and mission statement. Everything must match, beginning with stationary and brochures to signage. Your main focus will be to convey trust through your marketing campaign’s style and then deliver excellent service to earn that trust.

A SWOT Analysis identifies Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats to your practice. It is logical to identify your inner strengths and weaknesses in your business assessment. To market a poorly run practice is unreasonable and will end in negative results. In addition to analyzing your own practice, you must study your demographic area and see what outside factors could affect your patient flow. Are you handicap accessible? Are you near a bus line or subway station? Are there too many providers of the same specialty in your area that will make your services less in demand? What is the parking situation? Assess these four areas carefully before beginning any marketing strategy.

A Focus Group is a gathering of people to obtain information regarding a particular product or service your practice may want to offer. Typically an independent organization will conduct the queries so that participants do not feel pressured into giving answers they feel the practice might want to hear. You need to have a variety of people to offer opinions and feedback about a given product or service. Depending on the demographic area and background of the specific focus groups, perceptions can differ tremendously so hiring a professional to act as moderator will provide you with honest responses that will help you move forward with your marketing plan.

The best way for any business to grow is through word of mouth. This type of referral is not only effective but free of charge. Because of this, the PPM must ensure that all members of the medical practice excel in customer service and show kindness and compassion towards every patient. A warm smile and a caring attitude go a long way in business.

It is recommended that you also ask your patients how they feel about the level of service provided or how the front desk interacts with them. Does the front desk answer the phone politely? Is the patient greeted with a smile and treated with respect? Are patient information, insurance data, and co-payments handled in an efficient manner that does not frustrate the patient? Does the healthcare provider really listen to what the patient is saying and demonstrate understanding and knowledge while they examine the patient? This type of information is vital to the success of the practice because if any of the above questions are answered in a negative way, this advertising will also spread throughout the community.

A PPM should hire a webmaster to maintain important information about the practice. A website can list all the insurance carriers you participate with, display photographs of the practice’s staff. It can even include blank forms that a new patient can download to pre-register, or an established patient can make changes to his account. If billing is done in-house, there might even be a patient portal where payments can be accepted securely.

Everyone loves free gifts and patients are no different. Magnets or pens with the practice’s address and telephone number are a great way to advertise and it also helps the patient have your information at his or her fingertips.

Direct mail marketing is also a great way to reach your community. Depending on who you want to reach, you can send out bulk mail by zip code. You can also break down your mailings by sex, age, or income level. The more specific you are with whom you are targeting, the more success you will achieve in addition to being cost effective.

Also, remember appearance is everything. Your signage and reception area will shout to patients what your practice is all about. Keep the patient’s first impression first and foremost in your mind. Get in the habit of looking at your area continuously through the patients’ eyes. Let it be welcoming. If you are able, decorate with healthy plants and appealing wall hangings. Keep the music soft and pleasant and offer an array of current magazines for your patients to browse through. Brochures on various health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, HPV, laser treatments, etc. can be displayed to educate the patient before an encounter or for another time.

Developing relationships with other physicians is necessary due to the need for a sound referral base. There is nothing more disheartening than having a doctor hand a patient a list of doctors for a particular specialty and telling them to pick one in your hospital network. This happens quite often and leaves the patient questioning the practice’s genuine concern for their well being. Patients want to know the doctor they are being referred to is expert in his or her field. Patients trust their doctors to refer them to someone whom they would go to. It is as simple as that. Through a growing referral base, PPMs will see the practice grow, whether they are providing the referral or receiving it.

When managing a practice, a PPM’s focus is to work at a profit and that not only means keeping the patient list happy and growing but also knowing who to do business with. Quality supplies required to treat patients is mandatory; however, cost savings also must be considered. Maintaining inventory is necessary and monitoring expiration dates on drugs, etc. is all part of the business operation. Once a PPM develops a list of vendors that offers quality and cost savings, they can use an Excel spread sheet to identify the supply, the vendor and the cost of the supply.

Group Practice Organizations (GPO) are organizations that require membership and usually a fee for participation. It is in the practice’s best interest to associate with their network GPO. Because GPOs have large memberships, they have the ability to negotiate low costs for items needed in a medical practice based on volume discount. PPMs should encourage their providers to look into this if they are not affiliated with a GPO already.

Offering additional services in the office can increase revenue substantially. These services are referred to as ancillary services and are divided into three broad areas: diagnostic, therapeutic, and custodial. X-Ray and lab services would be considered diagnostic. Physical therapy would be considered therapeutic and hospice and nursing home services would be considered custodial.

The list of service options is there for the PPM to consider, if she thinks the practice and patient might benefit. Taking into consideration the cost of any equipment and how frequently a particular service would be provided, is all part of the analysis. Perhaps a physician is an acupuncturist, or specializes in pain management. Bone density tests, diabetes services, and nutrition counseling could enhance the practice as well.

In summary, assess your patient satisfaction level now with specific questions and surveys. Work towards marketing your practice based on positive feedback both through interviews and day-to-day experiences. Maintain a polished appearance and treat your patients with the utmost respect. Look at additional services to enhance your practice and continue to develop your physician referral base with physicians you trust. Market your products and services ONLY when you feel confident that your product is superior. Following these guidelines will grow your practice and increase your revenue. Lastly, shop wisely for the best supplies at the lowest price, and join a GPO for volume savings if you see an advantage.

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