Marketing is something of a dirty word among many physicians.
Mention it, and they immediately picture that used-car salesman peddling his lemons on late-night television. True, that’s a form of marketing, but it’s marketing gone wrong. Done right, marketing is not synonymous with trickery. Instead, it is nothing more than influencing choice by demonstrating the real value of a particular product or service – in this case, health care.
- Understanding Patient Choice
To understand how marketing can help your medical practice, you first need to understand patient choice. True story: A friend of mine was the medical director in a busy Hospital. One fall, the patient infall jumped significantly, and the administrator in charge of the Hospital asked my friend, “How did you get the volume up? Can you do it again?” Of course, the idea of increasing the number of emergencies in a given community is ludicrous, and my friend had to explain to the administrator that no, he couldn’t do it again. The administrator didn’t understand that some things are out of the control of the physician and his or her best marketing efforts. Arranging for more patients to have an emergency is one of them.
The portion of your practice that focuses on acute, episodic care depends on individuals getting sick, something that is largely beyond your influence. Once they are sick, you can capture their business through influencing their choice if they have a choice to make. What makes this story more amusing is that this particular hospital was the only one in town. The patients had no choice. The administrator didn’t understand random fluctuation.
When given a choice, patients use a variety of factors to help them determine where they will receive their health care. Quality of care is one important determinant, but it’s extremely difficult for patients to assess. Instead, they often rely on proxy measures.
A great example of this is in the airline industry. How do passengers know whether the engines are well maintained on the plane in which they are about to take off? Since they can’t look in the engines themselves, passengers subconsciously think of cleanliness as a proxy for maintenance because cleanliness is immediately accessible and understandable to them. It turns out that, in the minds of airline passengers, coffee rings on the tray tables equal sloppy maintenance.
Are out-of-date magazines an indication that your skills are out of date? Are dirty exam rooms an indication of dirty needles? Your image is a marketing tool, for better or for worse. Why do you think so many marginal physicians have packed waiting rooms? Image. Perception. Proxy measures. If you are a good physician, why not use these same tactics to attract patients? Project quality through proxy measures. Then back it up with real quality.
- Marketing To The Converted
Your current patients may be the most powerful marketing tool you have, so make them the focus of your initial efforts. If you treat your current patients right, their recommendations to family and friends may do more to build your practice than you could do on your own.
- Patient Education About Family Practice
Marketing often begins with education, helping patients understand what you as a family physician can do. For example, if your patients don’t know you do flexible nasopharyngoscopy, your scope will go unused. If your patients with children don’t know you enjoy seeing kids, they’ll take their kids to a pediatrician. And if your patients don’t know you can treat acne, you will lose this business to a dermatologist.
To get the message across about your full range of services, you can use any number of simple tools: table tents, posters, signs and banners in your waiting room or exam rooms, refrigerator magnets or patient handouts.