The healthcare landscape seems to be shifting, with a shortage of physicians in some specialties and an excess in other areas causing competition for patients. With what seems to be a competitive field, marketing is vital for every medical practice, new or established, small or large, to succeed. Healthcare marketing has been downplayed and ignored for too long, primarily because there is a lack of understanding as to what it is and how to do it effectively.
Marketing for the practice is a broad thought that embraces strategic planning, public and media relations, information technology, metrics, and advertising. Marketing a medical practice is a way to attract and retain patients. It can be as basic as ensuring patient satisfaction, and it can be as complex as performing a demographic/payer study before deciding to invest in a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry machine or physical therapy services.
It is important for a medical practice to use good marketing research before beginning a marketing plan to better understand the practice’s patients, competition, operational performance and its impact on patients, and the healthcare environment in which it operates.
In-office or external marketing strategies—typically both—can be used to achieve practice goals.
- Examples of in-office marketing: Distributing handouts or flyers in the waiting room or exam room that advertise the practice’s services and asking existing patients to refer friends or family.
- Examples of external marketing: Developing a website and ensuring prospective patients know about it, direct mail, and advertising in local publications or at health events.
Your practice’s approach to marketing will depend on budget and business objectives. Marketing can be used to increase patient volume, raise the your profile in the field of rheumatology, attract the best talent to the practice, expand the patient referral network, develop income streams from various areas, add ancillary service lines, and increase revenue from procedures or treatments not covered by insurance.
When you have decided to market your practice, perform an environmental market scan by looking at the market, or the area where the practice is located. Performing an environmental market scan will help you understand patient needs in the area. Generally, these needs and demands are focused on particular services and treatments that patients with rheumatic diseases look for when choosing a rheumatologist. For example, if your practice is located around a retirement community containing a large number of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, it may be good for the practice to consider having an in-house infusion service to accommodate the needs of the patients in your community. You will also want to perform an environmental market scan to get insight into services other rheumatologists in your area are offering patients. Reviewing what other practices offer will help you to identify opportunities for practice promotion, what services can be eliminated, and what areas of your practice need improvement in order to be successful.
Marketing your practice will help you build excellent relationships with other physicians. Considering most rheumatologists receive patients from referrals, marketing your practice makes your name known to primary-care physicians or other physicians who would typically refer patients to a rheumatologist. Marketing your practice is also a way to let drug or product vendors know you are practicing in the area.
Developing a Marketing Plan
A marketing plan begins with you deciding what goals you want to reach through marketing. Refer to your business plan so you can begin developing the marketing strategies necessary to achieve your mission.
Marketing Action Plan: After understanding your practice’s market, you need to put the goals and objectives into an action plan. Your practice’s action plan should be created to achieve its specific goals and objectives over a defined period of time. A properly implemented marketing plan is constantly being assessed by accurate and consistent tracking systems to evaluate the plan’s performance against expectations.
Examples of how to get started in marketing your medical practice include:
- Conduct a patient satisfaction survey. The practice may discover lurking problems as well as confirm what it is doing right.
- If the practice does not already have one, create a website.
- Determine the patient profile, known as your target market, and how to reach those patients.
- Offer to speak to consumer groups on health and wellness topics in rheumatology.
- Sponsor a community or charitable event.
- Write a column for a local paper.
Like any other business, marketing your medical practice is essential to its success. Make sure you understand the needs of the community you will be serving as well as what you are able to spend to make your practice visible. Be open minded and listen to those who are involved in this venture with you—your spouse, partners, and staff should be involved in developing a plan to grow the business. There are various marketing techniques, and don’t be afraid to use all the resources available. Contact your local newspaper and the media to establish yourself as the medical expert in your area.
Keep in mind that this is your practice and it will only go as far as you take it. Any marketing plan you decide to embark upon requires commitment to execute well.
For more on marketing strategies for your practice, download the ACR’s Business Side of Rheumatology manual at www.rheumatology.org/Publications/Practice_Management_Publications_(Members_Only). For additional information on practice management, contact Antanya Chung, director of practice management, at email@example.com or (404) 633-3777, ext. 818.