Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from The Business Side of Rheumatology Practice, Chapter 7: Strategic Marketing.
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With today’s challenging economy, the need to market is vital for every medical practice—new or established, small or large.
Healthcare marketing has been downplayed and ignored for too long, primarily because there is a lack of understanding about 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 is a way to attract and retain patients. It can be as basic as ensuring patient satisfaction, or 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 you to use good marketing research before beginning a marketing plan to help understand your patients, competition, operational performance and its impact on patients, and the healthcare environments in which the practice operates.
In-office and external marketing strategies 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; asking existing patients to refer friends or family.
- Examples of external marketing: Developing a website and ensuring that prospective patients know about it; direct mail; 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 your profile in the field of rheumatology, attract the best talent, 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.
Once 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 your patients’ needs in the area. Generally, these patients’ needs and demands are focused on particular services and treatments that patients with rheumatic diseases would look for when choosing a rheumatologist. For example, if your practice is located around a retirement community containing a majority of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, it may be good for the practice to consider having in-house infusion services to accommodate the majority of the patients in your community. You will also want to perform an environmental market scan to get insight into the services other rheumatologists in your area are offering to 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 for it to be successful.
Marketing your practice will help you build excellent relationships with other physicians. Considering that 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.
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.
Below are some examples of how to get started in marketing your medical practice:
- 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.
- Advertise in rheumatology newsletters or publications.
- Advertise on TV or radio.
- Hire a medical marketing consultant to help you get started.
- Join the local Chamber of Commerce and host a social or give them flyers to give out.
- Buy a full-page ad in the area’s Welcome Wagon coupon booklet.
- Make yourself and the practice known to the local pharmacies, grocery stores, restaurants, etc.
- Contact your local newspaper and the media to establish yourself as the medical expert in your area.
- Distribute refrigerator magnets, writing pens, and even envelope openers with the practice’s name and information on them.
- Reach out to other rheumatologists and physicians within the community by hosting a social or dinner meeting in order to get to know one another. Also, consider sending out flyers to physicians in the area who could potentially refer patients to the practice.
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 many marketing techniques, so don’t be afraid to use all the resources available. Keep in mind that this is your practice and it will only go as far as you take it. Effective marketing can be the link to secure your success in these changing times.
For an in-depth review of marketing strategies and plans for your practice, download the ACR’s Business Side of Rheumatology manual at www.rheumatology.org/publications. For additional information on practice management, contact Cindy Gutierrez, senior specialist, practice management, at email@example.com or (404) 63-3777, ext. 310.