The medical industry has changed tremendously in recent years. You can no longer sit back and wait for patients to come to you. Patients are demanding quality care, timely service and, most importantly, customer satisfaction. In planning for the future of your practice, you must be proactive, not reactive. The question becomes: “To build … or not to build?”
There are many reasons for punching up the marketing plan for your practice. Some of the reasons may include gaining market share, increasing revenue, building patient volume, changing the patient mix and/or adding a new office location.
There is a major misconception within the medical industry today that marketing is advertising. However, there are subtle, tactful ways to employ good marketing techniques within your practice in order to market yourself and your services.
Advertising is very expensive, whether it is print (i.e. newspaper, magazine), TV, radio or via billboards. Advertising is a quick, impersonal means of reaching a large demographic audience with a certain message and/or product. You will reach people you may or may not consider as “good patients.” Some people, especially the medical community, may frown upon advertising and consider it flashy and unprofessional. This is not to say you should not implement advertising mediums within your marketing effort. However, there is an approach, a time, a place and a reason for doing this.
In creating “good marketing,” there are several things you need to accomplish. To be effective, a marketing endeavor needs to have a strategic marketing plan. A strategic marketing plan is composed of specific goals. Accordingly, you will define certain objectives and action plans to meet those goals. The marketing plan will challenge you to look inside your practice and evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You will need to analyze your competitors and research the demographic areas you service.
The plan should focus on tracking results. Results will be the key indicators in defining what is working for your practice and what you should change. Keep in mind, though, that marketing requires a long-term commitment and you will not see results overnight.
How do you get started on a strategic marketing plan? Once you have decided to market your services, you need to evaluate your practice inside and out. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you begin to market your practice.
Consider the following questions for internal analysis.
• Do you have enough physicians, staff members and physical space to handle a projected increase in patient volume?
• What kind of patients would you like to see more of? (Blue Cross, workers’ compensation, surgical, etc.)
• What sets your practice apart from the competition in your area? Is it your level of service, training and/or a commitment to the community over the years? There are several factors that set you apart from your competition. Determine what they are and capitalize on them.
• Who are your patients and where are they coming from?
• What are your practice’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT)? Perform an objective SWOT analysis.
After you have looked at your practice internally, it is time to look outside of your practice. Learning and understanding your market is vital to the success of your practice. An external analysis will allow you to gain insight into the communities you service. In evaluating your demographic area, you will see where and how your practice fits within your community. Accordingly, your demographic analysis should include the following:
• general overview of the area;
• population/age median;
• cost of living/income data;
• payer mix; and
• competitive analysis.
Indeed, it is vital to know your competition. The key to success is finding ways to set your practice above and apart from the competition. Emphasize your practice’s strengths and opportunities, and capitalize on your competition’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. However, do not get too caught up in what your competition does. Carefully evaluate the marketing strategies of your competition but stick to your own strategic marketing plan. Be proactive, not reactive.
In regard to the competition, identify where the competing practices are located, how many physicians they have, and their strengths and their weaknesses.
Then reflect on the data you have collected. By defining a mission, goals and objectives, you will lead your practice in the direction in which you want it to grow.
The mission statement identifies the core values of your practice. It should only be one to three sentences. As for goals, devise a general statement about the purpose of the plan. Goals point toward a level of productivity that the practice wishes to achieve without mentioning specific actions. The objectives consist of a statement that contains the “operating characteristics” that you wish to change such as patient load, earnings and profitability, increase in surgery, etc.
Once you have collected all of the data and established your direction, it is time to piece things together into the strategic marketing plan. Other tools are also important. Consider the following priority items.
Create and implement a strategic marketing plan. This plan will be the “bible” of your marketing efforts. It contains all the data you have compiled, your goals and objectives. It is vital to put everything in writing and make people accountable. Without having the plan in writing, it holds no merit. The plan should entail every aspect of marketing and you should monitor and update it annually.
Create a marketing coordinator position. This is either an internal staff person or you can outsource the position. The marketing coordinator not only provides insight into your marketing plan, but he or she is in charge of implementing and monitoring the marketing imitative.
Create print materials. You will need an office brochure that tells people about your practice, the physician(s) and your services. This will allow you to mail information to new patients and distribute information regarding your practice at health fairs and send it to payers, etc.
Create a practice Web site. Patients are becoming more and more computer savvy. If they are looking for a new physician, they want to research the doctor to make sure he or she is credible. Patients also want to research their injuries, diseases and disorders. By giving them a resource, you look credible to patients, referring physicians and the general public.
Create a practice newsletter. Newsletters are a great way to reach patients, referring physicians and payers. They can inform people about your practice and provide information on any innovative procedures you may be incorporating. Newsletters provide a great education tool and foster a positive public image.
Create and monitor the budget. You should spend at least 1 to 2 percent of your total gross revenue on your marketing effort. After the first year of your marketing effort, this threshold will become better defined. If you are going to commit to the marketing effort, you have to be willing to spend money but spend your money wisely. Keep in mind that different marketing targets deserve different tools. Your budget may include some of the following activities:
• marketing to referring physicians;
• performing patient satisfaction surveys;
• distributing holiday recognition gifts;
• practice newsletter;
• new patient and patient progress letters;
• grand rounds, presentations and in-services;
• marketing to the general public;
• participating in health fairs and community expos;
• news releases and announcements;
• practice newsletter; and/or
• presentations for community events, health clubs, senior centers, etc.
Develop an action plan timeline when planning marketing events. This will allow you and your marketing coordinator to look at the events of the year at a glance. It is quick way to find and review what you need to do and when it needs to be accomplished.
You will need to create a system to monitor the success of your marketing efforts. The data that you collect is only as good as what you do with it. Tracking surveys and physician referral trend analyses are vital. This information will let you know who you should visit or support and why.
Lastly, think outside of the box when looking at your potential referral sources. While primary care physicians are often the focus of a marketing plan, one should target other healthcare providers as well. These providers include rheumatologists, infectious disease specialists, OB/GYN, chiropractors, pharmacists, diabetes educators, visiting nurses and athletic trainers.
Through a carefully constructed and comprehensive proactive marketing plan, your practice can continue to thrive in a competitive environment.
Dr. Guiliana is a nationally recognized speaker and author on topics pertaining to medical practice management. He holds a Master’s in Health Care Management and is a Fellow and Trustee of the American Academy of Podiatric Practice Management. Dr Guiliana is a consultant with SOS Healthcare Management Solutions, LLC and practices in Hackettstown, N.J. He can be reached at John@soshms.com .