Archive for the ‘Healthcare Practice Marketing’ Category

Think of your referral base as an Othello game board

December 28, 2006

Do you remember the game “Othello”? The game consists of a board laid out like a chessboard (but with more squares) and a stack of black and white chips.

The object of the game is to control an entire board with chips of your color (either white or black). The way to do this is to lay down chips so that two chips of your color outflank a row of chips of your opponent’s color.

You might think of your referral base the same way.

Your community is the game board. Each square represents potential referral sources. Your goal is to have each referral source become educated about how your practice serves patients, and to think of you first when they find someone with a health-related problem you can solve.

Most healthcare professionals don’t think aggressively enough about controlling the “game board” of referral sources in their community.

There are tactful, educational ways to develop your referral base — without feeling awkward or inauthentic.

One of the exercises we do here at The Healthcare Marketing and Practice Management Institute is to ask healthcare professionals to think in a systematic, disciplined way about the entire universe of potential referral sources in their community. Usually we find that these professionals have a respectable base of referral sources already, but they have not developed a systematic and proactive program to develop new referral sources while nurturing the existing referral relationships.

For instance, we recently worked with a physician practice that had offices near each of the two hospitals in their community, one on either side of town. An analysis revealed that the practice had done an excellent job developing loyalty from referral sources on the East side of town, but had barely penetrated the potential referral sources on the West side of town.

Once they recognized this fact, we went to work to educate a variety of potential referral sources on this side of town — while also taking care to thank and update existing sources.

As in the game Othello, if you don’t control the board, somebody else will. Don’t let things evolve naturally when you think about referrals. Rather, develop a proactive (and tactful) strategy.

Marketing a healthcare practice does not have to be “tacky”

November 20, 2006

It is true that many physicians, for instance in much of the Northeastern United States and near certain Academic Medical Centers, consider marketing to be undignified.

However, the fact is that every physician practice markets its services, whether the physicians in that practice have made a conscious decision to market or not. ”Marketing” is a broad term. It includes the entire patient’s experience, from the time they schedule an appointment with you until they receive their final bill. Therefore, almost every aspect of your healthcare practice fits under the umbrella of marketing: your office, the service your office staff provides, your interview technique, the way you follow up to thank referral sources, your visibility in the community, and even the final bill that the patient receives from you

Healthcare professionals have a choice: They can be self-righteous and let their credentials speak for themselves; or they can be proactive and ensure that their patients have a planned, consistent, and favorable experience. In this sense, marketing and practice management overlap.

At the same time, even traditional marketing doesn’t have to be tacky. At our Institute, we teach what we call ”education-based marketing”. With this type of marketing, you tastefully educate your marketplace about who you are and how your services can help. You are providing information to establish your credibility and help your community learn about how they can improve your health. You are not making tacky sales pitches.

Why word of mouth and referrals are not enough

November 20, 2006

Broadening your patient base requires a more comprehensive and systematic approach than simply relying on word of mouth and referrals.

First, referrals and word of mouth are important. However, even with these tactics, we find that healthcare professionals can be more proactive and effective.

For instance, we find that relying on word of mouth puts healthcare professionals in the vulnerable position on having to depend on happenstance and the good will of busy strangers to think of you first with everything else they have going on.

Similarly, many healthcare professionals are not proactive enough when it comes to generating referrals. What is needed is a systematic approach to identify every high-potential referral source — and then nurture your relationships with these colleagues through educational messages that compel them to think of you first when a need arises.That’s why we detail a system to ensure that you leave “no stone uncovered” when you think about referral sources and how to strengthen relationships with them.

At the same time, broadening your patient base and growing your practice requires more than word of mouth and referrals. Marketing your healthcare practice starts with a strong strategic foundation. You have to make savvy decisions about your goals and vision for your practice, service mix, patient and insurer mix, how you will differentiate your services, your marketing message, and much more.

Then you get visible in your marketplace. There are a variety of low-cost, high-impact, tasteful ways to do this. Being more proactive and systematic in generating referrals, as noted above, is one way, and there are many more.

It is also important to evaluate the patient’s experience of your practice. There are dozens of “touch points” that you must consider to be sure that you provide a consistent, quality experience.

Other marketing topics include: your retail presence, your service model, relationships with local health systems, relations with insurers, and knowing how to work with the right vendors. Finally, it is essential to create a marketing plan and stick to it.

The framework for marketing a healthcare practice

November 20, 2006

Healthcare professionals often ask us to clarify our framework for marketing a practice. Following is a ten-step approach to successful marketing.

1. Make marketing a priority, not a “dirty word.” Marketing refers to everything you do to educate the community about your practice, as well as the experience your patients and colleagues have when they interact with you. Therefore, you are marketing whether you want to or not. You may as well market proactively, and create the image you want your practice to have.

2. Lay a strong strategic foundation. It is imperative to understand the market in your pratice area, including competitors, total referral base, optimal payer and patient mix, and optimal service mix.

3. Build your referral base. Most healthcare professionals do not do as thorough job as they could in building referrals. There are proactive yet tasteful ways to educate colleagues about your practice, and every healthcare professional should be doing what they can to be the “go-to” healthcare professional in their field.

4. Get, and stay, visible in your community using high-impact, low-cost tactics and by following up over time. (We show you a variety of ways to do this that are appropriate and tasteful, and that bring value to your community while enhancing your image and reputation).

5. Develop your retail strategy.

6. Develop your service strategy.

7. Measure and improve your quality and utilization. These measurements not only help you provide more consistent care, but they also can be used to negotiate with insurers and to educate the community about your practice results.

8. Improve hospital and insurer relations. There is a co-dependency between independent healthcare practices and their local hospital(s), and often the relationship can be strengthened to the benefit of both parties. Similarly, many healthcare providers can improve their footing with insurers by understanding how to build leverage.

9. Develop the necessary marketing collateral. Every healthcare provider should develop a set of tasteful, educational marketing materials to educate patients and prospective patients about their services and developments in their practice. This activity does not have to be difficult or costly — and it is important to learn from what works rather than re-inventing the wheel or repeating common mistakes.

10. Develop a marketing action plan. To achieve results, one must plan and take action.

The above framework is a skeleton only. Our marketing system provides the details.

 

The little things some healthcare practices do that make a big difference

October 6, 2006

There is a local medical practice in my town that does an excellent job with the “little things” — and these personal touches ensure that I am always thinking about this practice and telling others about it.

Here are some examples:

1. After my first visit, they sent me a nice letter thanking me for placing my trust in them.

2. When I referred my father-in-law to see them, they sent me a very nice letter thanking me for the referral.

3. They send some updates about their practice and about trends in my specific health issue to me by mail. These updates are useful and educational to me, and I enjoy reading about them.

4. When I call their office, the office staff is not only extremely professional and friendly (an attribute that is not as common as it should be), but they also seem quite proud to work for this practice. When I asked if a particular physician was known for a certain procedure, they enthusiastically told me about this physician’s reputation and some of his credentials and achievements.

5. One of the physicians in the practice is very visible in the community. He serves on some non-profit boards, and is featured in the local paper frequently — whether about his community service or his advice on certain health issues.

Of course, it helps that this practice has fantastic credentials and a record of excellent quality. But those little, personal touches go a long way, too.