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9 ways to market a medical practice after ACA takes hold

A new environment doesn't mean doctors won't need to establish and sell themselves in the physician marketplace.

By Karen Caffarini covered practice management issues during 2008-09 and writes for us occasionally on the topic. Posted March 18, 2013.

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Some physicians may be tempted to stop marketing their practices once the Affordable Care Act is in full swing in 2014, believing it will bring in more patients than they can possibly handle. But having a strategic marketing plan in place still will be an integral tool for practices as they seek to rise above the competition and attract a desirable patient base from this new pool.

Yes, there most likely will be more patients when health insurance becomes mandatory, but those patients will have plenty of practices from which to choose. And not all these patients will be a good fit for every practice.

Physicians and practice management consultants say marketing a practice in a manner that aligns with its strategic business plan, highlights its brand, focuses on its positive attributes and determines and corrects any deficiencies will pay off in higher revenues and business sustainability or growth as the new patients begin looking for physicians. They said that's true whether the marketing comes through social media, websites, advertising or other means.

“Marketing to differentiate one's medical practice from another will still be a requirement,” said Josh Denton, owner of Denton Consulting Group in Duluth, Minn. “First, clinics need to ensure they have a steady flow of appointments each day. … Second, for those clinics that wish to expand or merge, this is an opportunity to assess those goals. Third, I see the influx of new clients as an opportunity to assess needs, including staffing and equipment.”

By strategically marketing your practice, physicians can:

Set up your clinic and yourself as an expert in the field. “If I say Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic to you, it conjures up a certain image. That's due to strategic marketing,” said Kenneth Hertz, a principal with the MGMA Health Care Consulting Group.

Being quoted as an expert in your specialty in the media, having a column in the local newspaper, writing a blog and speaking to professional organizations help to establish a physician as the go-to expert in his or her field, experts say. Physicians should reach out to organizations and news outlets when an event occurs in which their technical advice could be useful, such as an orthopedic surgeon talking about an injury to a professional athlete. If you have a popular blog or a massive Twitter following, the media may reach out to you.

“Being quoted as an expert is one notch better than paying for an advertisement,” said Melissa Chefec, a Stamford, Conn.-based public relations specialist for physicians. “Physicians can pick which media outlets they want to be quoted in and decline offers from those that won't advance their practice.”

Highlight your area of expertise or personal interest. For orthopedic surgeon C. David Geier, MD, his personal interest is sports medicine, and his target patient is the active young adult. In addition to being team physician for many high school and recreational sports teams in Charleston, S.C., Dr. Geier has served as orthopedic consultant for the U.S. Women's Soccer and the Eagles USA Rugby National teams.

Dr. Geier said his first step was to build relationships in the community. He talked to schools and professional organizations about sports injuries and began writing a column in the local newspaper.

“I became a brand,” said Dr. Geier, director of MUSC Sports Medicine in Charleston. He said 25% to 50% of his patients choose him because of his column, blog and other marketing tools.

Attract the patients you want. “The key is to keep your practice out there and to attract the proper payer mix,” said Steven Bush, MD, MPH, an obstetrician-gynecologist and CEO of a midsize multispecialty clinic in St. Charles, Ill. Dr. Bush accepts all major insurance plans, but practices can weed out those plans that have proven troublesome and expand their patient base with payer groups that have provided fair and reasonable reimbursements.

“This can be done through marketing of certain employers or insurance plans,” MGMA's Hertz said. “This would be very targeted marketing, not general, and it should be done on an ongoing basis.” You can also target a particular demographic by direct mail advertising to specific areas and using certain social media sites.

Announce new physicians and unique services. “You could be a multiservice clinic, for instance, with MRIs, CT scans, etc., or you could have extended hours or easy access. All are things you can market,” Hertz said.

Establish and maintain your brand. Your brand should set your practice apartment from others. It includes your logo, website, and packaging and promotional materials. “We spent a significant amount of money on our brand. I won't stop because of the Affordable Care Act,” Dr. Bush said.

Build relationships with other doctors. Doctor referrals will be crucial under the ACA, particularly with its emphasis on rewarding team-based care, making it important to continue networking with other doctors through medical associations and other professional organizations.

Build a better patient experience. Often, it's the experience a patient has when going to the doctor's office that has him or her coming back and spreading positive reviews, Denton said. In addition to good customer service and modern equipment, a welcoming environment could include an updated look with a fresh coat of paint instead of dated wallpaper, free bottled water or juices and an iPad instead of old magazines to make the waiting room experience more enjoyable, Denton said.

Determine who your patients are, why they come to you and how you can attract others. Are your patients primarily elderly? Are they mostly young and middle class? Were they referred to you by a friend or another doctor, or was it the close proximity of your office to their home? What attracted your current patients could be a marketing tool to bring in new ones.

Recognize practice deficiencies and improve upon them. If patients are leaving, is someone in the office asking why? Other practices may be offering better services, Denton said. A survey can pinpoint deficiencies and show how the practice can improve.

“You don't need to have a robust marketing campaign,” he added. “Sometimes it's the small things that really matter. It's nice to be mentioned as a great doctor, and what better way for that to happen than to be treated well?”

Karen Caffarini covered practice management issues during 2008-09 and writes for us occasionally on the topic.

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