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PRACTICE MARKETING 101

Practice MarketingUnderstanding Your Market

Developing strong relationships with patients and other physician practices hashistorically been a critical component of any practice’s marketing program. Primary carephysicians (PCPs) usually promote their practices directly to patients, while specialiststend to market their services primarily to PCPs and other physicians. In general, PCPsrely on established patients to generate word-of-mouth recommendations that help attractnew patients, while specialists concentrate on referral relationships with other physicians.In recent years, to remain competitive in a marketplace that has a high health insurancecoverage turnover rate, physician practices are forced to market their services to healthplans and employers.

To most effectively market a medical practice, you should first have a clearunderstanding of the environment in which you are practicing. If you are opening a newpractice, a new satellite office, or if you are practicing in a highly competitive area, youwill want to spend extra time researching the area. However, if you have been practicingfor years in a small town, it is not always necessary to undertake a detailed analysis.Instead you may wish to focus on recent changes in the community. For example, anestablished practice attempting to increase its patient base may simply spend a few hoursthinking about the community before implementing a new marketing technique that fitsinto its existing strategy. Regardless of your specific situation, your marketing efforts arelikely to be most successful if they are tailored to the environment in which you arepracticing.

As you begin to understand the marketplace, it is helpful to develop marketing goals tohelp achieve broader objectives. These goals need to be specific so you can monitorprogress to determine if your strategic plan of action is successful or requires refinement.

Community Demographics

If you are starting a new practice or opening a new practice location, it will be helpful togather demographic data for that area. Gathering this information is relatively easy if youask your staff to write a description of the community or circulate a set of questions todiscuss at a staff meeting. If your hospital has a planning, marketing or public relationsdepartment, they may be willing to share some of this demographic data with you. Youcan also obtain demographic information for any community from thestate your state website: https://www.usa.gov/states-and-territories. Contact the state help desk for state and city demographic information.

In particular, take note of the following community characteristics: population growthrates, age and sex distribution, racial and ethnic groups, education level, average income,home values and percentage of rental properties. Another important characteristic tounderstand is the availability of public transportation and parking at or near your office,which could directly impact the patients that can access your practice.Another way to gain insight into the demographics of a community is to ask localbusinesses about their health benefits programs and determine if they requireemployment or annual physical examinations, treatment of work-related injuries, worksite safety activities, or rehabilitation services. The benefits and services offered bylocal employers is a good indicator of what will be successful in the marketplace.

Local Health Care Services

In addition to community demographic information, it is helpful to learn about the healthcare facilities and providers in your area. This information can help you decide on aconvenient location for a new office, when to schedule office hours, and the best way toadvertise to reach the greatest number of new residents in the community. To gain abetter understanding of the health care services offered in a community, determine thenumber of hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living communities, etc., that are nearby. Ifyou are affiliated with any of these organizations, review their inpatient populationbecause you will likely serve patients from the same geographical area. Any newfacilities that are under construction in the community should also be considered.You should learn who all the physicians are in your area because they will be both yourcompetitors and potential referral sources. Inquire about the size of each physician grouppractice and what special services they provide. The AMA manages a database of health carepractitioners: https://www.ama-assn.org/life-career/ama-physician-masterfile. The directory includes a listing of all hospitals, nursing homes, managed care organizations, ambulatorycare centers, and group practices by town.

After you have located the names, addresses and specialties of the physicians and otherhealthcare organizations in your community, mark their location on a map. It is oftenhelpful to use colors or symbols to indicate different health care providers andorganizations to assess advantages or disadvantages of your practice, your geographiclocation, distance from competitors, and distance from other practices that could affectreferrals.

Established Patients

If you are established in a community, you have easy access to the information needed todevelop a profile of your practice. If possible, study your total patient population byextracting information from your practice management system, or randomly select a fewhundred active patient records to analyze. In particular, you should know the age of yourpatients, their residence and working locations, your primary sources of payment, andhave a general idea of your practice capacity. Work with your staff on this project andask them all to write down how they think the profile will look because it is often veryclose to actual data. If your computer cannot easily generate the data needed, assign eachmember of your staff specific data to collect to expedite the process.

There are differences in the age and sex of patients among specialties, but the averagepractice has a patient population of approximately 45 percent male and 55 percentfemale. A review of patient’s zip codes will probably reveal that most patients live nearyour office. Determine if physical barriers, such as highways or rivers, or competitorsprevent residents in local zip codes from reaching your office. If your community isgrowing and you want to serve this new population, your marketing strategy should bedesigned to make your practice visible in select neighborhoods, and involve contacts withnewcomer clubs, civic organizations, schools and new physicians. If your community isstable, your marketing activities may be centered on increasing and maintaining patientsatisfaction, adding services that will serve the needs of your current patients andinvolvement in ongoing community services.

Communicating to your existing patients all the services available for their immediate orextended family members is another easy way to increase your practice’s patient base.An office with a comfortable atmosphere that emphasizes personal touches, such ascommenting on known activities of family members or recognition of family stresses,while adhering to HIPAA standards, are strategies that increase patient satisfaction andgenerate more word-of-mouth referrals to other family members and friends.

Other useful data that can be extracted from your appointment records includes: totalvisits per year, average number of visits per month and whether the patient load hassignificant seasonal variations. As you review the data look for changes to the number ofactive patients, percentage of new patients that return for follow-up visits, and thenumber of new patients or ancillary services that could be added without addingadditional staff. If you are new in practice and have less than one year’s experience totrack, try extrapolating from the data you do have but recognize that you may missseasonal variations. This analysis helps determine practice capacity and to predict howthe addition of new patients might affect your practice.

If you currently provide any ancillary services, develop a list of the services mostcommonly performed in your office, such as electrocardiograms, stress tests, andlaboratory tests. Determine if there are any patterns in the data that may indicateadditional services that could be useful to patients. A close review of patientcharacteristics or ancillary services utilization may indicate the predominance of onedisease in your practice. If this is the case, you might consider adding disease-management group visits, or providing additional ancillary services that address thespecial needs of this patient population and their families.

Referrals

There are many different sources of referrals, so it is important to balance these contactsand not become too dependent on one source. Specialists will have a high percentage ofphysician referrals but should network with other health care professionals for additionalpatients. PCPs can expect to gain a large percentage of their referrals from satisfiedpatients. To encourage these referrals, special acknowledgement should be given,especially when multiple referrals come from the same source.

The first step in analyzing referrals is to obtain accurate data on your current referralpatterns. The information sheet that new patients are asked to complete should include aquestion about how they discovered your practice. If you are already recording thisinformation using a computer system, this data should be easy to extract. An alternativeis to have office staff ask new patients how they heard about your practice and record theinformation manually.

New patients that are referred to your practice by established patients is a positive sign.Patient referrals are usually a sign that patients feel comfortable with office staff andbelieve they are receiving high quality care from their physician. If you are not receivinga significant number of referrals from patients, consider surveying them to determinehow satisfied they are with the services your office provides. (See “Patient SatisfactionSurveys” below.) Office staff should be equipped to refer patients to your practice by carrying businesscards and distributing them to anyone who asks about the practice. In some practices,financial incentive programs or bonuses based on the number of individual referrals or onthe overall growth of the practice help to assure that office staff are promoting thepractice and its services. Incentive programs and bonuses should be reviewed by legalcounsel to ensure compliance with health care  laws, such as the anti-kickback statute.Reviewing referrals from other physicians, and the income generated by providingmedical care to these patients, is another area that should be closely evaluated. You maydiscover that some physicians only refer patients with particular health insurancecoverage. Discovering these trends, both positive and negative, and making attempts tochange the disadvantageous trends before they become widespread is worth the effort.

As you review the data from your practice, look at the number of new patients that youanticipated from your participation in particular health plans. Determine if the contractsyou signed are allowing patients to continue treatment that might have otherwise had toleave your practice. Also, determine if participation in these plans has altered the patternof your referrals to other physicians.

Local businesses may be another important source of referrals for your practice. You canencourage these referrals by providing services to one or more companies, such asemployment physicals or safety lectures, to encourage employees to visit your office foradditional treatment. Distributing a brochure about your practice to the human resourcesdepartment is also helpful to give your practice added visibility and explain the servicesthat you can offer new employees.

Patient Satisfaction SurveysMeasuring patient satisfaction is a process that should be carefully planned to includeboth the survey design and the implementation of system changes once the results aretabulated. Patient satisfaction surveys typically cover: access, communication betweenthe patient and office, courtesy and helpfulness of the office staff, and physician-patientinteraction. The physical environment of your office can play an important role in thesatisfaction of your patients as well. Asking patients about a few specific items mayencourage them to suggest other improvements for your practice.

Another way to assess patient satisfaction is to survey the patients who have left yourpractice to determine why they left. You could try contacting patients that ask to haverecords sent to another physician. If they are simply moving out of your area, which iscommon for many patients requesting records, you have an opportunity to wish them wellin their new location. If they are changing practices because of new health insurance thatyou do not cover, you might consider a new contract with this health plan.

Office Staff Evaluation

In many practices, office staff spend more time with patients than physicians. Patientsrespond to all of the treatment they receive, not just the physical examination andconsultation provided by the physician, so it is important to assess how well office staffare performing their duties. Asking staff to rate themselves on their service to patients isa good reminder of basic patient relations. You may discover differences of opinion thatare worth discussing at future staff meetings or performance reviews.Another way to find out how well you are doing is to ask your staff to anonymouslyassess your practice and suggest ways that it could be improved. Ask office staff toassess their personal capabilities, the services of the practice, the building and workingenvironment, and the overall strengths and weaknesses of the practice. It is also helpfulto allow office staff to make suggestions on how to make improvements in these areas.

Financial Analysis

A financial analysis gives a practice an indication of how well it is doing, helps identifystrengths and weaknesses, and begins to define problems and opportunities that might beaddressed in a marketing strategy. Conduct a financial analysis that reviews thepractice’s profit-and-loss statement, tax returns, accounts receivable, billing records andinsurance claim files. Your accountant may recommend additional ways to collect ororganize important financial facts. If your billing system is computerized, much of theinformation you need should be readily available in routine reports.

Run reports using your billing system or manually record the sources of payment forservices. In general, your patients should come from a mix of health plans so that you donot become reliant on reimbursement from one payer. While it is not easy to restorebalance in a practice that has become dependent upon a few sources of reimbursement,this analysis will help identify if there is a potential financial danger that could beimproved by seeking a different mix of patients.

Your accountant may also help you look at the profitability of individual procedures andhelp determine if new services could be added or existing services discontinued.Although profitability is important, other factors must be taken into consideration as wellbecause you may offer services that do not produce direct revenue, but increase patientsatisfaction and new patient referrals that enhance the overall profitability of the practice.If overall practice growth appears to be the key to long-term financial success, acampaign to attract new patients may be your goal. On the other hand, if providing moreservices to existing patients will meet your objectives, you may want to build a marketingstrategy around adding and promoting a new procedure. Determine what your populationwants and needs from your practice and plan an information campaign to let them knowhow you can serve. In most cases, the marketing strategies will include retainingpatients, improving services to them, and growth.

Marketing to Patients

Even in today’s complex health insurance marketplace, physician recommendations fromfamily members and friends are vital to the success of a medical practice. Generatingword-of-mouth referrals requires a commitment from your entire office to provide yourcurrent patients with efficient and friendly service. The difference today is thatphysicians must contract with the same health plans that their patient populations use.Your success is also dependent on health plan provider directories, so be sure yourpractice is accurately listed on the Internet and in all print directories. Once these healthplan details are in order, you will be more accessible to new patients.Patients are increasingly pressuring physicians to consider quality of care initiatives fortheir practice as well. For this reason, it may be useful to participate in the AMA’sPhysician Consortium for Performance Improvement, which aims to provide performancemeasurement resources for practicing physicians to facilitate implementation of clinicalquality improvement programs. By participating in The Consortium, you will obtainperformance measures that represent a consensus of experts in clinical and research fieldsand include those measurable activities in which physicians can participate tocontinuously improve quality of care and outcomes. To learn more about TheConsortium visit www.ama-assn.org/go/quality.

Physician-Patient Communication

Your thoroughness in explaining the patient’s illness and treatment plan is one way ofdemonstrating your knowledge and your personal concern. Whenever possible, take timewith patients because patients that leave your office with unanswered questions are morelikely to be dissatisfied with the service received, even if their condition improves. Whencommunicating with patients try to maintain eye contact and listen carefully to what theyhave to say. When you explain diagnoses and treatment plans talk in laymen’s terms sopatients can understand what you are saying. If you are concerned about the perceptionthat you are rushing too much, you might consider asking your staff to help you identifythese situations. This is helpful when dealing with patients that do not ask questionsbecause they believe they would be imposing on your busy schedule.

If you are treating a patient with a chronic disease, you can provide them witheducational materials related to their illness and treatment options at the end of officevisits. This will reinforce that you want to work collaboratively with them and care abouttheir recovery. For some practices, providing patient education is an important part oftreatment so their reception area, examination rooms, and practice website are vehiclesthat are used to communicate the practice’s commitment to disease prevention and healthpromotion.

A practice newsletter is an excellent way to provide information and news about variousillnesses, treatments and disease prevention tips that are of particular importance to yourpatients and their families. It is also a good way to inform patients about changes in thepractice, such as new staff, and events that affect the services of the practice. Each timethe newsletter is mailed to patients, the name of the practice gains greater visibility. Ifyour practice collects patient email addresses, send the newsletter via email. If you havea website, also consider sending a message to all of your patients with a link to the mostcurrent newsletter that has been posted online. This will increase the likelihood thatpatients will visit your website and discover something new about your practice. Youmay also be surprised to learn that existing patients are sharing your newsletter withfamily and friends that could become new patients.

Take every opportunity to send personal communications to your patients, especiallypromptly notifying patients of test results, even if they are normal. Other ideas forpersonal communications include: sending birthday cards to established patients, mailingwelcome letters to new patients that include a brochure about the practice, sendingfollow-up notes to remind patients of the need for physicals, immunizations or checkups,and sending thank you notes whenever a patient refers a friend or family member to you.

Office Policies and Accessibility

Practice location, access to physicians by phone or email, timely appointments, shortwaiting times, and easy access to the office are all part of operating a practice that isconvenient for patients. If many of your patients are elderly, be sure that your officebuilding has good access for patients using wheelchairs, and that the seats in your waitingroom have arms and are high enough so patients can sit and rise easily. If many of yourpatients find it difficult to schedule appointments during traditional office hours, consideroffering early morning, evening or weekend appointments on some days of the month.Work with your staff to see how the appointment schedule might be revised so thatpatients can get an appointment within the same week that they call and not have to waitmore than 15 minutes after their scheduled appointment time in the reception area.

Shorter wait times are also a good way to attract new patients that do not have arelationship with you or your practice. Keep a list of patients who want to be seen assoon as possible and call them when a cancellation occurs. You might also consideradopting an open access (same day) scheduling system, which will require carefulplanning and several weeks to implement, but has many potential benefits for you andyour patients.
Investigate the feasibility of opening a satellite office so that you will be accessible forpatients in multiple geographic locations. Careful planning should be done before takingon the added expense of another office, but the added patient base could make it aworthwhile investment. It may also be possible to share or switch offices with otherphysicians who would like to have more than one office location.

Establish a system for reminding patients of the need for follow-up visits. Acomputerized recall system based on age, condition and a recommended physicalexamination schedule can send emails to patients automatically or simply produce a listof patients who need to be sent appointment reminders. If you do not have a practicemanagement system, have your office staff maintain a list of patients to be recalled. Ifyou need to see a patient for a follow-up appointment in six months, put their name on alist to be reminded in five months. Some practices give patients a postcard as they arecompleting their office visit and ask them to address it to themselves. The card is pre-printed with a message that says it is time to call the office for an appointment. Theoffice staff retains the post card and mails it at the appropriate recall date. Doing so takesvery little time, builds the practice, and reinforces the need for continuing care.

An area that is often overlooked is the answering service or machine that receives yourafter-hours calls. Most patients prefer to talk to a person, but this is not always possible.An answering machine could ask people to call during regular hours for an appointment,indicate a specific time that your practice is available for urgent care visits, or provide thenumber of the answering service or emergency department to call if it is an emergency.Patient parking at your office should be free and have copies of schedules and routesavailable for patients who may need public transportation. It may also be beneficial topartner with other practices or businesses to provide a free shuttle from publictransportation terminals, or nearby parking lots.

Provide patients a copy of your payment policy in your welcome letter or during theirinitial visit. When payment, credit and collection policies are carefully explained, it willreduce the severity and quantity of billing related problems for your office staff.Unexpected or unexplained policies and procedures are likely to be a source ofannoyance to your patients. Request copayments and payment of outstanding balances atthe time of service by accepting credit cards, giving patients a stamped envelope to sendtheir check to your office, or work out a payment plan while the patient is in the office.This will minimize administrative costs and avoid misunderstandings over the phone.When you do send patient statements out, be sure to itemize all charges and fees tominimize any misunderstandings. When appropriate, notify patients of disputes with aninsurance plan as early as possible. This can drastically improve collection rates andavoids confrontations with angry patients that receive bills months after the date ofservice because your office has exhausted all efforts with their health plan.

Contacting Employers

If you want to increase access to potential patients, try contacting the people who employthem and pay for their health insurance. By contacting local employers your practice willgain visibility and develop opportunities for potential patients to familiarize themselveswith your practice. Deciding which companies are worth contacting may require a littleresearch. Determine which types of health insurance local companies are offering toemployees and confirm that you are contracted with these plans. Have one of your staffmembers contact employers to explain the services you provide, and leave brochures and literature behind for posting on bulletin boards and distribution to employees by otherappropriate means. It may also be helpful to meet with the company’s human resourcesmanager and other staff that are responsible for the health and safety of employees.These individuals are often tasked with referring patients who become ill or are injuredon the job.

You may also consider meeting with the management of a company to fully understandtheir needs and convey your commitment to keeping their employees healthy and on thejob. During this meeting it is also helpful to explain that while your main concern isserving the firm’s employees, your practice does not over-utilize services and iscommitted to practicing cost-effective, quality medicine. To interact directly withemployees, you might consider offering periodic on-site events such as blood pressure orcholesterol screenings, or seminars on various health-related topics. If your office is theclosest health care facility to an employer, you may also want to volunteer your servicesin emergency situations to show your commitment to the health of the community. Asappropriate, encourage the employer to refer patients to you for employment and ongoingphysical examinations, treatment of work-related injuries, and rehabilitation services.

Marketing to Health Care Providers

The key to maintaining collegial relationships is to constantly be in contact and showyour appreciation for every referral within the confines of the law. To build newrelationships make a list of people to call or visit in person. Commit yourself to ameasurable goal, such as one contact each day, to increase your visibility to professionalswho can refer patients to you.

Ask your staff to keep a referral log with a section for each referring physician and listthe patients that the doctor refers. Review the log every few months to determine if itshows an increase or decrease from a group or individual physician. If it appears that aphysician is not sending you as many referrals as in the past, contact them to see if thereis anything you can do, within the confines of the law, to encourage additional referrals.Your referring colleagues often attend the same meetings that you do, so review yourreferral log ahead of time so you can thank them for a referral or remind them of the goodservice that you provide. A satisfied patient is your best advertising with otherphysicians. Patients who have been treated well usually tell their referring physicians anda good referring physician will usually ask.

If you are a specialist and depend heavily on referrals from colleagues, target specificprimary care physicians from whom you would like to receive patients and build anorganized campaign to get their support. Call these colleagues to explain your specialty,credentials, experience, hospital affiliations, and the services offered by your practice.Follow-up with them every few months and thank them for any patients they send to you.When you receive a referral, keep the referring doctor informed of the patient’s progressby sending reports and/or information on the treatment that you provided as soon as possible. If your collegial referral system is crucial to your practice, plan to talk withphysicians when you are on rounds, in the hospital lounge or cafeteria, during social orrecreational events, as well as regular hospital and medical society meetings.

Another important area to concentrate on is maintaining a good rapport with the nurses,physical therapists, social workers, nutritionists, and clergy who treat or regularly visitpatients in the hospital. Pharmacists in your community are another potential source ofreferrals that should not be ignored. If you distribute a patient newsletter, be sure to senda copy to these health care providers as well. Remind these people of your name andspecialty, and the name(s) of recent referrals that they sent to you.

Remember that anything you do to enhance your medical reputation in the eyes of yourpeers, including teaching, speaking, or publishing, is likely to help your referrals.Consider writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper when a health issue is inthe headlines. Then let your colleagues know what you have done through yournewsletter with a special letter citing recent educational programs that you have attendedand how that education might serve their patients. Send copies of appropriate articlesthat you have written, including copies of letters that you have written to editors, with theintent of informing your colleagues and not boasting about your success.

If your practice is highly dependent on referrals, keep some time slots open on yourappointment book for them just as you would for urgent visits. It is also important thatyou don’t steal patients, so when your treatment of a patient is complete, they should bereturned to their PCP at a clinically appropriate time for subsequent care. Try to avoidassuming responsibility for any treatment that is not related to the immediate problemthat the patient was referred to you for without first consulting with the referringphysician. If you want to encourage referrals from other physicians, find out if they haveinternal policies for patient referrals and do everything you can to work within thatframework. If you must see a patient that was referred to you for multiple visits, providethe referring physician with information about the diagnosis and treatment plan whenappropriate. Finally, be sure to inform a PCP before referring a patient to anotherspecialist, as some health insurance plans may require another referral.

Provide colleagues with a self-addressed, postage-paid form so they can easily tell youthe reason for the referral, prior treatment, insurance coverage, etc. If there are newphysicians entering your community, welcome them to the area and let them know whatservices you offer by sending them a copy of your patient brochure or any otherinformation you typically send to referring physicians. Offer to conduct a staff meetingwith the office staff of referring physicians to tell them about your specialty, whatpatients can expect in your office, financial policies and any other information that mightsimplify the referral process for their office staff. A business lunch arranged for thereceptionists in both of your practices is another way to improve referral relationshipsand improve business for both practices.

Marketing to Health Plans

Health plans play a major role in determining the physicians that a patient may see, whichis drastically different from the fee-for-service environment of years ago. While patientsare mostly concerned about the quality of care they receive, health plans are alwayslooking to control costs while providing access to care for their members. If you want tobe accepted into health plan provider networks it is helpful to understand what is requiredof physicians to be properly credentialed and enrolled.

Most health plans are looking for quantifiable evidence of the quality of care you provideto patients. They are also required to meet certain standards for accreditation, such asNCQA. To control costs, health plans may prefer to contract with physicians that are partof a risk unit or other group network model. In addition, plans typically look for boardcertification and other physician accreditation sources as a measure for quality of care. Ifyou have received positive patient satisfaction results, you may choose to share them withhealth plans as well.

If you are entering a market saturated with physicians in your specialty, you may trytaking the time to meet with the medical directors or other health plan representatives tostand out from the crowd and explain your practice. Any presentation should be carefullyplanned, keeping in mind that the main objective is to convey your commitment toprovide efficient, cost-effective care with high levels of patient satisfaction. If you areunable to meet a representative in person, mail the medical director information aboutyour practice and follow up a week or so later with a phone call. This correspondenceshould include:

  • Practice name, office location(s) and area served. Also include a mission statement or
  • a statement of objectives, including your commitment to quality care, etc.
  • Special practice characteristics, such as extended hours, convenient locations, in-
  • office ancillary services, and patient education techniques that reduce excessive
  • patient visits.
  • Physician CVs or resumes.
  • Names of all office personnel and their certifications.
  • A list of referring physicians in the plan, if you are a specialist.
  • Evidence of treatment patterns following published protocols or guidelines, outcome
  • studies, or information demonstrating your practice’s quality and efficiency.
  • Patient satisfaction survey results and indications of improvement over time.

Once you have signed a provider agreement, be sure to maintain personal contacts withhealth plan representatives and appropriate medical directors to strengthen yourrelationship and help you down the road.

Enhancing Practice Visibility
Practice Web Sites

The importance of practice websites has grown considerably in recent years, particularlywith improved health plan sites that include provider directories online. New health planenrollees are increasingly choosing their primary care physicians using online directories. If only a handful of the practices in a town has a link to their web site in the directory, anew patient is more likely to investigate these practices first. Knowing as much aspossible about a new physician is very important for new patients and helps improve thephysician-patient relationship. There are multiple ways to create a practice web site including: free services, such as DBN Website: https://dbncred.com/free-website-hosting/;lower cost solutions, such as hiring a student to design yoursite; and finally outsourcing the project to a professional firm specializing in web design.A practice web site can be as simple as providing the practice name and address or ascomplex as providing online scheduling software and secure email messaging forpatients. For example, Medem offers online consultations that allows physicians tosecurely communicate online with patients and receive payment for their work. Medemalso allows office staff to communicate online with patients, other health care providersand trading partners through a simple, secure, eRisk and HIPAA-compliant network.Regardless of the exact mechanisms used, it is important that the style of the practice isproperly communicated through a web site.

Once you have attracted patients to your site, it is important to have information wellorganized that communicates the philosophies of practice. Some items to considerposting on your web site include: Names and specialties of all physicians and supportstaff, the specific services offered, health plans that are accepted, directions to youroffice, recent health news, a practice newsletter, and information on the practice’spolicies. Hyperlinks to clinical information that you feel is useful can enhance thecontent of your site and improve patient relations. However, it is equally important tocontinuously update the content on your site so your patients receive the most currentinformation. If you are providing incorrect or out-of-date information on your web site, itmay actually deter patients from your practice, as well as create some legal liability, soyou need to be cognizant of the message the site is sending to prospective patients.

Once your web site has been created, be sure to register it with the major search engines,such as Yahoo and Google, and inform your health plans so they can create hyperlinksfrom their online provider directory to your site. Finally, put your web address on allletterhead, new patient correspondence, brochures, business cards, and any printedmaterials that you distribute.

As the importance of your web site begins to grow, you might consider adding additionalservices online to increase patient satisfaction levels. Some practices are adding secureemail messaging to their website to increase office efficiency and provide improvedservice for patients. Clear policies on how patient email will be handled must bedeveloped, but the results can enhance the appeal of your practice. Other practices arescheduling appointments, processing prescription renewals, and streamlining a number ofadministrative functions by using interfaces on their website to improve patientsatisfaction and practice workflow simultaneously.

Community Involvement

Being active in your community by joining local medical organizations, volunteeringwith community groups, regularly attending a place of worship, and joining serviceorganizations increases your visibility and enhances your practice. If you are a goodpublic speaker, contact local civic, religious, and other organizations and offer to speakon a variety of medical topics. Contacting your local television and radio stations andsuggesting specific health topics for talk shows is another idea worth considering.Relationships between the media and physicians do not occur overnight, but the long-term payoffs in practice visibility can be worth the extra effort. Newspaper andtelevision reporters work in a fast-paced environment driven by deadlines, so be sure topromptly return phone calls and be prepared to take 15 minutes out of your afternoonschedule to speak with them. The demand for health related information is rapidlyincreasing and as a physician you have a great opportunity to educate the media and thepublic, while simultaneously promoting your practice.

If public speaking is not your forte, you can write a health column for local newspapersor volunteer to write an employee newsletter column for a local business. Keep thelanguage simple and choose subjects that are of general interest or are timely such aswater safety in the summer or receiving flu shots in the fall.

Organizing a health screening at a community center, shopping mall, or nursing home is agreat way for you and your office staff to meet potential patients. Hosting an open housein your office is another way to meet members of the community. Creating a theme orcelebrating a particular event, such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, ten years inpractice, or introducing a new partner, bring added attention to the event and your office.Publicize the event well in advance with local newspapers, community groups andschools and inform all of your established patients by giving them a special invitation.

Traditional Advertising

Although paid advertising is increasing for larger health care organizations, itsappropriate use for physician practices is still debated. An advertising campaign isexpensive and requires staff time, but is often used to announce new developments in apractice or provide public education. Physician practices typically advertise in theYellow Pages, however only a few purchase a slightly enlarged ad in the physicianlistings to stand out from others. Some practices also believe using bold type or a boxabout the size of your business card will make your name more prominent. If spacepermits, use your logo and identify special characteristics that set your practice apart,such as weekend office hours or board certification status.

  • A practice brochure is another traditional marketing tool that can explain your specialty,services offered, and describe how your practice operates. Keep in mind that a brochureis only an introduction to your practice, so only provide enough information to enticepatients to contact your office for an appointment.
  • Designing a logo with the help of a professional is advisable, however with the help ofinexpensive graphics software, many smaller practices are able to enlist the help of afriend or family member. Place your logo on all stationery, business cards, invoices,newsletters, prescription pads, brochures, and signs. You can also place your logo andpractice name on health-related gifts for patients. These items could include telephonestickers and pencils for recording emergency numbers, medical identification bracelets,patient education materials, Bandaids, etc.
  • A welcome letter for new residents that includes a copy of your patient brochure, a mapshowing the location of your office, and the hospitals you are affiliated with can generatenew business. Contact real estate agencies in your area to purchase lists of new familiesand mail the packet to each of them.
  • The sign outside your office building is an important marketing tool, so select signs thatare clearly visible while not clashing with other signs in the neighborhood. Considerplacing your logo on the sign as well. Once inside your building, be sure that patientscan find your office, and that doors are appropriately labeled, such as: “EmployeesOnly,” “Laboratory,” “ Private,” or “Reception Area”).

Advertising may be regulated by your state Board of Registration in Medicine. hack yourstate medical board to ensure you abide by their ruels and laws:https://www.fsmb.org/contact-a-state-medical-board.You should consider consulting with a private attorney if you need assistance withcompliance.

Adding New Services

Another way to increase visibility is to add or expand the services that your practiceprovides. Partnering with another practice may offer additional office locations, greaterappeal to health plans seeking larger groups for their provider networks, more resourcesfor a marketing campaign or an opportunity to expand the services that you currentlyoffer. Adding new ancillary services to generate more revenue for the practice alsobenefits patients with increased convenience. However, before making any decisions, allpossibilities should be fully considered.

A cost benefit analysis should be conducted first because adding more ancillary servicesdoes not guarantee an increase in net revenue after expenses. Typically, new servicesshould break even financially to justify the added patient convenience. To determine theprofitability of a new procedure or service record the number of patients that youcurrently refer to another facility. Then estimate the revenue you could expect based onthe volume from your current referral patterns. Finally, subtract the expenses you wouldincur (e.g. equipment, staff salaries, office renovations, overhead) to provide a newservice or procedure to estimate how profitable it could be. Your attorney should also beconsulted before adding any new services to ensure that you are in compliance with thefederal Stark laws on physician self-referral.

Some examples of new services being offered by physician practices include: Hiring asocial worker to help with the living arrangements for the elderly; adding specialassistance services for patients with chronic diseases; and developing or promotingsupport groups for patients with particular diseases to gain referrals. Some practices havealso recommend that their referring physicians send patients to these support groups tostrengthen the referral relationships with these practices. Group visits are an alternativesolution that will require some changes to your practice style, but have been highlysuccessful in practices with patients that have similar health problems. Patients are verysatisfied with this treatment method and can have better outcomes because they areactively involved in their care. Depending on your specialty, there are a myriad ofservices to offer that can benefit both your practice and your patients.

To learn more about practice marketing, advertising, websites…everything a health care provider need to succeed,join DoctorsBusinessNetwork.com or visit Doctors Business Channel on YouTube!

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