Don’t Recoil: Marketing Your Practice

Yes, we will talk business today.  No more fluff on being efficient, knowing where the speculum is, and handing out tricolor business cards.  Let’s get to the meat of it: YOU CAN’T SEE PATIENTS IF THERE IS NO ONE TO SEE. 

Sadly, many practices have a dearth of patients.  How could this be?  Some are located in physician dense areas  ( or is it dense physicians?),  where competition is fierce for patients, others are in a location with out a lot of patients, while others have not gotten the word out.  Getting the word out will be the focus of today’s highly opinionated, some what educational post.  (In all fairness, this is not JUST my opinion.  I actually DO research these topics!)

So, here are a list of free, cheap, inexpensive and expensive marketing ideas that you should try in the laboratory of your practice.  (Yes, you need to have the Edison mindset–experiment!  You can’t build a light bulb the first try.)  I freely use examples from marketing ExtraMD, my company.  (An example of see one, do one, teach one, but hey, we’re doctors, it’s what we do.)

  1. Set the tone from the moment the patient walks in, to the moment they leave.  Word of mouth is huge in the doctor business.  Your receptionist needs to actually LOOK AT THE PATIENT AND GREET THEM BY THEIR LAST NAME, before handing them 27 forms they must fill out with a scratchy pen.  (Could ya’ spring for some decent pens?)  You, dear doctor, must BE ON TIME , say the patient’s name, listen intently, and come up with an understandable treatment plan.  But wait–we are not done yet!  Your trusty assistant (or you, depending on how your office runs) must make sure the patient knows what the plan is, has the needed ‘scripts, and knows when to return.  Helping the patient find the check out desk is a nice touch.  How many times have I wondered through a labyrinth of an office, trying to find a way out, and ended up in the bathroom?
  2. Avail yourselves of your friendly colleagues.  Go out and meet the docs at the urgent care clinics, and specialists at your local hospital.  While you are at the hospital, introduce yourself to the ED docs.  HINT: the nicer you are to the ED, the nicer they are back! (Really!)  Let all of these people know you are taking new patients, and hand out cards.  Introduce yourself to the hospitalists.  Just last week, I met a nice nephrologist who gave me her card.  She had a great niche in that she spoke Spanish.  Guess who I called on my very next Spanish Speaking Only (SSO)  ICU patient?  Guess whose cards I passed out to my colleagues?
  3. Send thank you notes to physicians that send you patients.  Everyone likes a thank you note.  Include that fancy tricolor business card.   Yes, I walk the walk.  ExtraMD’s nifty assistant just sent out thank you cards to our clients.
  4. Have a website.  It is a necessity in today’s hyper connected world.  Even the sadly computer challenged ExtraMD has one.  In this day and age, patients are savvy and will check you out on line. Make sure your website lists your hours, days, experience, the patients you want to see, which insurance you take, and has some nice pics of you and your staff.  Not to have a website is archaic.  Get with the 21st century!  You can get a website going fairly easily and at a reasonable cost if you shop around and ask colleagues who they used to design theirs.
  5. Speak the language.  If you are in a community that speaks a language other than English, and YOU speak that language, make sure that’s on your web site.  Unfortunately for me, no hablo espanol, which would be a huge asset in the region where I practice.  Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
  6. Make sure your hours are accessible.  What are you thinking, closing at lunch?  Have a late lunch (if any) and the working folks will love you when they can get in at lunch. They will tell their friends and so on… Also consider extended hours a couple of times per week, opening early and closing late. 
  7. Get famous. Seriously, a lot of docs write columns in the newspaper, or do radio programs.  Select topics that are interesting, and applicable to your wannabe patients.  You could be the next Dr. Drew!  (Hmm, is that a good thing?)
  8. Get your name on the hospital website.  Make sure your name, practice name, and practice address/info is listed on the hospital website where you have privilege’s.  Patients will search these databases to find a physician.
  9. Introduce yourself to the medical staff office at your hospital.  Leave cards, brochures and chocolate.  (Don’t laugh, chocolate sells!)
  10. Press the flesh. Consider doing some meet and greets at health clubs, sponsoring a kids sports team, or giving a free talk at the local senior center. 
  11. Consider fliers, and direct marketing post cards.  I list this last, because this is an expensive way to go.  I must note, however, that post cards have served ExtraMD well.

Other key points: develop a marketing plan, and a budget.  Track what works and what doesn’t.  Some stuff will surprise you, other sure bets will stink up the place.  Let me know what works for you and I’ll post it here.

Good luck!  Keep doing the valuable work you do, and know that you really do make a difference in the world!!!