Five Steps to Growing Your Practice: What Works, What Doesn't

Mark E. Crane

Disclosures

July 28, 2010

In This Article

Introduction

With waiting rooms already overflowing and the promise (or threat) of 30 million formerly uninsured patients lining up for appointments thanks to healthcare reform, marketing to build your practice may seem pointless. Most doctors, especially in primary care, already have too many patients and not enough time or resources.

That attitude is shortsighted, say practice management consultants. "Doctors should be on the lookout for new patients," says Gray Tuttle, a principal with the Rehmann Healthcare Management Advisors in Lansing, Michigan. "People move. They die. People leave areas that are in economic crisis. So even in a mature busy practice, doctors should look to add a patient or 2 per week to replace those who leave."

More important than simply attracting new patients is the chance to attract desirable patients. Marketing can help practices attract the best patients, whether defined by ability to pay or the kind of conditions you most want to treat.

"I know of many heavily booked practices but most of the patients are on Medicaid," says Jeffrey J. Denning with Practice Performance Group in La Jolla, California. "The doctors are barely earning a living. They need to market their practices to attract better-paying patients."

Where your practice is today may not be where you are tomorrow. "That's why some marketing is beneficial, if only to help brand your practice so you maintain a good reputation," says Kenneth T. Hertz, a principal for the Medical Group Management Association Health Care Consulting Group based in Pineville, Louisiana.

Some physicians confuse marketing with advertising and think it unseemly. That's an assumption that can hurt your practice. Marketing is a broader concept that involves determining what you want your practice to be; who you want to attract, and how to target those people through many methods, of which advertising is only one.

"Advertising is just one tool of marketing," says Jeffrey Denning. "Advertising is where you pay to control the message. Marketing can sometimes get your message out in an unpaid form."

Marketing may also include some aspects of patient relations. "It's how your staff answers the phone, how they are dressed. Is your office clean or cluttered? Do staffers apologize to patients when you're running late?" says Hertz. "It's the little things that show how you welcome patients or drive them away."

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