Monday, November 9, 2015

Marketing and the Medical Practice

By Bill Cockrell,
President - Cockrell, Egeland and Associates, LLC

Thirty plus years ago, when I first got into medical practice management, I was the practice administrator for a small primary care group. Right before he left, the previous administrator had purchased a business card sized listing in the yellow pages (yes, once people really used the paper version). It simply listed the practice, the physicians, the address and phone number – that’s it. When I started, I was told one of my first jobs was to write a letter of “apology” to the Medical Society for using “advertising” to attract patients. It’s commonplace now but, at that time, no professionals (doctors, accountants, and even attorneys) talked about themselves in ways that could be construed as marketing. Yes, things have indeed changed.

Today, it’s hard for physicians to market themselves on television because all the good slots are taken up by attorneys. Kidding of course but, the reality is that medical marketing does occur, even if a physician doesn’t lift a hand. It’s through insurance carrier provider network listings, hospitals pushing their physician networks and other organizations with something to gain. On top of the normal channels, anything that appears on social media, whether it deals with a practice or not (for example, waiting too long to see the doctor, poor bedside manner or even big game hunting), is a form of marketing, positive or negative. Finally, go on any major insurance provider’s website, including Medicare, and plenty of information on patient satisfaction, quality and cost, among others, are easy to find.

So, does it matter if a practice markets itself? Yes. Absolutely yes. As stated, there’s a lot of information out there. However, explanations on what the information means, is lacking and, often, clear only to those who put it together for their needs. On the CMS (Medicare) Physician Compare website, it states “CMS has continually worked to make the site function better, improve the information available, and provide useful information about physicians and other health care professionals who take part in Medicare. This ongoing effort, along with the addition of quality measures on the site, helps Physician Compare serve its two-fold purpose:

Provide information to help consumers make informed decisions about their health care and create clear incentives for physicians to perform well.”

Consumer information includes what “CMS indicated that the first measures available for public reporting on Physician Compare would be the 2012 PQRS GPRO measures collected via the GPRO Web Interface for groups of 25 or more eligible professionals.”

This will not be limited to larger groups of course but, despite the intentions of CMS, when it’s hard for us to understand what PQRS measures mean, what happens when that information gets in the hands of a consumer who has only a government explanation to help them understand it. Now, what do we do? We educate (market). By being proactive in showing our own data, patient satisfaction or any sound quality data we help the patient understand what the information represents and how to use it. That’s called productive marketing through education. We can even use provider data and explain what it means. And, on top of the information, we can use the same information to target populations groups based on demographics or referring physicians based on the type patients they care for.

If a provider / practice wants to thrive, what about gathering the information that’s out there already, verifying or adding to it through their own data and presenting it in an educational format to patients and providers is a real option. We’re not talking about contact information or cost. We’re talking about our own results and information. We’re not bad mouthing others, we’re truly educating. Of course, we’re going to benefit from the marketing element but, if a provider really does provide high quality care, in a cost efficient manner, it seems the provider, the payer and, most importantly, the patient, wins. That’s a pretty good outcome. The proliferation of data to the patient is happening whether we like it or not. Isn’t it better to manage the process rather than have it manage you?

The marketing prescription:

Gather your own, provable data

Learn what else is available about you

Repackage it in an understandable format

Identify the targets to get the information to

Deliver the message.

That’s marketing – no apology needed.

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