Medical practice marketing vital in the "new normal"

December 14, 2011
by Helmut Flasch, CEO, Doctor Relations
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of DOTmed Business News

Survival & success in today's economic woes and tomorrow's uncertainty

The economic climate - and key changes in the conditions of patient populations - has put a new premium on medical practice marketing, and on the role of the medical business consultant who generates a real return on investment in marketing a physician's practice.

It's a harsh landscape. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports show fourteen million Americans out of work, with more than six million without a job for more than six months. The Commerce Department told us at mid-year that growth in the gross domestic product has hovered near zero in 2011. Consumer spending has remained flat, housing prices are still falling . The ability of government to generate a solution in the foreseeable future is reflected in recent down-grade of U.S. bond ratings.

One million more Americans lost health insurance. Census data showed the continuing a decade-long erosion in coverage, with the percentage of uninsured climbing to 16.3% - the highest ever recorded. A driving factor is the elimination or reduction of health benefits by employers as health care costs continue to climb. That trend has reduced the percentage of Americans who get health benefits through their jobs from a peak of 65.1% in 2000 to 55.3% last year.

At the same time a so-called recovery had supposedly begun, results from medical practices across the nation confirmed a different - and palpable truth. Median revenue a practice collected per full-time-equivalent physician plunged by 7.8% in 2008, according to the MGMA report on multispecialty practices - a bellwether for overall economic trends for health care.

The business results of the medical practice are under unprecedented assault - with attempts by physicians to boost productivity and control expenses just not able to keep pace with declines in collections, average gross revenue and operating costs.

We've seen doctors with superb professional skills and have the most advanced technology that are still seeing declines. Medical practices that do not aggressively market for the highest quality patients will not survive.
This is really a situation of survival of the fittest.

If the "fit" will survive - some even prosper - what does "fit" mean in terms of medical practice management?

Surely, there is no substitute for excellence in diagnosis and treatment. There's no substitute for employing technology to its fullest. Yet, medical practices providing superb treatment and state-of-the-art equipment are also suffering on the business side. Thus, "fitness" on the business side of medical practice management is now the focus.

Businesses small or large, local or global will build success on marketing - telling their story, building relationships. Consumers make physician choices based on their perception of affinity with that doctor.

The fitness equation for medical practice marketing requires some careful planning, commitment and application of advanced methods. For marketing dollars to have a healthy return there are four key "fitness" areas:

* Maximize the impact of every marketing dollar you spend. Enlist the support of community forums and piggy-back your messages to the community's existence resources. In this way, you are using other people's effort and money to spread the word for you instead of only depending on your own resources of time and money which will be limited.

* Structure marketing outreach to do more than state a message. Turn community members into fans, and fans into advocates who recommend and endorse you. One of the best ways to do that is to give the community and especially the community leaders a reason to weave your name into the everyday communication without necessarily touching the clinical aspect, but a common community oriented topic.

* Use the power of the press, rather than placing ads. The press will of course have no interest in promoting your practice, but will want to report news. A small suggestion here would be to hook on to already existing press about health and health-related issues, even just about common living, and make it local.

* Utilize communication technology. The internet and the multitude of communications that take place there are multipliers of your marketing time and dollars. Nothing levels the playing field for the not-so-cash-rich promoter like internet marketing, and when it comes to local internet marketing most local business have not yet caught on to the immense potential this medium brings to the table.

Business fitness driven by marketing is the pivot point for survival - and prosperity - for medical practice management on the harsh landscape of the "new normal" as well on the unpredictable ground of the future.

International Business Consultant and author Helmut Flasch is the creator of the award-winning marketing strategy "Un-Advertising" that has helped healthcare practices worldwide increase profits without wasting money on traditional old school marketing.