Judy Capko is a health care consultant and the author of "Secrets of the Best Run Practices."
With a tight economy making patients more reluctant to seek medical care, marketing becomes appealing for even stable practices to have a good foothold in the community.
So what can you do without breaking the bank? Here are some timely tips to help get the word out about you and your practice.
Focus on customer service
Make sure inquiring potential patients are encouraged to come in. If a reluctant patient is calling your office, they want an appointment. Of course, you want to answer his questions, but remember: The goal is to get him on the book. Suggest a time by saying something like, "I have an opening with Dr. Smith on Friday at 2 p.m. Will that work for you?"
Get involved in the community
Be visible in the community so potential patients remember you. Participate in community events. Each physician and staff member should be encouraged to support the community by getting involved in something they enjoy, are good at, and/or feel passionate about. If you're a golfer, take part in a fund-raising tournament. If art is your thing, join the community art council. If the manager is a photography buff, why not compete at the county fair? The annual fitness fair would be perfect for the "health nut" nurse.
The practice can support staff members' interest with a financial donation or by giving them time off to participate. Consider having an easel in the office to market upcoming community events in which you are involved. It shows your commitment to the community and is a good conversation starter.
There are other ways to increase your visibility. Why not have lab coats for everyone in the practice that are embroidered with the practice name and logo? When staff members go out for lunch, they will be seen and recognized. This often results in people asking about the practice.
Market to existing patients by sending health care reminders to those who are overdue for follow-up appointments or who have reached the baseline age for prostate cancer screening. Some practices are going further to get patients connected to the practice by sending them urology health updates and reminding them of new services that the practice has added. It's good medicine, and it's good marketing.
The practice database will reveal referring sources for patients. Make sure staff members enter patient information accurately. It is not just a matter of tracking physician referrals. After all, most urologists are savvy enough to nurture the relationships they have with referring doctors. But what about those other referrals? It's important to know and honor those loyal, non-physician referrers. Some practices put names in a hat and conduct a monthly prize drawing. Others send a nice note to the individual to acknowledge the endorsement.
The power of the Web
An effective web site is an investment in the practice and a great marketing tool; make sure it is up to date and represents you well. Does it really tell the user who you are? It should give the patient a feel for the practice. Include your mission statement. Ask yourself what makes the practice stand out from the competition and clearly convey this on the site. It could be something as simple as extended hours or convenient locations.
If you want to be more ambitious and dramatic, include 2- to 3-minute videos on your web site in which each physician tells something about his patient philosophy and special clinical interests.
Marketing your practice should be a team effort; get everyone on board by having a brainstorming session. You might be surprised at the group's creativity and enthusiasm for helping the practice grow.
Judy Capko is a health care consultant and the author of Take Back Time-Bringing Time Management to Medicine. She can be reached at 805-499-9203 or firstname.lastname@example.org