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Marketing remains a major challenge for many medical practices. Here are seven essential factors for building a healthy marketing program for your practice.
Stop denying marketing and start embracing it. Marketing is not just outbound promotion-it's virtually anything that influences your patients' experience with your practice. Acknowledging that you're already marketing (whether you intended to or not!) paves the way to doing it well.
Commit to being of service. Effective marketing for a medical practice is not incompatible with a caring, patient-oriented culture; in fact, it's just the opposite. Marketing a urology practice isn't really about "selling." It's about communicating: sharing information about how you can help patients stay healthy and how they can help themselves stay healthy.
For example, last year's changes to the American Cancer Society's prostate screening guidelines provided an opportunity for urologists to discuss the new guidelines with patients and explain the AUA's position. This sort of sharing provides valuable information and insight to your patients while reinforcing how much you care about their well being.
Social media tools provide a perfect outlet for this sort of marketing. Re-posting medical news through a practice blog and Facebook page, along with your own take on the story, is a great way to be of service to patients while also indirectly marketing your expertise.
Be of service to referring physicians, too. Look for opportunities to acknowledge the physicians who send new patients your way, and make it easier for them to refer you by sharing information that could help them with urology-related cases.
Listen. Blogs, social networks, and review sites all make it easy for patients and other doctors to publish their viewpoints instantly. Use tools like Google Alerts ( http://www.google.com/alerts) to monitor postings about your practice and your field. Daily alerts are also a great source of ideas for your own blog posts.
Keeping tabs on doctor ratings/reviews sites and Google Places is essential, too-it's the only way to ensure the information on these sites is current and correct, and to respond to any criticisms patients have posted.
Know your audience. Too often, doctors believe that doing any sort of marketing-sponsoring events, buying advertising-is better than nothing. But the investment is wasted if it's not reaching people who can benefit from knowing about a local urologist. If you decide to sponsor an event, make sure it maps to your demographics. If you do a charity fund-raiser, do one connected to urologic diseases.
Be systematic. Being organized and methodical about marketing planning is critical to getting the most out of it. Consider planning on an annual, biannual, and monthly basis. For example, annual events related to urology merit a special program every year. Create outreach programs for Prostate Health Month in September and infertility and sexually transmitted diseases awareness in April. (These are great opportunities to co-market with your primary care referring partners and to publish blogs you've prepared in advance.) "Thank you" programs for your referrers and your staff can be pre-scheduled for year-end. (Scheduling ahead allows you to be more creative and thoughtful, too.) Then, use your biannual and monthly planning cycles to develop ad hoc programs and monitor the effectiveness of all your marketing activities.
Integrate. Be vigilant about integrating a patient communications system throughout your practice. Start with an inventory of your patient interactions. Are you collecting e-mail and cell phone information whenever patients register with you to enable communicating in the patient's preferred way? Are prospective patients able to reach you by e-mail if they prefer? What do patients see when they arrive at your office? All of these moments contribute-favorably or unfavorably-to the patient's overall perception of your practice.
Be consistent. Inconsistency robs your marketing efforts of their effectiveness. Once you've created a logo and color scheme for your practice, use them everywhere: on your blog, e-mail templates, Web site, stationery, even staff scrubs. Make it easy for patients and other physicians to recognize you.
In summary, marketing your practice isn't just a sales tool. Effective marketing will benefit your patients' health and the health of your practice.
Joe Capko is a senior health care consultant with Capko & Co. who specializes in research, marketing, social media, business development, and strategic planning. Judy Capko is a health care consultant and the author of Take Back Time-Bringing Time Management to Medicine. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org