By Stephen W. Earnhart, MS
Earnhart & Associates
One of the most frequent questions we receive from clients is how to recruit new surgeons into their hospital outpatient department or a freestanding ambulatory surgery center. My response? It isn’t easy!
Every opportunity is different. No one approach is iron-clad to work for you; nor should you ever volunteer to take this on.
If your opportunity is to have the surgeon become an investor in your center, you need to consult legal counsel on what you can and cannot say to the prospective surgeon/investor first. Tread carefully here, as I know more nurses and staff members who have gotten themselves and their facilities in hot water by not understanding the process.
Do not accept your owner’s recommendation that “it is fine. Just let the potential surgeon know what the share price will be to invest in our surgery center.” It’s not nearly that easy! Bottom line: Get legal guidance.
Next, how do you get past the landmines to actually reach the potential surgeon? It’s almost impossible today. Every surgeon who draws blood with a scalpel has been approached by every surgery center and hospital out there. They have heard every line and been promised everything. They are burned out, and many practice administrators have told me that they have strict orders from their doctors not to forward phones calls to them from people like us.
Does that mean the surgeons don’t have an interest in your facility? NO! They are just tired of the same old lines and promises from people wearing suits and wasting their time. They don’t know how to recognize a real opportunity, so they dismiss them all.
So, what do you do? Here is an approach that typically works for us:
• Carefully assemble your “hit list.”
Do not try a “shotgun” approach and buy a mailing list of every surgeon in town. No matter how you try to personalize it, whatever you mail out will look like a canned letter or email. That’s a big turnoff for the surgeons, because they know you are just on a fishing expedition and trying to meet with anyone.
• Try to have a peer-to-peer introduction.
Most surgeons will take the advice from another surgeon, even if it comes just from them introducing you to the potential new surgeon.
One surgeon can talk to another to convince the surgeon to seriously consider joining the facility. This is a major “foot-in-the-door” approach that sets you up for the meeting. You can come in and handle the business and legal details. The surgeon using your center also can invite the other surgeon to tag along for a case at your facility. Immediately after the case, the surgeons can have a casual meal so your surgeon again can debrief the other one with information about what is great at your center.
• Have a script for what you want said when, and if, you meet the surgeon.
Two points here: Make sure you choose carefully who will meet with the surgeon once you get the appointment. No one should wear a suit. Suits have become a sign of the corporate United States, which some view as an “evil empire.” Be different. I have traded in my suit for slacks, a dress shirt, and an open vest. Women are more inclined to be different by wearing dresses, because those are worn relatively rarely now. This type of clothing is “different” and makes your sales pitch easier, as the surgeons are more relaxed and not on guard. Avoid meeting in scrubs unless you are a surgeon who has been interrupted during surgical hours. It gives the impression that the surgeon was not worth the effort of dressing up.
Have a script that is your opener to get their attention. They know they are busy, so avoid saying, “… we know how busy you are, so we will be brief” in your opening approach. Instead, try to start with something like, “This could be the most productive part of your day.”
Have a list of questions that could be asked of you, and have responses available. We use a list of more than 50 common questions and have a response to each. Make your own list, and rehearse it!
• Use wining and dining.
One approach that works is taking an engraved invitation, with a bottle of wine, to the practice administrator. The invitation is to a dinner at a restaurant of the surgeon’s choosing that includes the practice administrator and/or spouse. We typically do a tour of the facility in question just before the dinner reservation. Usually this approach will get you in front of the surgeon and the admin, who will help the process going forward. Don’t forget the points above as well!
Again, nothing is foolproof, and you may try for many months to get someone new in your door, or you can do it with one dinner. Don’t give up, as the rewards can be worth it! [Earnhart & Associates in Austin, TX, is a consulting firm specializing in all aspects of outpatient surgery development and management.]