School tie-in scores touchdown with practice

Community sports program is a hit

A truth universally acknowledged in medical practice marketing is that mothers make most of the health care decisions in a family. If you want to get a family in the door, you need to attract the mother to your practice.

An inventive way to attract these primary decision makers is to be there for those high school children that could be injured while participating in a school track meet, football game, or other athletic event. This is a technique that Premier Medical Group, a multispecialty practice in Clarkesville, TN, has implemented, says Beverly Taylor, director of marketing for the group.

When one of Premier's physicians thought of the idea in 1983, Taylor says there wasn't even an ambulance present at local football games. "There was no plan in place if someone was hurt. [The doctor] knew that you can cause more damage to an injury if you don't take immediate action."

It was the start of a relationship with local schools, which has expanded to include these programs:

· a school-to-work program where administrators talk to seniors about how to interview for jobs and dressing for success;

· talks about medicine in fourth and fifth grade classes that include a casting session, a model human skeleton, and a neurology lecture;

· thrice yearly low-cost ($5 to $10) sports screenings for athletes that bring 1,000 people into Premier offices;

· wellness programs for educators where physicians give seminars on various health topics.

"The average age of our doctors is 42," Taylor says. "Most are thrilled to be able to be involved in their kids' schools."

While the focus of all of the events is community service, Taylor says it is a real opportunity to get the Premier name out to potential patients. Students get pencils with the practice's name and logo on it. People participating in the adult seminars are provided with information on the 40-physician practice.

For instance, at a recent seminar on men's health issues, the medical director developed educational material which was typeset on Premier letterhead and inserted into a folder with the practice's logo on the front. The folder also included a list of Premier clinics and physicians.

At the athletic events, the physician present wears a jacket with the Premier name and logo on it. There is also a banner hanging in the gym of one local high school with the practice's name. "We wouldn't have the banner there if we didn't do the work with the schools," says Taylor.

Extending service beyond schools

In addition to working with schools, nonprofit health organizations offer another way practices can get involved in service oriented marketing. Robyn Beckwith, outreach director for Pittsburgh-based TriRivers Surgical practice, has developed a great relationship with the local Arthritis Foundation, co-sponsoring two arthritis support groups with the foundation. TriRivers holds other educational seminars with its help.

"We view this as one component of our marketing and public relations program," she says. "It's becoming more and more prominent."

While the goal of the marketing push is to establish TriRivers as a leader in orthopedic care, Beckwith believes that outreach helps the practice to integrate into the community. And it also helps keep existing patients happy.

Beckwith says that last winter, physicians in the Butler, PA, office were hearing a lot of complaints from arthritis patients on the lack of support in the area. She used that as a launch pad to work with the Arthritis Foundation. Now, there are monthly support group meetings at the Butler office, which has the room to hold them. Both TriRivers and the foundation do publicity, and Beckwith usually provides a speaker. The foundation has provided a volunteer leader. The program is so successful that another office in Moon Township is starting a similar program.

Another outreach event Beckwith started was a clinic for local parks and recreation coaches on injury prevention. There were some 40 coaches who showed up at the last seminar, and she is approaching other parks and recreation departments to recreate the effort elsewhere.

While both Taylor and Beckwith say it's hard to quantify success, they know they are having an impact. "We know we have gotten patients through some of our events," says Beckwith. "My hunch says we have greater awareness. But we aren't in a position where we need to pay a polling company to see how big the impact has been. In the future, we may do that."

Taylor agrees that it's hard to measure the success of their practices' community service, as well as the cost of the programs. "We never felt the need to calculate the costs. This is just something that we do as a service to our community."

Taylor adds that having this much undivided attention is a wonderful way to expose the community to your practice. "We go to the teachers; we go to the students. As a parent, I ask my kids every day of the week what happened in school. I know our name is getting out there. But we don't measure the success of this in financial terms."

Taylor says while some of the work she does with schools comes from her own ideas, others are spawned by needs the schools have - such as the school-to-work talks. If your practice wants to get involved in similar projects, she suggests you call the schools in your area and find out what they need.

Beckwith says you should also listen closely to your patients, as they often provide ideas. One seminar her physicians put on was on how arthritis patients can deal more effectively with cold weather. That idea came directly from patients who were complaining about how hard it was to handle chilly temperatures.

"Don't just think of the conditions they have," Beckwith says, "but think of how their conditions impact their daily life. Make your practice the source of that kind of helpful information. Hospitals have done it for years and done it well. Now it's time for practices to catch up."

Once you find a need, Taylor says you should fill it with a person who is interested. "Don't ask a doctor who hates sports to attend all the home football games," she says. And be sure to stay in touch with your contact. "If something you are doing isn't working, ask how you can change it."

· Beverly Taylor, Marketing Director, Premier Medical Group, Clarkesville, TN. Telephone: (931) 553-4227.

· Robyn Beckwith, Outreach Director, TriRivers Surgical, Pittsburgh. Telephone: (412) 367-0600.