Persuade physicians to invest in marketing

Convincing doctors that marketing is essential

Every marketing executive who has worked with a medical practice has a war story to tell about convincing one or more doctors that marketing is worth the money. "You can’t shove something down their throats," says Theresa Erickson, CME, assistant administrator at the Hattiesburg (MS) Clinic. "You have to spoon-feed it to them."

In her 103-physician clinic, she still works with some doctors who don’t give credence to a decade of success, she says. "I’ve found the best way to deal with them is to let their passions dictate my actions." For example, when physicians at the clinic noted there were new drug treatments for osteoporosis that worked if detection was early enough, Erickson developed a program that would market a new screening and treatment regimen. (See related story, p. 34.)

"You have to use words they respond to, like educate, not publicize," she says. "You talk about prevention, not advertising, and about public service, not marketing. Doctors respond to that language."

Alan Flippin, president of ADF Medical Practice Development in Germantown, TN, agrees. "You talk in terms of programs that will help them to treat patients better," he says. "That’s why they are in medicine, to take care of patients. You just convince them that marketing will help them provide better service."

Flippin adds that you have to develop programs that fit the doctors’ styles and personalities. For example, if they are "teachers" at heart, you can develop a program that includes educational breakfasts with referring physicians. "If you do the work of inviting the doctors and getting the room and breakfast, then all they have to do is get up there and teach. They love that."

He also recommends relating the money you want to spend to the increased revenue you can achieve through your program. "I tell them I can get 1% increased billing per month for 24 months. I take that increase in revenue and ask if I can spend a given percentage of that new money on the marketing plan." Most doctors are willing to take such a gamble, Flippin says, since they don’t view it as money out of their own pockets.

One cardiology practice with which Flippin works was given this option in the development of a "VIP" plan. The program aimed to provide referred patients with the best possible treatment. They were ushered into upscale waiting rooms and offered refreshments while waiting. Their entire experiences with the practice were designed to be as comfortable as possible with minimal waiting.

Program’s success was easy to recognize

The success of the program was easily tracked, Flippin says, since all the VIP patients were given special cards. "We spent about $6,000 to develop the plan," Flippin says, "and we made $130,000."

He says any plan you develop should provide you with easy tracking. "It should be obvious to you that the plan is working," he says. "If it isn’t, then maybe you should rethink the plan."

Hard numbers also work to get physicians’ attention, says Keith Borglum, vice president of Professional Marketing and Management of Santa Rosa, CA. "If income is dropping you can only cut costs so much without affecting the quality of care," he says. If you can show physicians those numbers, they may be more willing to spend the money needed to save their practices.

Often, the person who brings in the most revenue is the least willing to spend money, says Meryl Luallin, chief executive officer of Sullivan/Luallin of San Diego, CA. "Then the issue is about governance — about whether one doctor or a small clique can block the will of the rest of the medical staff. If they can, then you have to recognize that these doctors are running the practice."

The best way to gain acceptance of a marketing plan is to get the physicians to come up with the plan itself, says Luallin. "If you have more and more unhappy patients, ask [the physicians] what they think about the trend and what they suggest you do to change it. That makes them part authors."