Girls want more than sugar and spice

Women-focused practice takes off

Last June, Sumana Reddy, MD, opened Acacia Family Medical Group in Salinas, CA, as a way to cater to the needs of women — the primary purchasers of medical services. When Practice Marketing and Management spoke with Reddy in the spring (see PMM, June 1998, p. 70), she was cautiously optimistic that she and the two other practitioners joining her would be able to make a go of the practice within six months. The results have been far better than she anticipated.

Among the highlights of the last six months:

o Patient load is increasing 10% per month.

o The three practitioners were at 22 clinical hours per week by early September.

o The practice has outgrown its temporary space and is constructing a purpose-built facility that will allow for continued growth.

"I was projecting that we felt there was a need for a practice of this kind, and we were right," Reddy tells PMM. "There has been tremendous growth in a short time, and we have been scrambling to keep up with it."

In June, Reddy said she felt practices that supposedly catered to women really just made token efforts: They put flowers in the waiting room or made sure there were women’s magazines on side tables. She felt that being women-centered was really something more and planned a practice that would have extended hours, offer a play area for children, and in the future, perhaps, had staff to look after the children of patients — both women and men — while they were having exams.

She thought her ideas would sell in a community that didn’t have many women physicians, particularly in the largely Hispanic area of Monterey County where she was setting up. The practice opened in late May. Within two days, a physician in town unexpectedly closed his obstetrics practice and his patients flocked to Reddy, at his suggestion.

In the previous article, Reddy talked about her planned marketing efforts, primarily centered around introductory advertisements and community education efforts. She has largely stuck to those plans, running ads introducing herself and the nurse practitioner and physicians who work with her in both the English and Spanish-language newspapers in her area.

She has also created a bimonthly newsletter which she sent to all the patients of the closed practice and to her current patient panel. (See sample of newsletter, inserted in this issue.)

The practice joined the local Chamber of Commerce, and each practitioner is attending various events. Reddy has also been doing community education, recently leading a prenatal class for a local hospital. In the future, she is considering running television and radio spots in order to reach a different audience than those who read the papers in which she has advertised.

All of these efforts are about getting the Acacia name into the public mind, she says. The Salinas medical community hasn’t been big on marketing, but Reddy says she has to have the financial wherewithal to sustain growth, build staff, and construct a permanent office location. Marketing brings that ability.

Marketing pays off

Reddy says she thinks the ads are bringing in patients. "I know this anecdotally now, with people saying things like, My sister told me about you, and then I saw your ad.’ And we are tracking where people come from for reports later in the year."

Once patients get to Acacia, Reddy’s women-centered focus in the practice is keeping them there. She says she has lived up to her ideal that a practice needs more than pink wall paper to be relevant to women. She has a special area in the waiting room which has educational material on different themes each month. For instance, August focused on breast-feeding. September’s theme was cholesterol. And the practice has a goal of sending all patients who come through the door home with some educational material that is relevant to their lives. She has purchased a software program for patient education that will assist in those efforts.

There have been problems. Keeping up with such rapid growth is difficult — Acacia is hiring about one person every three weeks or so. But most of those are easy hires, with people in the community who have heard about Acacia approaching Reddy about positions. "We’ve only had to advertise for one job, the office manager position. Other than that, people have come to us."

Accounts receivable is likely to lag for a few months as the practice gets its Medicare and Medicaid billing numbers in order. Also, a large payer in the area is having financial difficulties, and Reddy fears that payments from that insurer may stop altogether.

The growth is "fatiguing," says Reddy, who admits she is surprised — pleasantly so — by Acacia's success. "We have women coming to us telling us this is what they want," she says. "The women who came from the practice that closed come in and say that they are thrilled not to have to go to an OB/GYN for pap smears. That means we are expanding not just our own practice, but the base of his practice, too."

Sumana Reddy, MD, Acacia Family Medical Group, Salinas, CA. Telephone: (831) 444-0123.