Getting your rookies on the marketing bandwagon

Charting progress brought success to one group

When Randall Doerman, MD, a physician with Internal Medicine Associates in Fairfax, VA, tried to get physicians just joining the group interested in business development, he met with limited success. But he knew that in the Washington, DC, area, competition was tough, and if his practice was to grow, everyone would have to play a role in developing the market.

"We have hired most physicians straight out of good universities," says Doerman. "But they tend to rely on the institution’s name and don’t realize that when they are out, they have to create worth on their own."

He developed a way to show new physicians the importance of their contributions and help them keep track of their progress. Through meetings, seminars, and the use of visual aids, he has assisted the physicians who have joined the practice in the last two years in making a real contribution. His program also has helped weed out physicians who are not willing or able to take on some of the marketing burden. Since the inception of the program, the practice has grown from five physicians to 12.

It all started in 1996, after two physicians hired the previous year failed to bring in the business needed to cover their overheads.

First, Doerman started to hold monthly meetings on the business and financial aspects of a practice. In the meetings, the group covers how to generate patients and money, how to keep patients happy, and how to market to patients. "They have to understand that the word of a patient is the best marketing tool we have."

The meetings last about an hour and are supplemented by another monthly meeting devoted purely to marketing issues.

A picture’s worth a thousand words

But that wasn’t enough. Doerman decided to use a computer spreadsheet program that compared the overhead for each physician with the revenue the physician brings in. He made up a chart to use as an example and provided each of the new physicians with a chart showing his or her actual progress.

Part of the problem is that physicians don’t receive any kind of business training, he explains. "They think if they bring in enough money to cover their salary, they are making an impact. But there is more to overhead than their salary." A chart including things such as their portion of rent, supplies, and support staff salary gave them a real idea of what they needed to do.

If you don’t know all the things that make up your overhead and how to break them out into shares per physician, Doerman says, your accountant should be able to help you.

"We tried explaining it to [physicians]," he says. "But people just do better with pictures. They need to see more than just charges and receipts once a month. We needed to put it together with expenses."

Seeing the numbers had a galvanizing effect. One physician was spurred to increase his marketing efforts. His patient load increased, and he started to contribute to the practice’s profitability. The other new hire decided marketing wasn’t her cup of tea, and she left the practice.

The overall effect has been "gratifying," Doerman says. "It really had an impact." The biggest benefit, he adds, has been an increased understanding of the need for marketing among his physicians.

"We do minimal advertising. We put something in the local paper every couple of months or in church bulletins. But this has helped us to grow, add new people, and become much more widely known in the community."

He says other practices bringing in new physicians should discuss marketing expectations during recruitment so it doesn’t come as a surprise. Once physicians are on board, be sure to restate those expectations.

Many physicians out of residency are uncomfortable dealing with business issues such as marketing, he adds. "But we have them meet other physicians, and if they have strengths, we use them." For instance, if a physician is a "performer," he or she is encouraged to give health talks in the community.

Give regular feedback

Whatever they do, Doerman says, you should give physicians constant feedback through regular meetings. The graphs needn’t be done every week or every month. He uses them quarterly with his physicians.

With appropriate instruction, support, and training, he says, good physicians can cover their overhead within a year. Most will do so within 18 months, and two years is the upper limit.

The important thing is to get them started. "The longer they go sitting around idly, the more the rest of the practice has to pay for it," he says. "But if you create a sense of wanting to be an owner — and we are a little different because in three years they can become a partner — then if they put forth the effort, they know they will share in the profits. That really helps."


Randall Doerman, MD, Internal Medicine Associ ates, Fairfax, VA. Telephone: (703) 385-1900.