by James D. Hundley, MD
Saturday, October 24th, 2009
Some doctors think that “being a good doctor” is all that is needed to get patients to come see them. That might work over a long period of time, but unless one is in an extremely under served location, that is not likely to be enough. Patients and referring physicians have to know of you to schedule visits or refer patients to you, so some way of getting the word out is essential to having a busy practice. Even when one is currently busy, complacency could have negative future consequences. Surgeons need a constant flow of new patients to maintain an optimal case load. So, if you agree that marketing is important, how do you best go about it? Do you do it by giving money to a marketing agency or could you do it by giving of yourself?Neither way is inexpensive since giving of oneself takes time away from family, play, and work. On the other hand, when you give of yourself in service, you’re likely to get a lot more back than you invest.
Current wisdom seems to be that marketing one’s practice is best done through paid ads in newspapers, magazines, radio, television, yellow pages, social media and so on. I do not think that that is the best way to get the word out. Anyone can say virtually anything in paid ads, so how is the potential patient supposed to know who he or she is really getting in his or her doctor?
During my over forty years of orthopaedic practice, I had some success with marketing through service and relationships. By this I mean giving of one’s time and talents in a variety of ways. In every case, I tried to be more than just a member of an organization or cause. The more you put in, the more you get back. Here are some examples:
1. I was able to become the volunteer team physician for a local university. The work was a pleasure and much more extensive than outsiders ever imagined, but when they saw me on the bench at basketball games, many figured that I knew something about sports medicine. The same thing works with high schools and community colleges and the need is great.
2. The Rotary Club was a great way to meet business leaders around town. They tended to call me when they or their families had orthopaedic problems. Their employees often asked their bosses who they went to and followed suit. Not only that. I enjoyed getting away from the grind and pressure for lunch on a regular basis and befriending a variety of community leaders. The Rotary Club is but one of many civic clubs and organizations that bring you considerably more benefit than you take to them.
3. Church is a great way to meet people. Marketing is clearly not the reason one should join and attend a church, but doing so clearly has earthly benefits.
4. Befriending the nurses in the operating room and on the wards can be a huge benefit. That is not to mean that one cannot demand excellence, something that you must do. All it takes is to treat them with respect and recognize that they bring significant knowledge to the care of your patients. By making them partners, you reward a more positive effort in behalf of your patients and the likelihood that they will both come to see you and send their friends and family, too. Non-medical people often ask those in our profession for suggestions as who to see. If I want to how skilled a particular surgeon is, I ask an OR nurse. If they think you’re a good surgeon and a good person, they are likely to send the people they care about to you. If they dislike you, they’ll guide them elsewhere.
5. By accepting appointment to the local library board, I had a fulfilling service experience and met an entirely different group of people. It doesn’t matter what boards you serve on; it just matters that you serve.
6. By working with the local medical society and ultimately becoming an officer, I met many local physicians whom I probably would have never met. It makes a positive difference to physicians to refer their patients to someone they know and feel that they can trust.
7. Writing articles for the local newspaper makes one an instant expert in the eyes of many readers. Not only does it serve people by sharing your medical information, but no matter the subject of the article, having published it makes many more people know your name and more likely to call you. You can always pay for an ad, but news outlets are often looking for items of interest and happy to accept articles written by doctors.
8. I think that word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool you can employ. You can’t control it like an ad, of course, but if you consistently treat patients in their best interests and get reasonably good results, you will have unleashed a marketing force that is among the most effective.
1. Working with our state orthopaedic society brought significant benefits to my practice. When someone from my city was injured elsewhere and the orthopaedist who took care of them in some other city sent them to someone they knew (i.e. me) to complete their treatment or follow-up, it enhanced my reputation at home. People talk and tell their friends; and that kind of talk is good.
2. Working (fund-raising in my case) with my medical school and residency program enhanced my reputation at home.When there is friendship and mutual respect between you and a professor of orthopaedics who speaks well of you to patients from your home town, they take note, and they tell their friends.
The above activities will only get more people in your door.Once they get there, it’s up to you to properly take care of them, and that includes way more than surgical competence. Application of the four “A’s” (ability, affability, affordability, and availability) is critical.That applies to their entire experience in your office and the surgery center or hospital.
Let’s face it. Patients generally have no good idea as to an individual surgeon’s abilities. They have powerful perceptions, but they are not likely based on objective data. If you consistently treat patients in their best interests and with respect, they will keep coming back. First, of course, you have to get them to come see you at your office.
So, if you’d like to increase your patient load without spending more money, you might just try marketing through service and relationships. Not only is your practice likely to benefit, but the personal benefits of gratification and personal growth that incur from altruism beyond your daily medical practice may pleasantly surprise you.
Dr. Hundley is a retired orthopaedic surgeon with forty years of experience.He is the president and a founder of OrthopaedicList.com.