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Thursday, March 16, 2000

You've got to know the market, doctors told

Doctors are interested in providing quality health care for their patients. Right? Making money doesn't even enter their minds. Right?

Well, it should. At least in part.

An intimate group of some 40 physicians on Wednesday morning learned strategies in marketing their practices from Eric Berkowitz, PhD.

"Certainly I'm not telling you to deny care to anyone," he said. "That would be immoral. That's not what we're talking about here. What you have to learn is how to target your services to the right people."

Doctors aren't used to marketing themselves. That hasn't always been the way. As a matter of fact, he said, the first hospital to hire a marketing director didn't do so until 1976. In the ensuing 25 years, they've not gotten much better at the strategies.

Berkowitz used a combination of laughter and relevant information to get the doctors to think about how they might better market their business. The instructor bounded around the room involving the doctors in the discussion, using humor to make his points.

Trying to help define a market strategy, he asked to whom Pillsbury marketed its products.

"To women," shouted one doctor.

Berkowitz turned on him with mock indignation.

"Do you know what would happen to me if I went into my MBA class, half of whom are women, and said that?" he asked. "About 50 percent of their market is made up of men."

But that same sort of misconception about markets is why hospitals and physicians groups often fail with their marketing strategies, Berkowitz said.

"I can count on one hand the number of physicians…and I've talked about this to tens of thousands of them in the last 25 years who said they went to medical school 'to make tons of money,'" he noted. "You make a comfortable living. I want you to be able to market yourself so you can make a more comfortable living without sacrificing quality of care. And, for that, you need a strategy."

The strategy begins with knowing what the customer needs, what you can provide, what the size of the market is and how profitable it can be to satisfy the market, Berkowitz told the physicians.

"You can't produce lemon cake, even the best lemon cake, and expect to sell it in a market where most people want chocolate cake," he explained.

And once you get the pa-tients coming in, you have to keep them coming back. Berkowitz said patients, like retail customers, need to be kept satisfied. For example, it costs five times as much to get a new customer as it does to service the one you already have.

"You have to find out what the people want and give it to them," he told the group. "It's more important than you think."

Using careful research, strategic partnerships and even Internet technology, a physicians' group can become the McDonald's of its market rather than the White Castle.

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Last modified 16/March/2000 by IS