Today's News

Friday, March 2, 2001

Being a good doctor is no longer enough

Simply being a good doctor isn't enough to attract and keep patients in today's competitive marketplace. Doctors need to develop business plans, advertise, reach out to and know their market, both patients and referring physicians.

In short, they need to strategize to be a product consumers will seek above the competition.

These were the words of advice from Eric N. Berkowitz, PhD, a business professor and head of the MBA program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who delivered an instructional course on strategic positioning and marketing Wednesday.

"Your real value extends beyond the clinical service, that's just the cost of entry," said Berkowitz, who consults with a range of health care organizations on marketing. "How are you better than the competition, what's your advantage."

To survive in an increasingly competitive environment, doctors need to go beyond clinical skills, and offer enhanced customer service, from having a comfortable office with friendly staff to providing timely and convenient appointments.

Practical web sites that allow patients to make appointments, order prescriptions, and get quick answers to their questions are increasingly wise marketing tools, he said.

Rather than focus primarily on drawing new patients, invest in keeping the old ones coming back, he said. "What are you doing to raise the exit barriers, so patients won't leave."

The key to developing a popular practice is in planning with a close eye on the market, or the desires and needs of patients and referring physicians, Berkowitz said.

"Can you succeed being non-market driven, if you're lucky," he said.

The best way to know what the market wants, he said, is to ask.

Marketing surveys, patient satisfaction questionnaires and personal meetings with other doctors provide invaluable information on running a practice that people will choose, he said.

For specialists, like orthopaedists, it is especially important to develop good communication with referring physicians because they're the real source of getting patients or the "primary market," he said.

"No amount of advertising will ever get one doctor to refer to another. The only way that's going to be done is by that physician knowing the other physician," Berkowitz said.

Find out what general physicians look for when making an orthopaedic referral, such as having an office in a certain location or a specific time frame for getting an appointment, he said.

Berkowitz also recommends analyzing patient surveys and making the information available to referring physicians, so they have a clear idea of an orthopaedists standing with patients.

If the surveys reveal problems, change them, he said.

Beyond this, Berkowitz advocates specialists linking computer systems with general practitioners, giving them easy access to patient follow up information.

It's common to assume lowering prices will lure business, but this isn't the case, Berkowitz said. "The solution is not to lower prices, it's to offer better service."

For doctors in group practices, Berkowitz emphasized the need for all partners to be on board with marketing plans and actions. "Get your partners to buy in at the front end," he said.

"As competitive as the market is today, it's nowhere near as competitive as it's going to be."

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Last modified 02/March/2001 by IS