by Cary C. Cox
Cary Cox is a marketing and public relations professional who heads Cox Marketing Group in Charlotte, N.C.
Here you are, the top of your profession. You have spared no expense in your education and, upon graduation, you've worked hard and given excellent patient service.
Then why isn't your practice achieving its potential? It could be because no one knows about you and your achievements. If you haven't let prospective patients know of the benefits they receive when consulting you, then they haven't yet realized what they are missing. Let them know by marketing your business.
Step one: determine your audience. Who is most apt to utilize your service? By determining who you are trying to reach, it will be easier to determine what your message is and the tactics to employ to insure it is on target. Make a list of your target groups and make sure you reach at least one group in each of your efforts. These groups should include primary care physicians and former/current patients. Depending upon your special interest, this list could also include seniors, daycare centers, and sports organizations.
Step two: know your competition. Who are they? How are they positioned in the marketplace? Find out as much as possible about the services offered by other orthopaedic surgeons or other competing health care practitioners in your area. Look at your rivals to determine their strengths and weaknesses. Your goal is to position your practice as different-and better. Determine what your strengths are-what you do better than anyone else. You are looking for your niche.
Step three: find your hook. Put yourself in your patients' place and determine "what's in it for them." The world is motivated by self-interest. Your service must fill a perceived need. Your goal is to show prospective patients that they will be better off as a result of utilizing your services. You know what you can do for them. Now, let them know, too. Are you in a key location, open during convenient hours? Do you offer a multitude of "human touch" services or perhaps you focus solely on geriatric patients? Fill a hole to insure your success instead of trying to be all things to all people.
Step four: choose your tactics. Remember, no one can accomplish every good idea, so pick those that you are most comfortable with. Focus your resources on accomplishing them. Are you a good speaker? If so, pursue speaking engagements. Not very good on your feet, but smooth with the written word? Then an ongoing newspaper column may be a better choice for you. Make sure that you keep your target groups in mind when choosing your tactics.
If an idea does not attempt to reach a target group, then don't do it. Don't feel you have to accept a speaking engagement at a sports facility if athletes are not a target group for you. Your resources are limited, so use them wisely and effectively.
Here is how the Academy can help. The best and most cost-effective way to generate new patient business is through education. An informed patient is a better patient. The Academy has developed a series of professional, easy-to-read brochures on common orthopaedic problems and their solutions. The back of each brochure has ample space for you to personalize it with your name, address, and phone number.
Displaying these brochures in your office can enhance your practice, but don't stop there. Consider distributing your personalized brochures through your local hospital at community health fairs, through referring physicians to their patients, and to sports enthusiasts through local sporting goods stores.
The Academy also has developed slide shows for some of their public education programs like Live It Safe, targeted to the elderly; Play It Safe, geared to pediatrics; and Lift It Safe, for home caregivers. A Drive It Safe slide set, great for civic groups, will be available in a few months. Accompanying these slide shows are talking points for you to use to easily pursue speaking engagements.
Retirement communities, civic groups, local hospitals and PTAs are always looking for speakers. Develop your talk with the same information and structure that you use every day with your patients - it's just a larger audience. Leave enough time for questions and answers at the end so attendees can get the specific information that they are interested in obtaining.
Be sure to take the Academy brochures on the subject you are speaking to use for handouts and on other subjects the group might be interested in. For example, you may be discussing Live It Safe, about preventing falls to the elderly, but you could also make available brochures on arthritis, orthopaedics, carpal tunnel syndrome, common foot problems, osteoporosis, and total joint replacement. Again, personalize these brochures with your name and phone number so attendees can contact you further.
Many newspapers, especially weeklies, welcome quality information for their readers. Suggest to them that you will write a periodic column on interesting orthopaedic issues. Make sure you are given a byline by the paper and include your phone number. You can base your articles on the Academy brochures and you can emphasize areas, like common foot problems, that the public may not easily associate with orthopaedics. By taking every opportunity to educate people, you are also marketing yourself and potentially increasing your profitability.
You can inform your readers that they can obtain free brochures from the Academy by sending a self-addressed, stamped business-sized envelope to "name of the brochure," American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, P.O. Box 2058, Des Plaines, Ill. 60017.
If you want a complete list of patient education brochures or want to order brochures, you can call the Academy's fax-on-demand telephone service (800) 999-2939 and order document 1600. For further assistance contact the Academy's department of communications at (800) 346-2267.