Marketing is “TOO” Important

January 10, 2006

The incomes of many medical practices will be impacted as the healthcare industry continues to go through its own changes and new payment patterns begin to evolve; the result could be a stagnation or decline in the revenue streams of some practice units. Therefore maintaining and growing revenues will most assuredly become a priority for many medical offices. How a practice markets itself will depend on whether it is a primary-care practice or a referral-based practice. Regardless of the specific type of practice, some marketing efforts are common to all medical practices. Some of these strategies can be adopted by other health care providers as well.

Internal Marketing Strategies

Most internal marketing strategies a medical practice can adopt are common sense, but sometimes their importance is understated. The internal decor, behavior of the staff members, and policies of the practice must create a friendly and professional impression in the minds of its patients and referring physicians.

As a bare minimum, the following questions should be answered during analysis of the internal office environment:

1. Is the reception area comfortable for the patients? or do the patients feel like they are sitting in a morgue?

2. Are patients provided with activities, such as a television or magazines, while they wait for their appointments?

3. Do the patients have to wait a long time in the reception area for their appointments?

4. Is the front-desk staff courteous and willing to help the patients and the offices of the referring physicians?

5. How do the nurses and other clinical staff treat and interact with patients? Do they go out of their way to help patients? Are they friendly and composed? How helpful are they over the telephone?

6. Are the office’s policies and procedures creating bad impressions?

7. Are thank-you cards for new patient referrals; both to physicians and patients; routinely and consistently mailed out?

8. Does the physician spend adequate time with the patients in the exam rooms?

9. Does the office have a recall system? Many primary-care practices lose revenue simply because they do not have a system in place that will prompt patients to come back to the office for visits.

External Marketing Strategies

Following are some external marketing strategies that the office manager and physician should consider using.


Every practice should have a professional brochure it can hand to patients, mail out, or give to referring physicians. The brochure should provide general information about the practice, its services, and its policies. It can also convey an image about the practice. To create visibility for the practice, a primary-care practice may mail the brochure to a targeted list of people in the local area. A referral-based practice can distribute the brochure to its current and potential referring physicians. Again, the goal is to create positive visibility for the practice.

Direct mail

A primary-care office in particular needs to create visibility and name recognition in the local area. To create instant and ongoing visibility with direct mail, the practice could mail its brochure or similar marketing tool to targeted patients in the area. Keep in mind, however, that one mailing by itself will not create visibility. Any direct mail campaign must be consistent AND LONG TERM.


A newsletter from the practice can be sent out by both a primary-care practice and referral-based medical specialty practice. Usually created and mailed on a quarterly basis, the newsletter informs patients and referring physicians about clinical issues and the office.

Season’s greetings

Do not forget the year-end thank-you letters to all patients and referring physicians. The letters are final notes of appreciation to patients for their patronage and to both patients and physicians for their referrals. The thank-you letters also serve as reminders that the practice is growing and would like to receive additional referrals.


The success of advertising will usually depend on the medical specialty; It works for some medical offices and not for others. If an office is receiving almost all of its new patient referrals from other physicians, it may not make sense to spend money on advertising. If, however, a practice does not receive much new revenue from referrals, it should investigate developing an advertising program in yellow pages or a local newspaper or periodical.

Relationships with other physicians or physicians’ offices     

For a practice that is based on referrals, the best marketing strategy is for the practice’s physician to go out of his or her way to meet potential referring physicians. Developing relationships is the key to generating patient referrals. To be successful, the physician should eat in the physicians’ lounge or nearby hangouts where the other physicians regularly eat. The practice’s physician should take referring physicians to dinner at regular intervals or go to the offices of potential referring physicians to discuss the possibility of developing cross-referral relationships. Make sure the practice’s brochure is mailed to all potential referring physicians.

Managed-care plans

When physicians sign with managed-care plans, they often feel that no further marketing efforts directed toward managed-care enrollees are necessary. Usually, when a managed-care plan enrollee gets ill, he or she chooses a physician by looking in the physician roster book or asking a fellow employee to give a referral.

The goal of marketing in a managed-care atmosphere is to eliminate both of these customs. A managed-care enrollee should have the practice in mind and call it directly when he or she needs medical attention. To achieve this, the practice must concentrate on marketing efforts that increase its visibility. The physicians could call the human resources directors at the companies that pay premiums to the managed-care plan and inquire about presenting a seminar to the employees. If the employer or managed-care plan has a newsletter, perhaps the physicians can submit articles. Finally, the practice can offer free or reduced-rate services to the employees of the companies. Examples include cholesterol testing and blood pressure screening. These kinds of activities will bring much needed visibility to the practice and generate patients’ visits to the office.

A referral-based practice in the managed-care setting should review the providers on the plan. If no referral relationship is in place, the practice should attempt to establish a relationship so it can expand its list of potential referring physicians.

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