Whatever your practice setting, technology can help you grow
Marketing is the effort of promoting your practice to a target group, with the goal of maintaining or improving the financial health of the practice. Although some orthopaedic surgeons claim to be averse to “marketing,” it is necessary to keep a practice viable.
Using e-mail to market
Technology can play a significant role in effective marketing. Letting patients, referral physicians, and hospital emergency departments know about your services is now easier than ever with direct mail and e-mail. When new patients register, always ask them for their e-mail addresses (although if a patient does not have one or elects not to provide it, respect his or her wishes and do not press the issue).
Having e-mail addresses adds greatly to efficient use of your patient database. In my practice, for example, we e-mail parents at the start of the high school sport season, reminding them of our availability as a resource for orthopaedic questions, and especially in the event of an injury. My practice also has a referral provider e-mail database to disseminate new hours of operation, contact numbers, and other informational matters. Depending on the type of orthopaedic practice you have, other applications may prove helpful.
Keep it low key
Marketing works best when it is subtle and information-focused. Webcasts (and podcasts) are easy to produce and may become an information resource for both patients and referral physicians. All you need to produce a podcast is a microphone, the appropriate computer program (some are downloadable at no charge), and a connection to the Internet.
Print media (newspapers and magazines) are useful, but typically have a long time cycle before your message can be disseminated, and the target audience is harder to control. Broadcast media (radio and TV) can also be used to market a specific service, but may be expensive and time-consuming.
From my perspective, online communications efforts are both cost-efficient and timely. I find past patients are always the best source of new patients, and e-mail is usually the easiest way to keep in touch with them.
Suit the approach to your practice type
Orthopaedic practices are typically categorized as academic practices, group practices, or solo practices. Group practices sometimes are further distinguished as being an integrated group model—usually a large multispecialty group such as Kaiser—or a single-specialty group practice, be it large or small. Approaches to marketing will vary with the practice type.
Marketing approaches for an academic practice should focus on reaching a broad spectrum of patients, because most academic practices contract with all payors—government as well as most managed care organizations. An academic marketing approach should use print, radio, television, and other general population media to increase the number of patient referrals.
Academic practices should access university assets such as a campus radio station, put articles into campus publications, and tag onto TV and radio spots. Academicians should focus on tertiary care services that are not available to community practices to differentiate themselves from community providers.
Marketing for a large multispecialty group is usually done at the corporate level, directly with employers and other medical specialists within the group. Physicians frequently tend to market only to their area of subspecialty interest. Outside marketing is rarely necessary because patients tend to be “captured” by contracts in these groups.
The single-specialty group practice can be further subdivided into large groups (those with 12 or more surgeons) and small groups (2 to 12 surgeons).
Large group practices may want to direct their marketing efforts toward establishing a “brand” identification and to referring physicians and other nonspecialists, using print, radio, and television. Large group practices tend to contract with most payors and insurers, as well as government payors. If the group handles workers compensation claims, targeting large employers or networks of employers may generate a workers compensation contract.
Small group practices may benefit from using similar approaches, especially to referral physicians. When approaching referring physicians, the group must be sure that the contracts accepted by the group match the referral physicians’ contracts. Group practices may also consider adding locations near referring physicians’ offices and obtaining staff privileges at several hospitals.
Marketing of small group practices can involve technology at multiple levels. Information on specialty expertise can be disseminated by e-mail, Web conferences, and Web casts. Podcasts can be sent via e-mail to potential referral providers, including other orthopaedic surgeons. The goal of the podcast should be to provide useful, directed information about a complex subject (for example, hip impingement syndrome) that will not only educate the listener, but also facilitate further consultation.
For the solo practitioner, the key to successful marketing is patient-to-patient marketing rather than referral physician marketing. Although the practice may do some referral physician marketing, a solo orthopaedic surgeon can develop enough patient-to-patient referrals to enable the practice to operate autonomously of surrounding referral physicians. Once patient-to-patient marketing and referral patterns have been established, the solo practitioner can begin to drop contracts that are onerous or less profitable, ultimately including government contracts.
A personal Web site is useful, but can be cumbersome to maintain for the solo practitioner. One useful way to use the Web site is to have it interface with the office management system. If patients or potential patients are able to log on to the site to make or change appointments, it is truly an interactive, positive function.
The marketing of orthopaedic surgery practices, although complex, is really dictated by the practice type. Each type of orthopaedic practice has certain target patient populations. And the most effective marketing plans take advantage of the technologies that allow those patient populations to be identified and facilitate the delivery of your message.
For information on free templates for group and solo practitioners to establish practice Web sites, visit www.aaos.org/orthodoc
Thomas J. Grogan, MD, is a member of the AAOS Practice Management Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org