In case you’ve been sleeping in a cave these past few years, here’s a newsflash:
How people utilize and pay for medical services is mutating.
Rapidly. Like a freight train that changes boxcars at every stop.
And if you’re not careful about keeping up with it, that train is going to run your medical practice over — or leave you behind, at the very least.
I was privileged enough to attend a talk by Stephen T. Valentine, president of The Camden Group that advises hospitals and physicians on marketing and health care trends. 5 points leaped out immediately from his many excellent topics:
- “It’s not enough to let people know you’re out there, you have to tell them why they ought to come to you.”
- “The public is demanding more quick access to care.”
- HMO enrollments are dropping — have dropped about 10% in the past 3 years.
- Kaiser Permanente is coming on like, well, like a freight train, for patients and providers.
- Less costly, high deductible health plans/health HSA’s are similarly gaining in popularity.
Taken in isolation, not exactly earth shattering, but in the context of his entire presentation, a sobering wake-up call.
Medpros have GOT to get with the program and become familiar with self-marketing. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post: the days are coming to an end when it’s OK for you to offer a decent service, sit back while the patients seek you out — and if they don’t like how you practice medicine, you regrettably wish them well, and elsewhere.
Even if HMO’s don’t dictate the majority of payment arrangements where you practice, the basic model of PPO’s still operates under a similar mechanism: a relatively small up-front office copay by the patient, with the majority of the bill to be collected later from the health plan.
We’re seeing the start of a landslide towards another mechanism altogether.
How will patients look differently at health care, when they will be responsible for the full cash price of the first few thousand dollars that you (and other providers) charge them? Or, if you practice in an area where Kaiser does, why would patients choose you over them, with their organizational emphasis on health prevention and comprehensive services?
And if you’re a medical group, why would newly minted providers — medpros — come to work for you instead of Kaiser, if Kaiser is offering moderately high guaranteed salaries, turnkey practice startups, and major partnership/retirement benefits?
Well, lots of reasons, actually And it’s up to YOU to use tools like podcasts and blogs to get the word out.
But it’s not going to happen by itself. It takes thought and planning to position yourself favorably, and constant tending and upkeep:
- He who talks FIRST talks best. You can and should distinguish yourself with your unique gifts and excellence, but it never hurts to be the guy everyone else is chasing. Define a subset of what you do passionately and well, then get the word out NOW.
- Baby steps are smallest, but they advance the quickest. With a tip o’ the hat to Scott Sonnon and Steven Barnes, bodywork and life coaching advisors extraordinaire, start where you’re at and then build out a little, then build on that, then build on that. Get your website up to get an internet presence, then start blogging on it. Add podcasting as soon as you can. Work on improving your writing skills, then investigate search engine optimization strategies to draw more people. Think about increasing your efficiency using these technologies. Consider an online store. And so on.
- Change hurts, but it’s better than being dead. “It’s no fun getting old,” some patients tell me, remarking on their aches, stresses, weight gain, and other bodily changes. Retooling your medical mindset may not be fun either, but let’s face it: how admirable is it to stay the way you are, if that means being complacent? Medpros who work on a cash basis (cosmetic plastic surgeons, boutique or concierge PCP’s) have known this forever: your practice sinks or swims based on how well you meet and anticipate the demands of your customers — yes, customers. Less “Show them the door if they don’t like how I’m 3 patients behind and working as fast as I can, doggone it!” and more “Would you like a little demitasse? And the doctor is almost always on time, please come this way.”
My take on entrepreneurs is this: they don’t take no for an answer from more complacent folk, but they totally and without question respect their bottom line — if a beloved ad that they wrote isn’t selling product, it gets cut; if a “great” idea they had isn’t going anywhere, out it goes.
Consider strongly becoming an “entrepreneur” with regards to marketing your medical practice. You can no longer afford to ignore reality: patients ARE paying more out of pocket for less health care, and ARE demanding more for their dollars. Your patients need you, yes, but you can’t serve them well with your nose up against the grindstone, grimly doing your one thing. Find out what THEY need — shorter wait times, quicker access, more convenient hours, more value for their ca$h — and give it to them. And use blogging and podcasting to get the word out.