Marketing and Your Practice

William R. Pupkis, CMPE, Healthcare Consultant

An article in a hospital community newsletter paraphrased a physician’s feelings as to why he enjoyed his specialty, “…a balance of the things he enjoys most in medicine: the hands-on treatment, the challenge of the diagnostic interpretation and, most significantly, communication with patients. He particularly enjoys seeing the fruition of his work when the patient recovers and goes on to a healthier lifestyle.” This sentiment might be why many choose medicine as a profession. This philosophy, coupled with the interrelationship of patients, staff, systems, and healthcare, can also foster long-term practice success. More to the point, your techniques with patients, effective human resource management, and the way you interact with your colleagues are evidence of your philosophy regarding practice enhancement.

"marketing is a system of coordinated activities"

Marketing can be defined as the process of moving goods from the producer to the consumer, not just selling, advertising, and promoting. When applied to medicine, marketing is a system of coordinated activities centering on the interchange between patients and your practice. If you organize your practice to ensure that the level of services delivered meets the expectations of your patients’ needs and desires, you dramatically increase your likelihood of success.

It is my view, based on over 35 plus years in the business of medicine, that patients cannot judge their doctor by the delivery of basic medical care alone. I believe most people find that core too complex or too elusive to comprehend and their perception of their care comes from augmented activities, rather than the delivery of the core service. Patients, I feel, base their opinion on the most basic activities: your facility, the pleasantness of your staff, the ease of making appointments, and so on. Well managed, augmented services will enhance your core service by positively influencing your patients’ perceptions.


MarketingAndPracticeFor many patients, their first impression of your practice is via the telephone. Have your receptionist or telephone operators follow these guidelines: no eating or chewing on the phone; smile while talking; do not place the caller on hold until he or she agrees; check back every 30 seconds to a minute and always get the caller’s permission to be put on hold again; if the patient does not want to be put on hold, take his or her phone number to return the call; remain calm and helpful when dealing with an angry patient; never diagnose conditions or give medical advice over the phone – that is the doctor’s responsibility; treat patients with respect and empathy and never talk down to a patient; and, end the conversation by thanking the patient for calling and wait to hear him or her hang up first.

A visit to a doctor’s office is an important event in a patient’s life. He or she usually pays attention to everything said and done, attempting to evaluate your concern and compassion for him or her personally and to assess your competence as a physician. Patients are not trained to judge you medically, therefore, your attitude regarding cleanliness, service, and value must be apparent from the moment a patient calls for his or her appointment. Patients come to see you, and the staff assisting patients takes their lead from you. Your technique with patients is evidence of your philosophy regarding practice enhancement.

Human Resources

Whenever possible or allowed by law, delegate appropriate medical tasks to well-trained or educated assistants. You will have more time and attention to devote to those tasks for which you were trained. This demonstrates the confidence you have in the staff, fostering initiative and enthusiasm. Effective delegating can help you finish appointments on time, reduce stress, and create an environment that allows you to practice as you intend.

Jot down the tasks you perform on a regular basis and list the employees who have the potential or training to assist you with these tasks. Beside each person’s name, list his or her hourly pay; this helps to focus your decisions on the best person for the task.

Before delegating, write a description of the task and the way you want it performed. This step leaves little room for misunderstanding. To further ensure that a task is performed at your level of standards, follow a simple rule: “You get what you inspect, not what you expect,” or as President Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.”


Managing referral sources is vital to a practice’s growth. Patients will tell the referring physician about the level of care they received. Future referrals will come from physicians if they and their patients are satisfied. As you begin to develop an effective referral program, it will be helpful to understand your referral sources. Why are they referring to you and how you can improve your service to them?

My surveys with primary care physicians revealed that half wanted in-depth reports and half preferred synopsis-type reports. Inquire as to which style of report your referral sources want. A key element in building a good referral base is providing the service expected by the referring physician. I have found that the following factors influence referrals: friendliness with colleagues, turn-around time for the report, fitting their patients into your schedule, and NEVER sending a patient to another physician without first clearing it with the initial referral source.


Before making a diagnosis and choosing a course of treatment, you perform a history and physical exam. The business side of your practice needs a similar approach.

It is possible that in the past you practiced medicine without analyzing what you did well and what perception your patients had of your practice. However, patient demands are more critical today. Ask your patients and staff what the chief patient complaints are regarding physicians in your area. What do other physicians offer that you do not? Ask why the patients come to you and what your strengths and weaknesses are. Your objective is to identify and continue to nurture those aspects that have contributed to your practice’s growth in your market area.

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 11th, 2013 at 4:44 pm and is filed under Practice Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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