Many physicians fail to invest time and money in marketing and promoting their practice. However, marketing their practice is a wise investment that helps ensure financial stability and allows them to reach short- and long-term goals. There are many marketing and promotional tools that, used effectively, can provide huge returns on investment. In the past, psychiatrists had casual conversations over lunch in the doctors’ lounge, which facilitated referrals. Psychiatrists no longer regularly run into their referral physicians; consequently, they have to seek alternative ways to outreach with referral sources.
A common challenge to marketing a psychiatric practice is that mental health patients are not likely to promote your expertise with friends and colleagues. This lack of personal referrals from current patient to potential patient means that you will have to promote your services on your own.
Before you advertise your services, it is important to take an honest look at your current state of operations. The efficient and effective operations of your practice are prerequisites to successful marketing. Without good operations, much of the marketing effort and expense will be wasted.
Establish a marketing baseline
Your marketing plan needs to start with a snapshot of your current practice—the baseline assessment. The Sidebar provides questions that will help you analyze your practice the way it is—and how you would ideally like it to be. Thoughtful and honest responses to the questions allow you to examine your practice before starting your marketing efforts. (Parenthetical comments help guide you to consider various aspects of your practice.)
A baseline helps you know the starting point for any marketing efforts. Maybe you notice that your referral base is 100% dependent on the office down the hall, but you would ideally like to get referrals from other groups—such as local primary care doctors. Maybe your clients are mainly adults, but ideally you would want to have more pediatric referrals. After conducting a baseline assessment, you can develop a marketing plan 12 months out.
To determine your ideal mix of practice factors, answer the questions in the Sidebar for a second time. (The first time will help you determine where you are currently with your practice.) You might practice in a city but would like to move your practice to the suburbs. Maybe you specialize in relapse prevention but are not able to focus on your specialty with your current patients. Responding to the questions twice helps you identify what you want to move toward—which is the first step for your marketing plan.
■ Marketing your practice is a wise investment that helps ensure financial stability and allows you to reach your short- and long-term goals. Efficient and effective operations of your practice are prerequisites to successful marketing.
■ Mental health patients probably will not promote your expertise with friends and colleagues. This lack of personal referrals from current patient to potential patient means you will have to promote your services on your own.
■ A Web site for your practice is the most valuable marketing tool you can have. It is worth the investment.
■ Retaining your existing patients for already-scheduled appointments is one of the most critical aspects of internal marketing.
Build on what you already have
According to the Medical Group Management Association, a single-specialty practice with fewer than 3 full-time equivalent physicians spends $1486 per physician on marketing expenses.1 Most practices spend less than half of a percent of total net medical revenue on marketing. Family practices spend an average of $2190 per year per physician. Pediatricians spend about the same per physician. When analyzing your annual budget, you will see typical expenses such as employee salaries and benefits, malpractice insurance, postage, copy machine maintenance, but none of those expenses directly affects your net profit.
These necessary management costs are basically drains on your income. But marketing and promotion, if done correctly, can actually positively affect your revenue.
The easiest way to improve your practice’s marketing process is to sustain and improve the continuity of care with established patients. There is very little cost and effort required for you to retain patients who can continue to get their mental health needs met by you. A typical physician practice has a 10% no-show rate, but a psychiatric or mental health practice often has up to a 50% no-show rate.2 Retaining your existing patients for already-scheduled appointments is one of the most critical aspects of internal marketing.
To retain current patients, you need a system in place for appointment reminders. Appointment reminders can be done by telephone either manually or using an automated system. According to a study from the National Library of Medicine, the most common reason for patients missing an appointment is “I forgot.” A reminder system can reduce this leading cause.2
Set realistic goals that you can work to achieve in small stages. You do not want to feel overwhelmed by the entirety of your marketing plan. Instead, set a goal to meet with 3 referral sources a month. It will be easy to see whether you accomplished your goal each week or month when your goal states a specific number. For example, plan to call one referral source a week or write one personal thank-you note a week to a referral source.
Web sites cannot be ignored as a valuable marketing tool. Now that information is easily searchable on the Internet, very few people look for a physician in the phone book. A Web site for your practice is the most valuable marketing tool you can have; it is worth the investment. For information about what to include in your Web site, see Table 1.
According to David Straight, president of E-rehab, LLC, a company that specializes in custom-designed medical practice Web sites and Internet marketing packages, “It’s not a do-it-yourself” project.3 You want to find a marketing expert in your area to put together an online Web package that will provide information to patients about your practice. Furthermore, the online expert can keep the Web site dynamic by adding articles to a medical library and updating links of your choice.
The costs of creating and maintaining a Web site vary and range from $1500 to $4000, depending on the marketing strategy you choose for your practice. Monthly fees, which range from $25 to $200, also vary but help ensure that you will not have to hassle with domain name renewal and online security.
Once you have the content for your Web site, you can produce a brochure that will help people find your Web site. Brochures can be distributed in physicians’ waiting rooms, churches, and referral sources; they provide more information about your practice than a business card. Table 2 provides suggested information that you may want to include in the brochure.
Target desirable insurance providers and employers
Another important marketing goal is to target specific insurance providers. Once you have assessed which insurance payers you already contract with (Sidebar question 7), you can broaden your network of payers if you have availability. Go online to research government agencies that have oversight responsibility for insurance carriers in your state. A comprehensive list of Divisions of Insurance throughout the United States is located online at http://USASearch.gov. Your state’s Division of Insurance will give you an idea of which insurance providers are worthwhile participation networks to pursue. The Division of Insurance will also provide information on which medical insurance companies require referrals from primary care physicians.
To get on the list of providers for Employee Assistance Programs, consider introducing yourself to the human resources (HR) staff of the closest or largest employers in your area. Contact the HR directors and ask about mental health benefits they provide to their employees. Inform your HR contact that you work locally and let them know about the specific services and benefits of your practice.
Avoid billing pitfalls such as sending repeat bills and/or “This is not a bill” statements. This excess paperwork only serves to confuse and annoy patients. Instruct your billing company to write off small balances, for example less than $10, and do not send patient notices for negligent amounts that are less than the cost of postage (or $1).
Avoid being sold something that is not budgeted or written into your 12-month marketing plan. For example, a salesperson may attempt to convince you to place a full-page advertisement in a publication. The publication might lack a track record, but the salesperson promises fantastic results. Avoid “spaghetti marketing”—throwing something at the wall and seeing what sticks. Instead, create a cohesive campaign.4
Knowing the results of your strategy—return on investment—will encourage you to continue and/or expand your marketing efforts.5 A simple way to track your marketing results is to list the ways you market and ask new patients to check all of the ways that they have heard about you. Check off your goals as you achieve them.
Marcia L. Brauchler is a health care consultant and founder of Physicians’ Ally, Inc. She advises physicians and practice administrators on managed care contracts, reimbursement, coding and compliance. She reports no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
1. Medical Group Management Associations. Cost Survey for Single-Specialty Practices; 2007. http://www5.mgma.com/ecom/Default.aspx?tabid=138?action=INVProductDetails&args=2671. Accessed January 8, 2010.
2. American Academy of Professional Coders. AAPC Medical Coding and Billing Forums: Billing for Failed Appointments; 2009. http://www.aapc.com/MemberArea/forums/showthread.php?t=25674. Accessed January 8, 2009.
3. Straight D. www.e-rehab.com. Accessed January 5, 2010.
4. Williams RH. Debug Your Ad Campaign. http://www.entrepreneur.com/advertising/adcolumnistroyhwilliams/article61504.html. Accessed January 5, 2010.
5. Oriente EF. Three Ways to Track Your Advertising Like a Hawk. http://www.comportone.com/cpo/business/oriente/oriente.htm. Accessed January 5, 2010.