The “M” word in private practice: Marketing
When I managed a clinical staff in the hospital environment nobody liked the word “productivity.” We’d refer to it as the “P” word, because it had such negative connotations when discussing job performance and the overall operations of the clinical staff. It was as if by discussing it, we were saying that production was more important than quality in the care that was delivered. It was untrue of course, but the misconception was difficult to overcome, and the “P” word remained.
The “P” word was my first exposure to the world of misconceptions in the healthcare industry with regard to the juxtaposition of “business” and “healthcare.” There are many others though, and often times talking about issues such as profitability, collection of patient co-pays and controlling expenses conjures the same emotions that I used to stir up when talking about “P.”
Marketing is one of these, and while I haven’t come to the conclusion that it’s yet worthy of the single acronym, “M,” it certainly is a contender – especially when it comes to specialty care. It is felt by many specialists that marketing doesn’t have a place in private practice – the provision of high quality care should be enough.
If only that were the case.
Marketing is important, but not in the same was that it is for auto sales and credit cards. Marketing is simply the process of letting those in your community know what you have to offer. I will counsel practice owners that if they truly believe in the service they are offering their community, than it is part of their professional responsibility to educate others so that the community can receive the benefits of their care. A great clinician who is disenchanted with marketing to the extent that they don’t build up a following does little good to anyone.
Here is a great reference from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons that speaks to this very point in the context of marketing counsel for neurosurgeons – a specialty that historically does little marketing, and instead relies mostly upon the laurels of their specialized service offering to do the work of building up a patient base.
Negative connotations blemish marketing. The “M” word conjures up images of a plaid-coated, hand-waving carnival barker hawking discounted cars or televisions. The assumption is that it’s perfectly OK to pitch cars and washing machines but inappropriate to promote a health service.
Well, it is indecorous to aggressively advertise a health practice. But that’s not what marketing is. Marketing is a more sophisticated and more subtle strategy than blatant advertising. Even the most conservative neurosurgeon, one emotionally tied to the healthcare climate of prior generations, would feel comfortable with a genuine marketing plan.