The Healthcare Entrepreneur Blog

The “M” word in private practice: Marketing

by Tannus Quatre PT, MBA | July 31st, 2008 | 2 responses

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.

Tannus Quatre PT, MBA
Tannus Quatre is a private practice consultant and principal with Vantage Clinical Solutions, Inc., a nationwide healthcare consulting and management firm located in Bend, OR and Denver, CO. Tannus specializes in the areas of healthcare marketing, strategy, and finance, and can be reached through the Vantage Clinical Solutions website.
  • I had a Marketing professor 30 years ago that said something I never forgot: “Marketing isn’t something you do to someone.” His point being the core principal of marketing is to identify what the market needs, create a way to fill that need better than the competition, and then let the market know what you have!

    A EVP of Strategic Planning at a large Academic Medical Center client of mine kicked off a quality improvement initiative with the following comments. “I used to lead strategic planning for a major soft drink producer. My job was gain market share; to sell more product than the competition. But my job didn’t matter. It was just sugared water. Whether we sold more sugared water, or anybody sold more sugared water, it wasn’t going to make the world a better place. But you have been given a gift. What you do matters. You make people well… Pour your heart into making us the highest quality hospital possible. If we succede the market, the financial rewards, and the emotional rewards will follow.”

    He was right. And they did.

    I am 100% in favor of hospitals and physicians “marketing” in such a way. Invest in the process improvement, technology, organization and culture change required to provide truly “world class” health care. And then tell your market all about it… loudly and often! Success will follow.

  • A case in point in support of “M”. I was the head of marketing for an internationally recognized health outcomes measurement company led and managed, at the time, by truly brillant/talented scientists with a few business execs watching the bottom line. The scientists showed no more than polite disdain for initial marketing efforts to “tell our story” in a manner that would have impact and meaning to a population not holding more than one PhD :-), while the business side of the house saw me as a cost center– and a big one at that.

    With an enlightened CEO at the helm, however, I was able to redo their website and develop collateral, advertising, online marketing and well-attended educational forums. We went from under $1M in revenue in 2001 to over $12M in less than five years — and the $11M+ we picked up were/are companies and organizations now measuring health outcomes to better understand burden of disease and treatment effectiveness as a means to improve utilization. The ROI is that the people who need care the most get it before they become the next “big spender”– and they can be screened from the population pro-actively.

    Marketing in health care to me is analgous to public service. You do it because you believe that what is offered will make a difference — and filling that need is important.