Marketing Your New Physicians: A Critical Stage in the Onboarding Process
By Ann Maloley, MBA, Lead Consultant, Barlow/McCarthy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Newly recruited physicians are most vulnerable during the first two years of practice. That fact combined with the challenges and costs of physician recruitment makes the need for a comprehensive onboarding plan vitally important.
There is much being written about new physician onboarding these days; in fact, great strategies and ideas on the topic have been printed in this journal. I’d like to use this opportunity to share some thoughts about a specific category of onboarding and one that makes the “get acquainted” pieces of onboarding all the more important. This is about practice development.
Because the support you are able to legally provide in this area is different for employed physicians than it is for private physicians, I share my commentary with employed physicians in mind. However, I think you will find much of it applicable to either.
We know that the ultimate goal should be to build a foundation that allows the physician to be efficient and busy as soon as possible, which is why a discussion about marketing and positioning strategies with the new physician should take place prior to their arrival. With the objective to drive patients to the practice, an action plan of introductions and relationship-building activities should launch immediately after the physician is in place.
It will be important for the physician to understand her obligation in this function and this discussion should start to uncover the most ideal strategies and tactics. This is also a good time to articulate your organization’s brand and market position and discuss ways the physician can leverage and support the organization’s mission.
I believe before an effective marketing plan can be developed for the new physician, it is important to understand certain things about the physician and practice. Doing your homework on the front end will help prevent wasted resources and a potentially flawed strategy later.
Create a tool that allows you to conduct an in-depth marketing assessment with the new physician. Following is a set of questions that can help shape your assessment. Use the information you glean from this effort to help prepare realistic objectives and an action plan that competitively positions the new physician and drives business into his/her practice.
Interview with the physician
Learn the physician’s expectations and future goals for his/her practice. Pose questions such as:
- Describe the marketing objectives for your practice.
- What words would you use to describe the position you would like to claim in this market? Probe using these categories:
- Clinical Excellence
- Outcomes Data/Quality
- Service Delivery
- How and for what would you like to be known?
- To the public
- To referring physicians
- Are there any special clinical designations, certifications, etc., tied to your program or your training that we should know about?
- What percentage of your business would you expect to come from referring physicians vs. direct from patients?
- Describe the physician profile that you would consider to be your best sources for referrals in terms of specialty, patient base, etc.
- Do you have a set of communication protocols that you plan to put into place for staying in touch with the referring physician when they send you a patient?
- Are there any value-added services that will make the experience for the referring physician and/or the patient different?
- What do you see as your role in marketing your practice?
- What marketing strategies are you personally most interested and comfortable with (e.g. community events) speaking/screenings, media interviews, educational sessions, writing newsletters, articles, etc.?
If the new physician is joining an existing practice, conduct a brief interview with the practice manager to explore topics that will provide a broader framework and understanding of the practice. Examine these areas:
- The clinic’s brand and reputation
- In the community/with the public
- With referring physicians
- With patients
- The clinic’s access and service standards
- Appointment scheduling process
- In-office protocol — check-in, wait times, steps before seeing the physician
- Referral communication process
- Current geographic parameters/target service area
- The “ideal” patient for the practice
- Payer opportunities or restrictions
- Competition — geographic reach, share of market and position they “own” or are trying to own
Marketing plan structure
With answers to these questions, you’re ready to build the marketing plan. The marketing plan should summarize the unique market opportunity that is presented with the arrival of the new physician. The plan should define objectives, target markets to reach and the key messages to be incorporated in various promotional materials. Then in the end you should have an action plan that maps out the specific activities, accountabilities, budget and timeline.
I will close with the following marketing plan outline. It is provided as an example of the sections that you might include in such a plan. You will know best how this should be adjusted to work in your organization.
- In this section articulate the brand position you want to claim
- Set both quantitative and qualitative objectives
In this section list broad strategies that will define the specific activities to be defined later. Here are a couple of examples:
- Launch marketing tactics to targeted geographic regions where there is a need for the new service
- Demonstrate through data and third party literature the unique credentials and expertise of new physician
- Physicians – outline key physician categories as best prospects for the new physician’s services
- Patients – summarize target patient groups by demographic and/or psychographic designation, disease/treatment category, etc.
- Communities – list the specific cities/towns, counties or other regional designations here
- Internal audiences – identify key constituents that should be made aware of the physician’s arrival
The new physician should be positioned using messages centered on market differentiators such as:
- The first or only in the area to provide….
- Unmatched clinical expertise in….as determined by (credentials, training, outcomes, recognition, etc.)
- A new extension of the current service (or capabilities) already being provided in…
Possible tactics – include timeline, accountability and budget
- Kick-off introductions
- Patient/community outreach
- Physician-to-physician relations — field activities
- External communications
- Opinion leaders
- Internal communications
- Web/interactive/social media strategy
- Media relations
- Pitch and place
- Medical expert source
- Speaker’s bureau
- CME/Grand Rounds/Teaching
- On-call physician referral list
- Referral communication protocols