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Medical Practice Business And Marketing Articles

Article #F - Mar. 2009

"Your Greatest Asset Of Your Marketing
Strategy Genius Can Kill Your Medical Practice"

The essence of establishing patient relationships.

And... what is that?  Ever wonder why your patients chose you for their health and medical care rather than another doctor? Have you ever asked them? It might be a very smart idea to do it.

Some physicians exploit their surgical prowess to draw in patients.  Others get patients who need their doctor to dictate to them in strong fashion what they need to do.  Well, those approaches work well for some doctors to recruit patients, but patients do not stay long in those practices.

Most physicians prefer to have their patients remain in their practices for long periods of time where good rapport is developed and consistently results in more efficient and better medical care.  You already know that--but, is that really why your patients keep coming back to you? 

Surgical specialty physicians operate on a patient and further services aren't usually needed... they're cured.  But, how the patient is treated during that experience will determine whether they return to that doctor for the next operation they need... similarly, they continue with your care
because of how they're treated.

One fact is clear.  You'll lose patients right and left if your personality leaves a lot to be desired.  Marketers know that most purchases are based on emotion, and later rationalized by the left brain.  The key here is how you respond to your patients in an emotional way.  People buy the new car often because they really like the salesman, what he says, and how he says it.

Consider then some of the emotional factors in relating to patients that make or break you.  Let's call it your "patient" personality.

  • Greeting your patients

  • Discussing medical treatment

  • Respecting a patient's choice

  • Offering options to their care

  • Being willing to adapt to their whims

A. Greeting

We're taught in medical school it's important to avoid a bad attitude when treating or consulting with a patient, no matter what is going on in your thoughts or your environment.  Even if the patient you are seeing belongs to one of your associates.  Right?

First impressions are immediate in a patient's mind.  The second you walk into the exam room the patient senses your body language, mental preoccupation, and voice tone characteristics, all of which tells them what you may not want them to recognize.  So, what's your tactic for
disemboweling yourself of that invisible cloud you are carrying
around with you?

My suggestion is first... make it a habit pattern of making eye to eye contact with the patient immediately and maintain that until you have finished your verbal greeting.

  • Not making eye to eye contact, immediately indicates to the patient you are too busy to take much time with them--your mind is somewhere else--you don't want the patient to present them with 10 medical questions, thus isolating yourself from the patient you lose trust, respect,
    and professionalism.

  • I have a VA doctor whom I see on occasion who walks into the exam room head and eyes fixed to the far wall, no greeting at all, spends 6 or 8 silent minutes on the computer reading my medical information, then speaks his first words to me without even looking at me.  I have the urge to punch him every time. 

Second... the verbalized words should be pleasant, oriented to the patient not about yourself, and content should be different, yet interesting.  Something like, "Good morning Mrs. Nelson, I trust you are enjoying the sunshine today--and even do a little shopping after your visit here."

  • Recognition is a communication everyone is looking for. By far, the best way to do that is by saying a patient's name.  It opens up your respect for them and allows for much better history taking.  Adding some humor is often a good thing.  The reference to a positive aspect of our environment (sunshine) gives the patient a few seconds to enjoy the moment, reduce the "white-coat" stress, and create a positive mental image about the visit.

Third... make a real effort to make a physical contact with the patient, usually in the form of a handshake, a light touch on the shoulder, or a gentle grasp on the forearm.

  • People understand the value of human touch, whether it's a handshake or pat on the back.  Touch sends an unconscious message to the patient that you have concern for his or her welfare, and want to know more. 

B. Medical treatment discussion

Your ability to focus your attention on the exact information the patient wants to know and understand is critical.  I'm sure every doctor has heard a patient state that they went to a doctor who never explained anything... just handed them a prescription and walked out of the room.

Nothing is more appreciated by a patient than a doctor who explains what he advises, pro and con, and why it's important.  And you can believe that same patient tells 10 of her friends how thorough you are. Even recommends you to their friends. That's free marketing going on if I ever saw it.

C. Respect Patient's Choice

You don't have to agree with it, but you have to respect the right of a patient to refuse treatment, or modify your advice to fit their wishes.  In our community, it was rare to find a physician who would accept a Jehovah Witness patient as a surgical patient.  I did, and never regretted that
decision in 35 years. 

Being clever enough to persuade a patient to do as you advise by using certain tactics that accomplish the same thing and yet the patient agrees with, is an outstanding boost to your self-esteem.  Sometimes it
takes a bit of humor. 

I remember a patient who commonly told me she never bothered to take all the medication as prescribed by any doctor.  I told her I'd see her again in a week to see how much the problem had increased. 

Often, that brought a chuckle from the patient and a non-verbal compliance from the patient.  It doesn't always work but you can figure out angles
that patients will go for.

D. Offer Options

Every patient enjoys choices of treatment.  It's a courtesy to present options of therapy while being careful to look for how the patient responds to each---especially when you explain the pro and cons of each method of treatment. 

When only one option for treatment is offered by the doctor, and may be the best one in your opinion and experience, the patient tends to believe you aren't keeping up with newer medicine and treatments. 

Being dictatorial towards the 2009 kind of patients is a big mistake.  If you treat older geriatric patients, who are used to the old times when patients were dumb and doctors were trusted to dictate therapy without being questioned, you may get by with the tactic.

E. Adapt to a patient's whims

It doesn't mean you let the patient have full control of their care or tell you how they insist on being treated medically. The patient may have something going on behind the curtains you don't know about.  Responding to the patient in a suggestive manner so as not to corner them, will permit you leeway in their treatment. 

You may believe that it's logical and prudent to remove the patient's appendix while you are in the abdomen doing benign surgery on other organ systems.  When a patient refuses that procedure, how would you respond?  They just want to keep that "wormy little dangler" for some reason or another that you can never understand.  Your decision to agree to leave it alone creates
trust and a patient who will stay with you a long time.

Summary: Every single one of these factors generates patients who go about town bragging about you, recommending your practice to everyone they meet, and definitely increases patient flow into your practice, let alone increasing your medical practice income.  This free marketing strategy is profoundly profitable to you in the long haul.  If you already have way too many patients and want less of them, then it's time to start catering to a different group of patients.

The author, Curt Graham, is a highly experienced business and marketing expert, copywriter, and entrepreneur who has been published in various media over 50 years while in medical practice and after.

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2004-2011, Curt Graham M.D.,, All rights reserved.

Word Count = 1370

Keywords = marketing strategies, body language, medical information, recognition ,medical school, medical practice



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