Change — it's truly one nasty six-letter word. It's a term that comes with the natural human reaction of fear, followed by realization. For today's independent practices, 'change' can also be seen as the newest "practice dilemma," where stagnation poses the greater potential of failure.
One of the biggest changes that I can foresee in the wake of both existing trends, along with the soaring consumerization of technology, comes in the way that practices will have to market themselves in order to create new patient pipelines.
We know what this looks like because it's already happening around us. With traditional referral networks being attacked from multiple angles, it is the invaluable efforts of the marketing-minded physician, practice manager, or other go-getter that has already proven to be a practice differentiator. I'm sure we don't have to go that deep in the memory banks to think of a practice that has already taken the necessary steps to become the "go-to" specialty purely based on name-recognition alone.
Is there a blueprint that works for everyone? No, unless you want to go through a similar cycle a number of years from now. It should be reminded that whichever channel is taken, must also account for rapidly changing trends for media consumption. Placing the practice name on a NASCAR or Indy Racing car may not necessarily meet with your target audience, regardless of the extraordinary cost associated with either. The same can go for placing an Internet banner ad, in the case when the majority of your existing and prospective patients do not use the Internet.
What can you do immediately? While each approach may be different, an audit of existing Web properties and competitive medical practice profiles would be a strong start. If we already know that a certain percentage of patients use WebMD (and other similar properties) as knowledge-based resources for self-remediation, then a greater analysis of the Web landscape might return a result that can lead to an opening strategy. What are other individuals saying about your practice? What channels (i.e. social media) are other practices using to promote themselves?
As inferred by the reference to competition, the Web audit strategy also presents a chance to understand a key element to the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of your practice. Threats at their very core highlight an external pressure on the practice, altering the landscape from self-control to external forces of change. I've talked about SWOT as a strategic tool in the past, but as you can see its elements extend to marketing practices.
I would be remiss in speaking about marketing efforts, if I didn't discuss the idea of using existing personnel capital in order to open up new channels. Each employee is inherently an extension of the practice, and a chance to open up new referral networks and discover new extensions to the patient pipeline. By reflecting the marketing wishes of the provider or practice manager on the entire team, each member can feel invested in both the process and the effort.
As you can immediately tell, the elements of change are rapidly creating new channels, alongside the innovative roles in the practice. Creating true differentiation, while building stronger referral channels, is not an easy task. However, recognizing that change needs to take place with a keen eye to marketing efforts, can be the difference the next time somebody drops that six-letter word in your lap.