Discovering the 'Ideal' Patient for Your Medical Practice

January 30, 2014

A profitable and successful practice will struggle to exist, or at a minimum be unsustainable without a deep knowledge about your ideal patient.

Have you considered who your ideal patient for your practice? A profitable and successful practice will struggle to exist, or at a minimum be unsustainable, without a deep knowledge about your ideal patient. All of the other steps in creating a successful brand and leading to a sustainable, successful, and fulfilling practice begin here, with your ideal patient.

What is an ideal patient?

Have you interpreted your professional obligation as an obligation to market to, see, and treat virtually anyone who can use their telephone and present their body in your office?

I would like you to consider that this type of thinking leads to requiring escalating numbers of patients in order to grow your practice, which no doubt leaves you over-worked and stressed.

I am not suggesting that if you have the capacity to serve those seeking care, you deny them access based on a social standard or profile because that would be wrong and likely unethical.

What I want you to do is to simply identify characteristics of those patients you especially enjoy serving and make a specific effort to attract and retain those patients. Again … this does NOT mean to turn away patients that are not your "ideal patients."

What types of patients and clients do you enjoy serving? What are their common denominators? Health attitudes? Income? Occupation? Hobbies? Lifestyle? Personal habits? Age? Cash? Insurance? Condition?

Every practice and possibly even practitioner will have a different set of qualifiers that creates their ideal patient. There are a few qualities that universally go on all ideal patient profiles.

All ideal patients are patients:

 You enjoy working with

 That need your help

Who will happily pay what you are worth (privately, via insurance, or a combination)

That will get great results from the services you can/do offer

Now taking a look at just that short list of criteria, can you imagine what it would be like to have a practice full of these types of patients?

Why is discovering your ideal patient important?

Rather than aiming for an ever-increasing quantity of patients, you can improve your practice by improving the quality of your patients. The concept is simple, quality over quantity.

How do you discover your ideal patient?

We are going to start with categorizing your current patients so you can see what your ideal patients have in common, then creating your ideal patient client profile, identifying who they are, what their issues tend to be, and how to identify their biggest problems. Then, we'll look at obstacles and challenges that you have the solutions for (or can create solutions for) and where to find them.

Again, knowing your ideal patient is so important; it is the foundation of creating a successful (and personally fulfilling) practice. Without knowing this you won't have a clear picture on the best way to talk to your ideal patients (so that they listen and are in engaged), what to do for your them, you won’t know what products and services to create for them you won’t know where to reach them ...

Step 1: Categorizing Your Current Patients

The best place to begin to find your ideal patient is to start with what you have. You may have hundreds or even thousands of patients that have been thru your doors over the years. Pick a random day's patients load, maybe two days: one you remember as a great day and one you remember as a so-so or bad day.

If you are still using paper charts, pull all of their charts; you are going to create five stacks of these charts, categorizing your patients as a number between one and five and placing them in the appropriate stack. The number one is the best patients of the day (or your practice) and number five is the worst patients of the day (or in your practice) numbers two thru four are somewhere in the middle.

Remember, your category-one and -two patients are those who you enjoy working with, need your help, are happy to pay you, and who will refer other like people (or come from a referral source who will).

If you are on an EHR system, great! Print the day's schedule for the two days, review the charts, remember the patients, view their collections information, and categorize them in the same way. Simply write the number next to the patient name, one to five.

Once you have everyone sorted out, gather your ones and twos and begin to look for common threads. Why did they come to you? Are they all professionals? Blue-collar? Single? Young?Old? Married? Moms? Do they all have a particular health concern? What is their insurance? What are their health attitudes? 

There are no specific rules here, and after analyzing these patients you may discover that the unique factors in your ideal patient transcend age, sex, income, occupation, and other qualifiers: Your ideal patient maybe an attitudinal description.

One of my clients is a young family practice physician, and she enjoys working with young executives who are busy and on a tight schedule, and travel frequently. She caters to these executives locally and provides telemedical care for established patients while they travel also. She has identified her ideal patient as an age range, income level, and lifestyle and is now catering to them.

Once you have all of the common threads sorted out, begin to create your ideal patient profile based on these traits. This profile will serve as a guide for you to speak to and find your ideal patients (in your marketing efforts and otherwise) and begin to transform your practice physically (in your office amenities) and service-wise to meet the needs of your ideal patient.

In my previous example, my client who serves busy executives made sure her waiting room had free wireless Internet. She also offers these executives "walk-in" hours that our slightly earlier and slightly later than typical office hours. Her practice has coffee, tea, and bottled water available. She offers established patients telemedicine appointments when they are traveling.

Next week, I will cover where to find your ideal patients.