How Market Research Can Position Physician Practices to Succeed

September 6, 2012

Market research is a valuable, and often overlooked, tool to optimize the business of providing healthcare, but only if it is analyzed correctly.

Medical research is essential to the development, safety, efficacy, and success of almost everything in the clinical world. Market research to optimize the business of providing healthcare can be a supremely powerful tool, but only if analyzed effectively.

Much of the confusion in the medical community about market research lies in understanding the difference between data, information, and analysis. Data is an accumulation of facts; information is a useful manipulation of data; and analysis uses both to reveal value and meaning behind all that is accumulated. Without all three, one is just guessing based upon assumptions.

Data and information filtered with relevant experience, expertise, and reasoning identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). Professional analysis formulates relevant, prioritized, and actionable strategies and tactics to counter threats and weaknesses, and to optimize opportunities and strengths.

In clinical terms, data is a patient’s history. Information is the physical. Analysis takes both data and information into account to formulate a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Like a patient history, data is not about volume, but relevance. Knowing and asking the correct questions and gathering facts relevant to them. For example, data relevant to build, locate, or relocate a retail store is considerably different than that required to do the same for a medical practice.

Transforming masses of accumulated data into charts and graphs with today’s technology is relatively easy. Knowing what data will be relevant and will reflect useful information takes training, experience, and expertise in the business being studied.

Analysis includes empirical support and resources for growth, location, relocation, or redesign.

Here are the primary categories of study for a physician practice research study:

Health Services Data: Physician’s offices, dentists, nursing facilities, immediate care, hospitals, labs, outpatient, allied health services, and imaging centers. Used to determine specialty over or under representation, prospective referral sources (important for relocations, expansions, and satellite offices - complete with all contact data sorted by specialty and group and sortable by multiple categories), competitive matrix and supporting database, visual representation by map, physician related resources for ancillary care, and so forth.

Social and Personal Services Data: Health, wellness, lifestyle, nutrition and fitness program services, non-profits, substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation, counselors, social workers, holistic or alternative healthcare providers, exercise and physical fitness programs, massage therapists, and so forth. These are used to identify resources for super-ancillary patient care and referrals.

Potential Patient and Logistical Data: Map regional population, business, and services dispersion to provide visual representation of prospective patients by demographic segments. Logistical and visibility data highlights MOB visibility, access, parking, ingress and egress, and relevant other factors. This information is used to determine demographic constitution, including relevant matches to comparative indexes and geographic concentration, of the surrounding area population. Additionally determine industry growth or contraction to provide base data for practice viability, opportunity, and other analysis.

Physician Specialty Data: Develop a comparative index (to determine over or under representation). Data mapping and analysis provide visual and analytical aids and overlay to demographics. This sector includes hospitals and other relevant institutional and allied health providers in sortable data and graphical map representation for the study area and by zip code where relevant.

Outreach Data: Identify practice building opportunities with complete contact information, description, and relevance. This data and analysis is important to protecting and building beneficial payer mix (blend of insured patients to Medicare, private insurance, and Medicaid) to maximize profitability and sustainability under healthcare reform.

A professional analysis takes all of the above information and data into account and renders a definitive breakdown of local and regional strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The analysis provides the basis and detail to formulate an actionable strategic and tactical plan to optimize opportunities, revenue and sustainability.

Professional research studies performed by healthcare specialists of this type take from 45 days to 60 days to complete and can cost from $15,000 to $25,000. If the study is used properly, it can avoid large financial mistakes in locating or expanding a practice. If results indicate relocation or expansion to maximize an existing practice, a return on investment in the range of 10 times to 50 times over five years is typical depending on the size of the practice, and will vary by location and success in formulating and implementing a strategic and tactical plan.

Find out more about James Doulgeris and our other Practice Notes bloggers.