American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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Low-budget tools to market your practice

From the November ACP Observer, copyright © 2006 by the American College of Physicians.

Whether you are going solo or joining an established practice, building a patient base from scratch is a challenge. But you don't have to have a large marketing budget to bring in patients—when it comes to advertising, word-of-mouth referrals are one of your most powerful tools.

Historically, recommendations from friends or family have been the No. 1 influence on patients selecting a new physician, and this holds true even in the current era of payer networks. The first step is to get your name listed in the provider directories of the plans you work with. Persuading enrollees to select you from that list involves a two-pronged word-of-mouth strategy: create satisfied patients and convince them to spread the word.

Create satisfied patients: First, make sure your current patients are happy—provide efficient, quality care in a friendly, service-oriented atmosphere. Most patients have limited ability to evaluate a physician's medical knowledge, but all patients understand TLC. The physician's personal communications skills are paramount—during and after office visits, and in written follow-up communication.

Here are some tips for becoming a skilled communicator:

  • Maintain eye contact with patients as you talk.
  • Listen carefully to what your patients say.
  • Try not to appear hurried even when you are.
  • Explain treatment plans in layman's terms.
  • Provide educational materials for your patients.
  • Send personal communications to your patients, such as thank you notes for referrals.
  • Contact your patients a few days after their appointments to see how they are doing.
  • Keep a waiting list of people who want to be seen as soon as possible, and call them when there are cancellations.

A patient who understands what you are saying will be more willing to ask questions, and the resulting dialogue will build patient confidence and loyalty.

Spread the word: Once you have satisfied patients, your next objective is to raise your visibility in the community. For example, you can augment word-of-mouth contacts by writing articles for the local press, speaking about health issues or participating in health fairs. PMC's Marketing Manual for Internal Medicine Practices discusses a variety of such no- or low-cost techniques for producing this "multiplier effect." Together, they reinforce each other and help build your reputation.

"PMC Tips" is a regular feature on small-practice management from ACP's Practice Management Center.

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