How to market your practice

July 1, 2005

Some physicians find the idea of advertising their practice distasteful, thinking that medical professionals shouldn't stoop to the type of promotion typically used by retail businesses. But let's face it: You are running a retail business. Even if you're an excellent doctor, patients aren't going to beat a path to your office door if they don't know that your practice exists.

Some physicians find the idea of advertising their practice distasteful, thinking that medical professionals shouldn't stoop to the type of promotion typically used by retail businesses. But let's face it: You are running a retail business. Even if you're an excellent doctor, patients aren't going to beat a path to your office door if they don't know that your practice exists.

Advertising should be only one part of your overall marketing plan, however. As Anwar explains, "You first have to decide what your goals are, and how much you're willing to spend to promote your practice, including the cost of advertising." While the amount you spend will vary depending on your location and specialty, practice management consultants generally recommend budgeting no more than 1% of your gross revenue. Obviously, a rural practice with little nearby competition won't have to spend as much as a practice in an urban or suburban area with lots of other physicians.

Wherever they appear, display ads should include the physicians' names, the location of the office, the hours you're open, the services you offer, and the insurance plans you accept. Where to place the ad depends on a number of factors. Here are the choices:

Newspapers, TV, and radio. Newspaper ads are relatively expensive, costing between $150 and $750 per placement, depending on the size of the ad and the circulation of the paper. For new practices, consultants recommend running a display ad once or twice a week for the first few months. But don't expect miracles. As Charles Davant, an FP in Blowing Rock, N.C., recalls, "When we hired a new associate a few years ago, we ran 6 weeks' of newspaper ads to announce her arrival. But they generated hardly any new business."

Denning adds: "In terms of cost-effectiveness, buying advertising time on television and radio is out of the question for most small- to medium-sized practices in major metropolitan areas. In a small town in Kansas, however, doctors can probably afford to use both."

Yellow Pages. "All doctors should have in-column listings in the general alphabetical section and the 'by specialty' section of the Yellow Pages," says Keith Borglum, a health-care marketing consultant in Santa Rosa, Calif. In-column box ads, which run about $100, are the next step up. Display ads can cost much more, and Borglum thinks they make economic sense only for large clinics, urgent care centers, or doctors offering expensive elective services.