Use marketing to draw more patients into your practice.

September 1, 2008

Internet advertising, Public speaking, and newspaper ads can all help build a practice. Here's advice on choosing the best business builders to fit your specific needs.

For many practices, marketing is a survival tool. But with so many ways to approach it-public speaking, print media, radio ads, the Web-it's a tool that doctors often use haphazardly, or not at all. "One of the biggest mistakes physicians make is that they don't develop a marketing plan," says Keith Borglum, of Professional Management and Marketing in Santa Rosa, CA. "In medical terms, it's like doing treatment without a diagnosis."

In marketing, as in medicine, you're much more likely to achieve your goals if you take the time to determine what they are. Begin by setting quantifiable parameters. How many additional patients do you want to attract? Can your practice's staff and internal systems handle that number of new patients? How much time and money can you invest in marketing? Are you seeking a particular type of patient? If you're hoping to attract 20- and 30-somethings, say, you'll probably need to develop a Web site and fashion an ad campaign aimed at luring that cohort to the site.

Target specific patient populations

Like successful theatrical presentations, effective advertising entails good timing and knowing your audience, in addition to having a good product. To attract athletes to his practice, John Pagliano, a podiatrist in Long Beach, CA, sponsors 5- and 10-km races, so that his practice is advertised via each event's T-shirts and programs. He also holds running clinics after the races, in which participants discuss their running-related problems. The local press has taken notice: In August 2007, the Daily Breeze ran an article about Pagliano in which he was referred to as "Doctor Distance."

Sumana Reddy, on the other hand, wanted to attract a diverse range of patients to her family practice in Salinas, CA. So she and her partners hired a professional to design ads promoting various themes, including preventive care, extended hours, and women's health. "Recently, we gave up obstetrics and were concerned that we'd see fewer children," she says. "Since this is a major joy for us, we also developed a pediatrics-specific ad."

Another identifiable group you might want to target in your marketing efforts is former patients. For tips on how to do that, see the sidebar "How to re-attract former patients."