Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Going Solo? 6 steps to getting new patients.

An established medical practice, chiropractor, transcriptionist, etc, can survive on repeat visits or business from their existing patients or clients. But for a start-up or a specialty practice, such as an infertility specialist or plastic surgeon, new patient business is essential. But how do you attract new patients.

1: WORD OF MOUTH--This is no doubt the best way, but it takes years to get there in the best of circumstances. While waiting, you'll go broke or into deep debt or both. Do not rely on this method alone, in my view, ever. I believe it is essential to actively attract new patients thoroughout the life of your business or practice.

2: PRESS THE FLESH--This is a great way. In my opinion and, with all things considered, it is the best way. It involves literally going door to door to referring doctors and introducing yourself. It requires a car, gas, business cards, and a very thick skin. Be prepared to be treated rudely by staff who mistake you for a drug rep. Be prepared to be turned away. Be prepared for failure! But every so often, in my experience, 1 in 10, you'll hit it and convert your visit into a new referral. The rest is up to you and if you provide a good service, you'll get more. After several months and persistence you can generate 10-15 good referral sources who can support you, and aside for gas and guts, it cost you nothing.

3: ADVERTISE--I was told this would be a good way, but in my experience, it was not. In fact, I spent approximately $10,000 on traditional print media advertising (newspaper, yellow book, etc) and from it got 2 patients. In retrospect, it was a mistake, and not one I'm likely to make again. There are much better, more cost effective approaches. In fact, I believe that I would have had more publicity and more enjoyment had I taken the $10,000 and burned it! Or better yet, donated it to an infertile couple. But this is just my opinion.

4: ACCEPT INSURANCE--Sorry to say this, but participation with health insurance, while no doubt an evil, is a necessary one. And actually, I don't even think insurance is an evil, and I, like most physicians, actually does better because of insurance. Insurance companies direct new patients into your office by listing you in their "books." It's free and effective advertising. As long as you feel their reimbursement rates are fair and the companies actually pay you, you can grow because you take insurance.

5: TAKE ER CALL--I didn't do this for personal reasons, namely because I don't like ER call. Moreover, for urology, we don't have enough ER business to make it worth our while. But I have a friend who is in start-up practice as an orthopedist and a hand surgeon and he has built up his practice at an incredibly fast pace by taking ER call. In fact, he approached older orthopods with established practices who no longer wished to take ER call and offered to take call for them. Good for him!

6: HAVE A WEBSITE--This is good advice namely because hosting has become so cheap and easy. But is is certainly not enough because your website, without proper SEO, will be lost in the crowd. You can hire SEO firms, but these are $$$$. I chose to blog, which works quite well and has resulted in increase website exposure and new patient business. Plus, I like it.