This article was originally published in the March issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
There’s an increasing trend toward employment” of physicians, says Tess Niehaus, vice president of marketing and communications for the 583-staffed-bed St. Anthony’s Medical Center in St. Louis. According to a May 2010 American Hospital Association survey, 65% of hospitals are actively trying to increase the number of physicians they employ.
From that trend, another has followed: marketing those employed doctors, from the energetic internist just out of medical school to the 20-year veteran specialist in need of a patient-roster boost. Though the type of outreach changes depending on the physician’s specialty, career point, personality, and other factors, the idea is to get people—consumers, other physicians—talking about the marketed practice and to fill those doctors’ plates fast, all the while increasing the hospital’s brand awareness.
At St. Anthony’s, which has 58 employed physicians in 26 practices, the priority is to make these employees as prolific as possible as quickly as possible, Niehaus says. The result benefits both physician and hospital. “Every doctor I have ever met wants to be busy,” she says. “They want to take care of patients. So getting them productive is good for them mentally, but it’s also good for the hospital’s bottom line.”
Louisville’s 519-staffed-bed Baptist Hospital East, with approximately 100 employed doctors at more than 25 practices, takes a slightly different tack. Like St. Anthony’s, Baptist uses targeted marketing to generate awareness about individual physicians, but also takes the opportunity to give the hospital a leg up in its competitive Kentucky market, says Rebecca Brown, director of marketing and public relations. “We want that name, Baptist, to be synonymous with quality,” she says. “If you don’t reinforce the experience that patients are going to get when they choose Baptist, no matter what you’re rolling out, you’re going to be behind the eight ball.”
Traditional tools seem to do the trick for marketing employed primary care physicians. St. Anthony’s, for example, sends direct mail pieces to targeted consumers within a five-mile radius of the practice. The hospital also arranges new doctor meet and greets and facilitates what Niehaus calls patient retouches—birthday messages, milestone reminders, and so on. Baptist mails out postcard announcements, places sticky-note ads in local papers, and puts up billboards.
Marketing employed specialists, on the other hand, is a different beast altogether. “For primary care physicians, our primary audience is consumers,” Niehaus says. “For specialists, our audience is primary care physicians, because most patients get to specialists via a PCP referral.” Though the actual tool may not change—Baptist still sends postcards for this type of marketing—the message is more detailed, explaining why, for example, a PCP should recommend his patients go to a particular thoracic oncology group.
As the healthcare environment evolves—25 years ago, hospital marketing focused solely on the hospital, Brown says—so, too, will marketing employed physicians, particularly if PCPs become the entry point to a hospital’s associated accountable care organization. “Marketing a practice is more than good promotion,” Niehaus says. “You’ve really got to have a good quote-unquote product.” The rest—new patients, brand awareness, happy physicians—will flow from there.