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Seven Simple Ways to Improve Physician Relations

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, March 5, 2008
Healthcare marketers have a wide variety of responsibilities on their plate, from conducting market research to launching multimedia campaigns to proving return on investment. Marketing to physicians, which is a new focus for many hospitals, is one more large and complicated task to add to the mix. But sometimes a small change can make a big difference. Here are seven ways hospitals can improve physician relations, shared by speakers at a physician strategies conference held this week in Los Angeles. Most of them don't require a lot of time or money to implement, but one of them might have a big impact at your organization.

1. Add interactive services. New technology can keep physicians loyal to your healthcare organization, said Kathy Divis and John Eudes, president and executive vice president of Greystone.Net. One suggestion: Put interactive physician profiles on your Web site that include short video clips of the physicians introducing themselves and describing their philosophy of treatment. When a patient can see the doctor speak and watch his or her gestures and facial expressions, the physician seems much more human and approachable, making it easier for patients to make a decision.

Another idea: shoot short videos of specialists discussing hot medical topics. Set up an interview with an anesthesiologist to talk about the rarity of the phenomenon of patients who are aware of what's going on during their surgery, as depicted in the movie "Awake," for example. Embed the videos in online or e-mail press releases, helping to get more media attention for your physicians.

2. Give physicians what they want. "Don't assume that everyone knows how to use a computer," said Douglas Backous, medical director of the regional clinicians program at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, WA, at a session on physician referral and outreach. His department was thinking of discontinuing a physician newsletter, but the docs asked them not to give up on it--they loved the publication. "We really have built our program around what our physicians need," he said. And so the newsletter was saved.

3. Organize by location. Marketers should reach out to physicians by region, not service line, Backous said. That way, physicians don't get hit with visits from several different people from your organization in one week. "That's a good way to look like a drug rep," he said.

4. Customize your services. Backous also noted his organization is looking to do more online for the physicians in his vast region, which spans different time zones. One possibility under consideration is offering continuing medical education online and on demand. Physicians don't live and practice in Alaska so they can get up at 6 a.m. to earn their CME credits, he said.

5. Make docs the stars. It's not exactly a state secret that physicians, especially surgeons and other specialists, can have a bit of an ego. One way that you can play to that and engender loyalty is to include physicians in your advertising campaigns. That's what Florida Hospital in Maitland is doing, says C. Josef Goshen, vice president for strategic planning there.

The physicians were engaged and involved in creating the campaign, Goshen reports. And they were thrilled with the resulting ads. "I don't have to tell you what happened to their volumes," Goshen said. "No one had to work on them anymore after that."

So how does Goshen choose which physicians to feature without snubbing anyone or causing hard feelings? He doesn't. He leaves that up to a panel of physicians. They recruit volunteers and pick the participants. "I don't get involved," Goshen said. "It has to be a very collegial environment.

6. Simplify the numbers. When you're reporting trends and results to senior leaders, they don't want to look at big, complicated spreadsheets crammed with data, said Sean Duffy, physician liaison at Geisinger Health System in Danville, PA. A simple chart or bar graph is much more effective. "And as long as it's going up, everything is great," he added.

7. Show up uninvited. When physician relations reps at McLeod Health System in Florence, SC, first began eating lunch in the doctor's lounge, the regulars there wondered why their space had been infiltrated. But Catherine Lee, McLeod's corporate chief of staff, announced that someone from her department would henceforth be joining the docs for lunch to make sure someone was always present to answer questions and address concerns. Plus, she told them, the food was better than in the cafeteria.

It took about two months, but eventually the doctors would notice if someone didn't show up--and sometimes even call to ask someone to come down. "It sounds like the simplest thing, but what we did was create a consistent presence," Lee said.

So it turns out you don't have to spend a ton of money to forge inroads with physicians. From playing to their egos to simply listening to what they want, you can improve relations, increase referrals, and engender loyalty. Have any physician relation tips you want to share with other readers of HealthLeaders Media Marketing Weekly? Send me an e-mail or leave a comment about it, below.


Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.

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