Down Economy Provides Opportunities to Improve Physician Relations

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, April 1, 2009

Hospitals and health systems are doing everything they can to hold onto market share in a competitive environment and a down economy. But there's another asset that marketers and physician relations professionals must protect, lest the competition steal it away: physicians.

Although market conditions make your hospital vulnerable to competitors who would woo your star physicians away and undermine your most profitable service lines, there are ways that the current economic climate can actually work in your favor when it comes to physician relations.

For an upcoming issue of Healthcare Marketing Advisor, we asked the experts how the economy might affect physician relations tactics. Here's a sample of what they told us:

Delayed retirement plans make employment more attractive to physicians. You should have a strategy that ensures you do not overpay for physician practices if that is a strategy you are pursuing, says Joel English, executive vice president of BVK. But, he adds, don't miss out on opportunities to integrate on terms that may be the best in years.

For example, he says, consider revisiting those specialists who may have been planning an early retirement to see if their plans have changed and whether there are new opportunities to partner. Employment may be an attractive near-term option for some who are more focused on stability than entrepreneurial opportunity in this changing economic environment.

Slowdown in patient volume means physicians have more time to help increase patient volume. The economic downturn can create some new opportunities for physician liaisons, says Leslie Dean, director of planning and marketing at FirstHealth of the Carolinas.

Previously overworked physicians may find their once-busy practices slowing down as patients delay or forego treatment, for example. As a result, they may be more willing and available to make visits on referring physicians and to participate in community education events that increase patient volume.

Patients' financial woes are an opportunity to help physicians. Physicians are worried about reports that patients are cutting back on medications, physician visits, and discretionary health care costs, says Roberta Clarke, associate professor at Boston University. "My experience has been that practicing physicians have been most affected not by the decline in their personal incomes (although their incomes clearly have taken a hit) but by their patients' inability to pay for and receive needed care," she says.

Hospitals, providers of diagnostic tests, and others that offer to work with these patients by extending payment terms, without the threat of ruining their credit history, is a better way to enhance relationships with physicians than generating additional business for them.

Don't forget, she adds, to promote the service to physicians—not only to gain the physicians' appreciation but also so that the physicians will know that they have this option to offer their patients who might otherwise forego needed care.

Look for more expert advice on marketing to physicians in a down economy in the May issue of Healthcare Marketing Advisor. Look under the "supplemental info" heading to download a free sample issue (free registration required).

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at

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