Relationship marketing is one of several
approaches you can use to promote your brand and practice, but it is
unquestionably the most valuable.
After years of conducting market research on behalf of orthopedic
surgeons, I have found that relationship marketing, supported by the right
integrated strategy, produces more new patients than any other method.
Relationship marketing can also be one of the least expensive marketing
approaches, but it is rare to find practices executing it effectively because
it is hard to do well.
Physicians often find relationship marketing challenging because of the
perception that it is selling. To get beyond that, bear in mind
that the best marketing tool is what you do in clinic and surgery, and how well
you do it, which are hardly sales activities.
Whether assessing a knee injury, giving clinical recommendations, or
making it easier for primary care physicians (PCP) to refer to you,
relationship marketing is fundamentally about delivering value. This is not
easy marketing, like writing a check to run an ad.
It might also mean that your staff needs to spend a lot of time in
relationship-building activities that dont seem to at first produce
revenue. But relationship marketing represents your best opportunity to develop
and reinforce a preference for your services that can ultimately lead to an
increased number of new referrals.
Good relationships may also help minimize effects on your business from
the ups and downs in the health care field today.
No. 1 relationship
When most physicians think of relationship marketing, they think of
establishing and entrenching their relationships with key referral sources,
such as PCPs. Thats only partially right. While PCPs account for a lot of
the referrals that orthopedic practices get each year, some practices rely or
focus on them too much and miss out on establishing solid relationships with
their largest referral source: current patients.
With the onslaught of consumer-driven health care and increased access
to medical information on the Internet, practices must begin to consider
current patients as their major referral source. Central to relationship
marketing with patients is how a physician treats a patient in clinic and
That relationship and the one between the patient and the
physicians staff has become a fundamental marketing resource for medical
practices. Our firms research has repeatedly shown that previous patients
refer about 40% of all new patients.
Interestingly, from a clinical standpoint, former patients are the least
qualified to make those referrals. Instead, they base their referrals on how
they feel about you as well as their experiences with your practice.
Before you spend another dollar on external resources to market your
orthopedic practice, devote time to ensuring that the service you deliver to
patients doesnt just produce satisfaction or loyalty, but also creates
True advocates are your most valuable marketing assets. They not only
return to you for their next orthopedic need, but rave about you to others.
To promote that, try to create an exceptional medical experience for
each patient based on his or her needs. Our experience shows this could
immediately impact your volume. Then take it one step further and leverage that
personal experience with an appropriate marketing strategy, as some leading
practices have done.
Relationship marketing 101
As you consider implementing relationship marketing techniques, remember
that each referral source is looking for something completely different, but
they all want their individual needs met.
Build relationships with potential referral sources by meeting their
needs as they have defined them, which might take some research. Once you
understand their needs, align your services to meet those needs. That
demonstrates your practices value, how well you listen and how much you
care in a powerful way.
Start by identifying what each of your customers needs, which will
differ among patients, PCPs, workers compensation contacts, coachers and
atheletic trainers as well as the local community. As you start to develop a
relationship approach, consider each target segments needs independently.
PCPs, for example, may be looking for better patient access. Your
ability to fill that need creates value and builds trust. Workers
compensation representatives may want timelier turnaround for documentation.
Tailoring your operations to be more time-sensitive and reliable than
your competitors entrenches the working relationship. Your goal should be
to make it easy to do business with you by being more responsive than your
Next, be sensitive to patient needs. Most patients undergoing total
joint surgery have Medicare coverage and are not as concerned about private
insurance or referrals, since nearly every provider usually accepts their
coverage. Sports medicine patients seek the right physician who has
a good reputation for treating certain sports injuries.
Since each customer is different, the way you communicate with them
should vary. Be sensitive to those differences. Some orthopedic practices
promote their ancillaries across the board to every referral source. Although
its an easy approach, it can be offensive to PCPs, for example.
Dont just learn a customers needs; account for his or her concerns,
Big payoffs down the road
The ability to intimately understand the needs and concerns of your
referral sources gives you a competitive advantage, especially if you are
willing and able to execute on them. Reaching out to identify the needs and
concerns of your market is critical as you seek the right volume of patients.
But it requires effort, as does any valuable relationship.
The market will continue to define where it sees value and will
increasingly favor providers who deliver. One of the most compelling benefits
of having invested in strong, strategic relationships is that they endure.
If you envision how you would like your practice to look like in 5 to 10
years, most likely it will be shaped by relationships.
Visit led to 30% more referrals over three months
by Bill Champion
SPECIAL TO Orthopedics Today
Several years ago, I was working on developing a strategic
marketing plan for a five-physician orthopedic practice. I interviewed
Dr. Smith, the senior physician, to get his input on the
practices top referral sources. One of the top five referrers was
Dr. Harris, an area internist.
What can you tell me about Dr. Harris? I asked
Smith. Smith said, Well, he arrived roughly around the time I started 20
years ago and has probably been sending 80 patients a year to me since.
I asked what else he knew about him. After a little silence,
he replied, Honestly, I dont know much. Actually, if I sat next to
him in the movie theatre, I doubt the two of us would recognize each
Surprised by Smiths comments, I went and visited Dr.
Harris. I found out that he was a golf fanatic and could not stop talking about
Tiger Woods recent victory. After a few minutes of conversation, he
indicated he was sending roughly half his patients to the group I was working
with and was happy with their care.
As it turns out, all five physicians in the practice I was
working with were avid golfers. So, a few months later, Smith invited Harris to
a round of golf at his club. It went well. Both shared a mutual dislike of
insurance companies, lawyers and select hospital personnel.
Three months later, referrals from Harris were up 30%.
In summary, the 30% increase in referrals didnt come
from mailing a marketing slick to Dr. Harris or from the orthopedic practice
sending him a holiday gift, although they had done that for the last 20 years.
The increase resulted from reaching out to Harris in a way that meant something
to him. In this case it ended up being golf, the love of his life.
Do you know what is important to the Dr. Harrises in your
market? Find out. Then build a relationship with would-be referrers like Dr.
Harris based on those factors, back it up with good clinical expertise, and
maintain those relationships. As a result, your orthopedic practice should
expect to see a healthy inflow of new referrals.
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