Every year primary care and internal medicine visits generate over 100 million referrals to specialists. Specialty physicians and surgeons have traditionally tried to capitalize on this number by being on the receiving end of these referrals. The approach for many specialists to generate referrals was traditionally a simple formula. Identify the potential referral sources in the area (primary care, internal medicine, family practice, rhuematology, etc) and send a “practice rep” to their offices with lunch and brochures. This practice rep usually served as the main marketing source for the practice and was expected to travel to several offices per week. Recently, this form of marketing has become significantly less effective, but it may not for the reasons you think. Below are three reasons this form of marketing is going by the wayside and becoming a financial burden for practices. But do not worry, there are many effective ways around these pitfalls.

Problem #1 – Hospital Acquisitions and Consolidation

With the changes brought on by Obamacare and the push for ACO’s, hospitals and larger health systems acquiring busy primary care and internal medicine practice has become the latest trend. Once these practices are acquired, the physicians become hospital employees and are incentivized to keep referrals inside the hospital and health system and often penalized for not doing so. What this means for specialists is that referrals are no longer based on personal relationships, but rather affiliations. If the primary care practice down the street was acquired by Hospital System X and your practice is not affiliated with Hospital System X, no more referrals. It is nothing personal but instead a function of large hospital systems overwhelming power to control market share by leveraging capital.

In fact, a recent Jackson Healthcare survey showed that 52% of Hospital Executives plan to acquire practices within the next 12 months. 54% of these acquisitions were focused on family care practices and 26% were focused on internal medicine practices. Perhaps even more interestingly, of all of the acquisitions in 2012, 70% were based on the practice seeking to be acquired by the hospitals.  The survey also highlighted that 58% of hospitals acquired practices to gain a competitive market share advantage. In this environment, the number of doors the practice rep can knock on is dwindling substantially. It is essentially useless to try and solicit referrals from a physician who is being paid not to refer to anyone but the hospital.

Problem #2 – Inundation

If you do find a practice unaffiliated with a hospital, let’s agree that your practice was not the first to have the idea to send out a practice rep. With that in mind, let’s consider how many other reps a practice is seeing every week. A standard practice will see about 5 practice reps, 4 pharmaceutical reps and 2-3 device reps per week.

With all of these different entities trying to get 5 minutes in front of the physician to sell themselves, many practices have just begun shutting their doors to reps. In my own experience, you will most often meet with the staff or assistants and not the physician. One of the main reasons for this is reimbursements. With reimbursements declining, primary care physicians have to keep the flow of patients moving in order to maintain the profitability of the practice. Meeting with every person who intends to sell the physician something is becoming less and less a part of their schedule.

Also, if a referring practice has a built in network of doctors to refer out to, a few sandwiches and brochures is not likely to break that pattern. Furthermore, if a physician is going to refer a patient for surgery and entrusting you with the care of the patient, they want to meet the surgeon and not the pretty girl with the brochures. She is not performing the surgery. You are.

Problem #3 – More Educated Patients

Over 80% of patients research their condition online or seek medical providers via online searches. What this means is that many patients are foregoing the traditional primary care visit in favor of self-diagnosing (WebMD, The Mayo Clinic) and then seeking the appropriate specialist. In other cases, a primary care will refer them to a specialist but the patient will not always go to the suggested physician. Instead, they will research specialists in the area and decide for themselves who to see.

There is no shortage of ways patients search for physicians online but the most popular is certainly Google. Their are a litany of things your practice needs to be seen on Google as well as attract a prospective patient to your practice. Once the patient has found the doctor he/she is interested in seeing, they will search the physicians name directly and check review sites like Vitals, RateMD, Health Grades and Yelp. What this translates to is the consumer being the ultimate decision maker and not the referring physician.

The Solutions

With all of these changes to the traditional referral patterns, the most successful specialists have shifted their focus to Direct to Patient Marketing. Gold Medical Marketing specializes in Direct to Patient Marketing and Public Relations for Spine, Orthopedic and Neurosurgery practices as well as multi-specialty practices and ASC’s. We are the most successful Medical Marketing company in these fields and have been featured in various publications as well as lectured at both national and international medical conferences.

We focus on demographic and psychographic research to target the demographics that generate the largest numbers of patients as well as best reimbursements. The concept of broad or “one size fits all” marketing and PR has a very low ROI and does not generate a high number of patients. Instead, Gold Medical Marketing utilizes Targeted Marketing efforts that both convey a message to potential patients as well as create brand recognition. These marketing efforts are conveyed across all available mediums relevant to a particular patient population.

Too often “marketing companies” focus on one outlet such as SEO, Social Media, Pay Per Click or Print Advertising. The drawback to this is that patients consume medical information through several means and if your practice is not targeting all available outlets, you are missing out on large segments of the market. Primarily, this is a result of the company not having a familiarity in the Medical Marketing field and attempting to apply the rules of retail or product marketing to medical practices.

Gold Medical Marketing is one of the only companies focused on Medical Public Relations.  Our clients have been the focus of both local and national media coverage. This media coverage positions our clients as experts in their respective fields and attracts large numbers of patients to their practice.

If your practice is looking to increase patient volume, please contact us for a No Cost Medical Marketing Review.