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I am 87 years old, with a problem of the prostate gland. Before I met Dr. Baum, I went to the bathroom every 30-60 minutes. After Dr. Baum's treatment on my prostate, I go only 5 times per day and only 1 time at night! You turned my life around. I am so very grateful!

-Sidney Daigle


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Why Market and Promote Your Practice in the Era of Managed Care?

Often physicians will discuss the current health care situation in their community and believe that their days of practice promotion are over when they have joined all of the managed care plans in the vicinity. The reality is that noting could be farther from the truth. Now marketing and practice promotion will be even more important than in the "good ol' days" of fee-for-service. This article will discuss why marketing is important and what are some examples that can make your practice managed care friendly.

Let us not forget that even if your community is 100% penetrated by managed care, your existing patients and potential patients still have a choice. Suppose a patient belongs to a managed care plan and the primary care doctor recommends that the patient see a general surgeon for a hernia repair. In most situations that patient will open his plan directory and when he comes to the section on general surgery there will be an option of physicians that are available. Now the primary care doctor and the patient will select the one that enjoys the best reputation, the most user-friendly towards referring physicians and patients, the one that communicates well with patients and doctors, the one that allows the easiest access into the practice, and the one that is conveniently located. It is these and other variables that will determine where that patient will end up for their surgical procedure.

Although managed care plans (MCP) are proliferating in geometric proportions in most communities, there is still likely to be at least 15% of the population that will remain fee-for-service. These few fee-for-service patients will have very high expectations about the quality and the service that they receive from their surgeon. It is unlikely that they will select or remain with a surgeon that has a rude telephone receptionist that places the caller on hold, that keeps the patient waiting more than 30 minutes before they are seen by the surgeon, that doesn't answer all of their questions concerning their health care, and doesn't call back in a timely fashion. Fee-for-service patients will demand "Cadillac care" and will quickly leave the practice that doesn't provide stellar service.

If I were to ask a group of physicians, "How many of you have a quality practice?" All the hands will go up. When I ask, "How do you know?" Few will volunteer a reply. In the past we were able to declare that we had a quality practice, today managed care organizations are going to demand that we prove it and back up our boasting with objective evidence of the quality.

A recent study by Foster Higgins demonstrated managed care organizations considered the most important factor to success in the market place was price. Certainly that's not a surprise to physicians that are competing for managed care plan's patients. The next most important factor, and a very close second, is patient satisfaction. Most plans are asking the members of the plan about their experience with the physicians. Failing to score well on the managed care plan's report card can result in deselection.

Consider what would be the consequences if 5% of your patients aren't satisfied with your services? Under a fee for service method of reimbursement a loss of 5% of your patients can create negative word of mouth marketing and can tarnish your reputation. However, under a managed care plan, if 5% of your MCP patients tell the plan administrator about their negative experience with your practice or you have a 5% negative rating on your patient satisfaction survey, you risk losing 100% of patients from that MCP! That can mean the loss of hundreds and sometimes even thousands of patient from your practice. The bottom line is patients satisfaction will have a significant financial impact on your practice.

There's probably no easier way to demonstrate the approval or lack of approval from your practice than to ask the patients. There are many ways to survey your existing patients about their experience with your practice. I find the easiest is to give every patient at the time of hisher visit a card that asks six questions:

  1. Were you able to make an appointment in a timely fashion?
  2. Was the staff cordial and helpful?
  3. Did the physician see you within 20 minutes of your appointment?
  4. Did the physician answer all of your questions?
  5. Would you recommend our practice to your family and friends?
  6. Are there any other suggestions that would improve our services to you?

Of course there are 2-3 page surveys, suggestion boxes, and mystery shoppers that can be used to evaluate your practice. However, the answer to these six questions will be the most valuable, cost effective and useful to evaluate your practices's patient satisfaction.

One additional tip regarding the use of this card. On the back of the card provide a few lines with the instructions, "What three questions would you like to ask the doctor today?" You will be amazed at how many patients will completes this part of the card and hand it to you. You now can quickly answer their questions and avoid call backs for unanswered or forgotten questions.

I hope you will give some thought to the topic of patient satisfaction and its importance in making your practice managed care friendly. In the next issue of this newsletter, I'll discuss some techniques of improving your practice efficiency, and how to reduce the spiraling costs of overhead.