By Kathy Roy Gaughran
Senior Marketing Strategist
Most medical groups and doctor-owner practices respect the fact that the business environment—particularly the competitive landscape—has changed dramatically. It’s tough and getting tougher as the nation’s healthcare system reinvents itself almost daily.
But being aware of the competition falls far short of understanding how truly vulnerable most practices are…whether they know it or not.
As a real-world example, I recently consulted with a major mid-West specialty group. They called us—nearly too late as it turns out—because their revenue and profitability had tanked. We discovered that a new practice, led by a marketing-aggressive doctor, had simply caught them off-guard. They were vulnerable, and they took a blow to the bottom line.
For the entrepreneurial doctor or multi-specialty group—some hospitals, too—their hard-fought business side is, more than ever, at considerable risk. And what’s even more frightening is that much of the vulnerability originates from within the organization itself.
Recognize the symptoms of self-sabotage
We see four particularly painful patterns of “self-sabotage” in our work with medical practices. If, by way of a critical evaluation, you find any of these symptoms in your business, some serious remedies should be prescribed.
Failure to properly define the competition: Many practitioners think of “the competition” as friendly fellow doctors…nice chaps…good docs…perhaps medical school alumni. As fellow providers and professional colleagues, that’s all true. But on the business and marketing side of life, these same “good docs” may be eating away at your revenue stream. Nothing personal here, it’s just business. Understand that in business “the competition” is a fierce rival actively reaching for a larger share of the prospective customer base. And there’s nothing friendly about that game.
Being “above marketing”: Surprisingly, many physicians we encounter hold an old-school attitude that marketing and advertising are beneath their practice or hospital. Really? At least that was the prevailing attitude until they feel the crush of the competition. Consider the fact that Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic are widely respected as world-class providers. You’d be in good company with these venerable institutions who are also aggressive, world-class marketers for their brand, reputation and services.
Complacency and/or denial: Some medical groups find a false sense of comfort in keeping their nose to the grindstone (and their head in the sand.) Perhaps they are satisfied with past success, and unwilling to recognize that success is never permanent. Or it’s easier to contentedly believe that the competition isn’t really storming the castle walls and seizing the marketplace. “Can’t be,” they say to themselves. The first steps on the road to recovery include getting past the denial, to objectively evaluate the problem and to do something. Contentment is not an action plan.
Tripping over organizational democracy: Many group practices make business decisions by committee. Each partner has a voting voice—consensus and majority rules—and that’s probably a good system for many issues. But democracy doesn’t work well for marketing success. Internal politics aside, strong direction and leadership are required to pilot the ship. The alternative is to empower a marketing decision-maker to drive the process for the group. The committee can evaluate the results.
The culture and mindset within many medical practices is largely inward facing and somewhat isolated from the broader community picture. Day to day concerns tend to be clinical or administrative. What is often unnoticed (or ignored) on the business side is that the competition is becoming the dominant force in the market, and that the practice is truly vulnerable in the marketplace. The required remedy is to move beyond any internal “self-sabotage,” and to be far more aggressive about marketing.
FOR RELATED POSTS, read: Indecision and Inaction: Dream-Killers of Healthcare Marketing, and How to Navigate the Politics in Healthcare Group Marketing.