When Doctors Underestimate Rival Practices, Professional Referrals Vanish

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

man in suit giving speech to audience at professional referrals symposiumAll too often a healthcare practice will wait to ask for my help until the “eleventh hour.” That was the case when a medical group (belatedly) discovered their growth curve had become a flat line. It turned out that their once-robust stream of professional referrals was vanishing.

A rival practice was attracting this group’s lifeblood of doctor referrals. The competitive group had captured attention—and a great deal of new business—with an upscale symposium series. So, this was a case of one practice being blind to the competition.

Underestimating the competition…

In our experience, there are dozens of reasons that some healthcare providers are unaware–a competitive disadvantage. We find that doctors nearly always underestimate their competition. And when they do, professional referrals vanish from your appointment calendar.

Professional colleagues and fellow doctors are not competitors…are they? Well, yes they are. In business, doctors see themselves as belonging to a white coat society. Healthcare reform has changed “quiet camaraderie” into a business battleground. It’s a fraternity of rivals.

Too busy? Complacent? Don’t believe in marketing? Rival practices have an assertive business mandate. They are pleased to have you ignore or overlook their marketing efforts.

The competition really is smart and sophisticated. Healthcare’s competitive revolution is drawing on the methods and techniques of corporate advertising and sales to win market share.

The competition employs first-class sales people. A physician liaison or practice rep isn’t hired to pass out business cards and bagels. Their directive is to aggressively take referrals and prospective new patients away from your business.

Upping the professional referral game…

Maybe it’s not true, but folk lure tells tales of referrals born from doctors playing golf each week. More recently, medical groups use agencies and physician liaison sales teams to build doctor referral systems.

Referral channels thrive on relationships. Consequently they are more than donut delivery or a quick hospital cafeteria turkey-sandwich conversation. And as a result, the practice with vanishing referrals loses ground to a well-produced educational symposium. Consider doing something like this…

The annual event was planned by a practice representative; someone with strong sales skills. First of all, the purpose is to create a two-day spotlight for the doctors and capabilities of a leading medical practice.

In addition, this is a specialty group that primarily depends on attracting a regular stream of doctor referrals in the region. Some of the medical conference elements include:

  • Authoritative speakers from the practice; each recognized for work in specialty sciences.
  • A series of timely topics of educational value and interest to referring physicians.
  • Presentations related to advances or opportunities between referral practices and specialty areas.
  • An agenda that provides a mix of time for formal, informal and casual/recreational sessions.
  • Online availability of speaker bios, presentation materials and useful website links.
  • A well-known and upscale venue that is convenient to practices in the region.

Consequently, the promotional messages to referring doctors communicate and reinforce the practice reputation and branding message. Most of all, the symposium positions the sponsoring practice as an expert and leader in specific areas of care. As a result, it becomes the first choice for future professional referrals.

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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