Editor's Note: Healthcare Success authored this article as one of a series for ImagingBiz, a unique industry publication that delivers business intelligence for hospitals, imaging centers and radiology practices. The marketing concepts regarding physician liaison, practice representative, physician relations or business development apply to many professional, medical and healthcare marketing situations.
The business landscape in radiology and imaging center marketing can seem like a combat zone. It's rough out there. You and your physician liaison just might have battle scars.
Where are you in this picture? Competition is increasing or shifting dramatically. Reimbursement—never a simple matter—is extra thorny. Overhead and expenses are up. Independent physicians and medical groups have rolled-up into new business entities. Imaging centers look alike to self-referring patients. And once-solid referral sources have defected or disappeared behind rival lines.
And what's worse, we find business owners, imaging centers executives, radiologists and hospital decision makers are at risk of shooting themselves (or their business development person) in the foot. Here, for example, are two common problem areas that we see often...and what to do about them.
Physician liaison, practice representative, physician relations or business development...their titles differ, but the task is the same. It's all about sales. The person in this role is—or needs to be—skilled in cultivating and maintaining inbound professional referral sources. (Yes, having clinical experience can be a plus, but sales stripes are the primary consideration.)
The right hire for this full time job can engage referral doctors and staff, constantly adding value and growing rapport. A good representative understands that people do business with people, and it's their job to build lasting relationships. It's not enough to occasionally deliver bagels to the front desk and disappear. (We're fond of bagels, but Dan the UPS guy can do deliveries.)
It's a common mistake for administrators or owners to expect the sales person to also wear many other hats, even when the tasks seem to be related. A representative's primary role of guarding and enlarging the referral stream is not the same as being able to write a brochure or building a website.
The skill sets required are distinctly different, and they are rarely found in one person. In reality, there are business development people and there are marketing communications people. Only one of them will excel at business development. There's no such thing as a "universal" soldier.
It simply doesn't work to go unarmed into battle. Still, we often hear from on-the-street representatives who are desperately in need of a supporting budget or adequate materials. More than bagels...sometimes they lack the basics; a compelling brochure or an engaging website.
The specific materials that they need will vary according to the marketing situation. But above all, it's vital to understand the needs of the audience and to know the strengths and weaknesses of the competition. (Note that what is needed for the professional referral side of business development is not the same as what may be needed for direct-to-consumer marketing for patient self-referral.)
Your representative needs the proper equipment to compete for physician time and attention and to keep your business flag clearly in sight above the competition. (At the risk of mixing our analogies, it would be like buying a high performance sports care and expecting that even a champion driver could move it very far or fast without fuel, lubrication and proper maintenance.)
Take a moment to calculate the average annual revenue that flows from a single referral source. Keep in mind that marketing is an investment, not an expense. The dollars-and-cents answer for any imaging center or radiology practice is that the economics of building doctor relationships are powerful. And you want the numbers to be working in your favor. Chances are, you don't want to lose even one established referral source.
A reasonable, even modest, investment can produce a strong return by adding and maintaining new referral sources. To illustrate, we recently worked with one well-qualified representative who is clearly the right person for the job. With the proper sales skills and tools in hand, this person has added nearly 40 new referral sources to the new business revenue stream.
The bottom-line numbers were impressive. In this situation, our champions are winning the competitive battle. Physician Liaison isn't about counting bagels. It has a measurable Return-on-Investment. And it simply doesn't make sense to send your physician relations person into battle unarmed.