By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
A Healthcare Success Special Report: A rugged survival guide for medical specialists who want to remain independent.
Nobody likes to be the messenger of bad news, but here it is…
Independent medical practices in the United States that want to remain independent have only two choices. They must—repeat, must—become an indispensable medical resource in their service area or they will inevitably become irrelevant.
Indispensable or Irrelevant. Thrive or die. There is no middle ground. No third option. As that sobering reality registers for a minute, you’ll recognize these change factors and unstoppable trends.
As the nation’s healthcare delivery system continues to reinvent itself, independent (non-hospital) medical practices and groups are increasingly being crushed by hospital-owned competition.
“More physicians are employed by hospitals in 2013 than in 2012, and the solo practitioner continues to disappear,” reports healthcare staffing firm Jackson Healthcare. But the competitive consequences of a dominant health system is especially challenging for referral-dependent providers and groups.
In this environment, the flow of professional referrals—in orthopedics, neurosurgery, cardiology, radiology, and others—is heavily (if not exclusively) retained within the hospital system. Primary care physicians (also hospital employees) refer “internally” and “outside,” non-hospital groups are overlooked or effectively locked out of the referral loop.
To whatever degree that is currently true, the trend is clear and inevitable. In Health Reform and the Decline of Private Physician Practice, Merritt Hawkins for The Physicians Foundation predicts:
- “The independent, private physician practice model will be largely, though not uniformly, replaced.
- “Most physicians will be compelled to consolidate with other practitioners, become hospital employees, or align with large hospitals and health systems for capital, administrative and technical resources.”
On Becoming Indispensable
In our national consulting work, we’ve found many specialty medical practices that have elected to remain independent business entities. These individuals and groups are decidedly unwilling to become “irrelevant.” They are determined to survive and to succeed.
The answer—the only viable option and path to independence—is to have an unshakable marketing presence in the marketplace. They have given their non-hospital medical practice a commanding voice that is a widely respected brand. The result is that they are an Indispensable factor with the referring physician base as well as the general patient public. They have become a top-of-mind entity that can’t be dismissed or ignored.
Becoming “Indispensable” is not the easy course. (Fading into oblivion is probably easier, although decidedly unattractive. We’ve seen practices crumble while holding fast to the notion that they were impervious to change or that nothing was happening.)
Although this option is challenging, an effective marketing plan includes six, and only six, fundamental ways to market a healthcare organization. Your strategic plan will include these components:
- Professional Referral Marketing
- Internet Marketing
- Internal Marketing
- External Marketing
- Public Relations
The specifics of every marketing plan will differ, but each will consider all of these ingredients. The carefully orchestrated objective is to be a differentiated and universally recognized entity…one that cannot be ignored or minimized by the hospital-dominated delivery system.
Special Report Available
Our new special report for independent practices discusses the considerable challenges of becoming indispensable. This free special report provides an in-depth discussion of the issues and outlines how specialty providers and medical groups can transform themselves.
Being “Indispensable” means being a recognized, respected—and undeniable—professional resource. Being “irrelevant?” Actually, that’s not an option.