Finding and Keeping Patients for Your Practice

Dr. Frank J. Bush's four-provider practice is flush with patients.

Dr. Bush, Spiegelman, and Pemberton Pediatrics had never placed an ad, and it doesn't have a Web site. The healthy patient picture is a testament to the quality of care provided by the physicians, said the practice's Office Manager Jeanette Bush.

“We have four providers coming into the office to give 100 percent or more to our patients,” said Bush. “You really can't ask any more than that and yet the doctors always rise above what is expected of them.”

For 15 years, the practice's chief marketing strategy has centered on keeping patients satisfied. Families know their doctors. They know what to expect during each visit, they come in knowing their wait will be short, and they usually leave having learned something new.

“Parents are our best advertisement,” Bush said. “If you're treating other people like you'd like to be treated, you don't have to run an ad.”

But Dr. Bush, Spiegelman, and Pemberton Pediatrics has not rested on its laurels. To stay unique among its competitors, the practice's providers have enhanced their areas of interest while keeping focused on wellness and preventive care. Dr. Bush has buttressed his expertise in newborn care with basic dermatological services. Dr. Spiegelman is the go-to provider for developmental spectrum disorders. The practice's Physician Assistant Maureen Robert is an expert on parenting skills, and both Dr. Bush and provider Dr. Robyn Pemberton have spotlighted their expertise as lactation consultants.

Word of Mouth

Green Hills Pediatric Associates, like Dr. Bush's practice, relies mostly on word-of-mouth when it comes to finding new patients. The practice, said Buffler, prides itself on the quality of its providers, its emphasis on family-based medicine and markedly short wait times. One of the few families that left Green Hills Pediatric Associates when the practice relocated in 2009 eventually returned because the added travel time was worth the shorter wait to be seen.

“Our doctors, our friendly staff and family tradition are our huge strength,” said Green Hills Practice Manager Michele Buffler. “That's why parents bring children here.”

But Green Hills does not rely on reputation alone. The practice sought outside marketing expertise amid its relocation to a nearby section of Nashville. Providers, concerned about losing patients to the move, hired an outside contractor to assess the practice's strengths and to communicate relocation plans to patients in a positive way.

Whether it's moving across town, opening a start-up solo practice, or trying to survive in a demographic area increasingly saturated with pediatricians, physicians must often call on any and all marketing strategies available to them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' Practice Management Online has published numerous articles offering tips on marketing a practice and recruiting and retaining patients. Among the most effective methods are creating a Web site; advertisement through television, phone book and newspapers; and meet-and greets and other community events.

After Green Hills' relocation, when effective communication was most important, the practice's providers introduced themselves to the neighborhood by presenting some 50 obstetricians with personalized jars of green and white (Green Hills' color scheme) M&Ms printed with “Green Hills Pediatric Associates” on one side and “We've Moved” on the other.

The practice also invested in other communication tools, including an email messaging system to notify parents of weather-related cancelations and flu vaccine availability, and its Web site – which offers online services for appointment scheduling, health forms and prescription refills. The online tool has served as a conduit for new patients and an indirect method for ensuring patient satisfaction.

“It's all tied into communication,” said Buffler.

Despite the most advanced marketing techniques, however, both office managers agree that no form of electronic communication can replace friendly, personalized care.

“The world is focusing on having to stay connected through this device or that and that's great, but it hasn't replaced having a human being answer the phone or having a front desk person who knows who you are,” said Bush. “Parents want to speak to somebody, not a 'please press 4.'”

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Tags: pediatrics, PCC Blog, Independence