Becoming a hospitalist

September 10, 2010

Learn how to brand your practice.

Q: I have recently become a hospitalist after practicing in the office for 15 years. I find there are many misconceptions about hospitalists not only among patients, but even more surprisingly, among my colleagues. How can I "brand" my practice and what are benchmarks I can use to prove the quality of my colleagues and our practice of hospital medicine?

A: Branding the practice is a great idea. There are a number of ways to do that. One simple step is a consistent graphic identity-logo and/or typeface-which should be on all business cards, script pads, letterhead, memos, lab coats, scrubs, and name tags. If we took all of the collateral materials the doctor might use in the practice and laid them out on a table top, it would be very obvious that they all come from the same practice. But that's only the first step, and while important, it's not the most important. Service, patient care, and accessibility are all critical issues to branding.

Branding is really about setting expectations for a service or product based on past experience. When you encounter that service or product in the future, it has an instant recognition and meaning-a brand identity or brand equity, where consumers, in this case, the referring physicians, say, "Oh, this is Dr. X's hospitalist practice-he provides great care, is always available, provides great communication with his referring physicians," etc. What the new hospitalist wants is for the mere mention or indication of his or her name to have a positive, instant recognition and response that says quality.

Branding takes time, and it requires consistency, tenacity, and commitment.

As for the benchmarking, it is often a great way to support the value of a service or product. In this case, there is not a great deal of external benchmarking data. Some is to be found with organizations such as the Medical Group Management Association, American Medical Group Association, and specialty societies. Identify the benchmarks that are important in a community. Generally these will be clinical benchmarks with quality of care consequences as well as financial impact. Track length of stay, medication changes, returns to hospital, and work with the hospital quality committee or medical director to identify important metrics. Benchmarking will be done on an internal basis. Trend the benchmarks over time and plot them on a graph, not in a table. Visual impact in this case is far stronger than numbers.

Answers to readers' questions were provided by Alice Gosfield, Alice Gosfield & Associates PC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Kenneth T. Hertz, Medical Group Management Association Healthcare Consulting Group, Pineville, Louisiana.; Jack Rue Coleman, CHBC, Dental-Medical Economics, Plano, Texas; John Untener, Clayton L. Scroggins Associates, Cincinnati, Ohio. Send your practice management questions to medec@advanstar.com

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