Practice Pointers: How to market your practice

March 4, 2005

A practical primer on what works and what doesn't.

Some physicians find the idea of advertising their practice distasteful, thinking that medical professionals shouldn't stoop to the type of promotion typically used by retail businesses. But let's face it: You are running a retail business. Even if you're an excellent doctor, patients aren't going to beat a path to your office door if they don't know that your practice exists.

"You need newspaper ads, and they shouldn't peter out after the first few months," says Rebecca Anwar, a medical marketing consultant with The Sage Group in Philadelphia. "After all, Coca-Cola still advertises."

Advertising should be only one part of your overall marketing plan, however. As Anwar explains, "You first have to decide what your goals are, and how much you're willing to spend to promote your practice, including the cost of advertising." While the amount you spend will vary depending on your location and specialty, practice management consultants generally recommend budgeting no more than 1 percent of your gross revenue. Obviously, a rural practice with little nearby competition won't have to spend as much as a practice in an urban or suburban area with lots of other physicians.

Wherever they appear, display ads should include the physicians' names, the location of the office, the hours you're open, the services you offer, and the insurance plans you accept. Where to place the ad depends on a number of factors. Here are the choices:

Newspapers, TV, and radio. Newspaper ads are relatively expensive, costing between $150 and $750 per placement, depending on the size of the ad and the circulation of the paper. For new practices, consultants recommend running a display ad once or twice a week for the first few months. But don't expect miracles. As Charles Davant, an FP in Blowing Rock, NC, recalls, "When we hired a new associate a few years ago, we ran six weeks' of newspaper ads to announce her arrival. But they hardly generated any new business."

Jeff Denning, a consultant with Practice Performance Group in La Jolla, CA, says that's a common mistake for primary care practices: "Nobody cares that a new doctor's coming to town. What you need to emphasize is the unique training or skills that the newcomer brings. For instance, if she's the only FP in the area trained to treat a particular condition, that's something people may care about."

Denning adds: "In terms of cost-effectiveness, buying advertising time on television and radio is out of the question for most small to medium-sized practices in major metropolitan areas. In a small town in Kansas, however, doctors can probably afford to use both."