Ed Rabinowitz
Ed Rabinowitz
Every individual needs regular physical health check ups. Likewise, physicians and medical practices need to consider financial health check ups. To accomplish the latter, the Financial Health Check Up column provides physicians with pertinent, useful news and information from both a personal and practice management perspective.

Tips for Growing Your Practice

Sometimes progress is made by taking one step back before moving forward – or, perhaps, just by standing in place for a moment to assess before pressing onward. Such is the case when looking to grow a medical practice. Taking an “analytical step,” if you will, is critical to reaching your goals.

“Every physician wants to grow his or her practice, but you can’t do that until you know exactly where you are, and until you’re measuring key indicators for the health of the current practice,” says Tom Ferkovic, managing director, SS&G Healthcare Services LLC, an Ohio-based healthcare consulting and management firm. “A lot of physicians see how healthy they are by looking in their checkbook, but you have to do more than that.”

Diagnose Your Practice

There are two simple indicators to diagnose the health of a practice, Ferkovic says. The first is the number of new patients in the practice within a certain period of time, such as monthly. If the number of new patients frequenting the practice is growing, then you know the practice is expanding as well. Established patients generate the revenue that keeps the practice going.

The second indicator is the volume of patients seen within a given time period, such as how many patients you are able to see within a day, on average. “You’re measuring new patients, but you’re also making sure you have a good mix on a daily basis of new patients to established patients,” Ferkovic says. “What’s the ratio? Are you having a good mix across all days? That’s a key indicator on a dashboard. Because if you attempt to grow the practice, and the phone starts ringing but nobody can answer the phone, or you can’t fit those patients in the slots the way you have them set up, you’ll never grow the practice.” You’ll also alienate patients, who are key referral sources, trying to get into your practice, he says.

Rodger Roeser, president and owner of The Eisen Agency, a Cincinnati-based public relations firm, says that, along with monitoring Ferkovic’s key indicators to gauge the health or your practice, physicians should know how many similar practices are located within a 10-mile radius of their own. Ask yourself these questions: Does your practice have a website? If so, how many visits does the website receive? (You can easily track the performance of your website via such tools as Google Analytics.) Examine the brochures and materials your practice produces and distributes. Do they look professional? Do they speak to the practice’s brand? How do they compare to the materials your competition is producing?

“If you don’t know the competition, you can’t ever beat them,” Roeser points out. “And if you don’t establish initial benchmarks, it’s impossible to create a reasonable goal.”

Put Your Practice on the Map

Roeser says the best way to begin growing your practice is to establish your own expertise and your own credibility. Reach out to the local media. Describe your specialty in layman’s terms, and offer yourself up to media outlets as an authority on your field when issues or situations arise where expert commentary is needed. For example, if you’re an oncologist and a major celebrity or local official is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, you can provide analysis on what the diagnosis typically means for patients.

“Don’t be shy,” he says. “If you’re not going to sing your praises, no one else is going to proactively reach out to you because they don’t know you exist.”

Next, Roeser suggests looking into joining a local speaking circuit, addressing local groups or organizations, such as hospitals or even nearby nursing homes. Medicine, he says, is personal, and you can’t establish reputation through advertising.

“You establish reputation articles and through personal contact that shares your knowledge and expertise, so you’re vicariously building trust,” Roeser says. Local schools or health fairs are another opportunity for speaking engagements. “Get your photo taken at the school and have it placed in the local newspaper. That’s the stuff that establishes brand and credibility,” he says. “All the other stuff, like mailers and advertising, is reinforcement. Don’t kick off a marketing campaign with them.”

Don’t Get Caught Unprepared

Perhaps the most important thing, says SS&G Healthcare’s Ferkovic, is that as you look to grow your practice, make certain your staff is ready and can handle the new volume of patients. For example, if you plan on offering a new pain-management service, ensure staff at the front desk is aware and has the skill set to take on those new patients. “You can’t start a new service and tell a new patient the first appointment is in three weeks,” he says. “That’s just not going to work.”

Finally, make certain you measure not just how many new patients the practice is seeing, but ask how were they referred to the practice. “The worst thing,” says Ferkovic, “is to do something new and not know if it’s successful because you have no measurements.”