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Getting Inside Physicians’ Heads

The key to effective marketing by hospices to referring physicians is to get inside the doctors’ heads and understand what they find threatening and what would be considered helpful to their work. "Know where the doctor is coming from. Ask about their experience with hospice and how they think it might enhance their practice," said Dr. David Fisher, of Advocate Health Care, Oak Park, Ill., in a presentation at the NHPCO’s Management and Leadership Conference.

Physicians don’t want to feel uncomfortable or that they are losing control over their patients’ care, he said. They don’t want other practitioners interfering in that relationship. One of their biggest fears involves ever-increasing time pressures and the concern that bringing up the hospice option or starting a discussion about goals of treatment could open the door to a major time commitment. "A lot of doctors don’t feel comfortable because we don’t know how to have that conversation," Fisher explained.

A script of questions and conversation catalysts, printed on laminated cards by the hospice and handed out to referring physicians, could be helpful for starting those conversations. Other common concerns of community physicians include wanting their patients to be satisfied with care, seeking evidence-based practice and good outcomes, and obtaining professional and financial recognition for their work.

Speak the physician’s language, which includes patient satisfaction and quality of care perspectives, Fisher said. Emphasize the hospice medical director’s role as a trained specialist in palliative care. But it is important to avoid turnoffs like appearing to be "trolling" for patients or giving the impression that you think you know more than the physician does, Fisher related.

"It’s our job to make it easier for physicians to refer." Another strategy is to use the hospice medical director in a carefully targeted outreach campaign to key referring physicians. "You need to decide where you want your physician to talk to them — in the hospital, the doctor’s office, over lunch. Once you plan that, give your physician attractive marketing materials to hand out," he said.

There are no magic bullets in outreach to physicians, added Fisher’s co-presenter, Martha Vetter of Transcend Hospice Marketing Group, Holland, Ohio. But the hospice needs to base its outreach onsolid research, planning and then evaluation of results. Also important is clarifying and promoting the hospice’s "brand" – what sets it apart from its competitors.

Whether done by an internal marketing department, a marketing consultant or an independent market research firm, she said, the key is "research, research, research." Understand the actual and potential patient base; develop profiles of local physicians who are more or less likely to refer to hospice. She recommends community-specific research on patient demographics, supplemented by Medicare data.

It can be hard to get time to see busy physicians, and when you do, it won’t be for very long, Vetter noted. Plan to keep initial meetings short, addressing only a few key points. Also, nurses and office staff may be equally important targets for the hospice’s message.

Marketing to physicians "is not for the weak at heart, but for those willing to move to the next level," she concluded. It may take two to three years to show evidence of success. But an effective marketing campaign targeting physicians, using sales-trained liaisons, can be essential in driving the hospice’s mission.

For more information on Advocate Health Care, visit www.advocatehealth.com.

Address: Transcend Hospice Marketing Group, 1500 Timberland Dr., Holland, OH 43528; (419) 241-2247, www.transcendhospicemarketing.com.

This article is reprinted from Health Resources Publishing's "hospice letter." © 2011, Health Resources Publishing. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.

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This page was last updated: June 27, 2011