A Need for Marketing?
Dr. Becker has been actively developing a hospital medicine program at Medical Center Hospital for the past two years and joined SHM as part of that effort. Familiarizing himself with the tenets of hospital medicine, he discovered that, as a family doctor, “unknowingly, I was actually practicing hospital medicine for 20 years!”
As part of the hospital medicine program development process, he has solicited input from local physicians as well as patients. A simple survey to assess interest in a hospitalist program asked potential referring physicians, Would you use a hospitalist? Would you use a hospitalist after waiting a while to see how the process goes? Or, would you not consider using a hospitalist?
In two years, says Dr. Becker, response from the referring physician community has changed from “bah, humbug” to one of readiness for the program.
A mass mailing can serve to introduce a hospital medicine program in a community. Dr. Bolinger’s group used this method and, in his experience, local subspecialists—orthopedists, cardiologists, endocrinologists, pulmonologists—have proved the biggest source of referrals to their program. But PCPs are starting to use the hospitalist service for vacations and call-coverage issues and are beginning to value hospitalists’ services. “Physicians like coming to the hospital, but they’re starting to realize that the hospitalist program is a better system,” says Dr. Bolinger.
Dr. Nelson has been a hospitalist for 18 years. For most of that time he has had no shortage of referred patients. In fact, the bigger problem has been finding enough doctors to join the group and handle the existing referral volume. In that situation, it has not made sense to undertake marketing with the goal of increasing referrals. However, he advises, “It is always worth spending time and energy trying to maintain good relationships with physicians with whom you regularly share patients, and perhaps this could be called ‘marketing.’”
To maintain good relationships with referring physicians, his group conducts a survey on a yearly basis. A survey, he suggests, should be very short, consisting of only a few key questions, such as:
- Do we send reports promptly to your practice?
- Are your patients satisfied with the care they receive from us?
- Do you have any comments or feedback for our group?
Although his group gains information from these surveys, Dr. Nelson notes that the greater value of conducting such surveys may be in building public relations capital. By conducting a survey, hospitalists demonstrate that they care enough to ask for their referring physicians’ input.
Another good marketing tool is a patient education brochure, given to referring physicians, that explains hospitalists and hospitalist care. These brochures can help referring physicians prepare their patients for seeing a hospitalist in the inpatient setting, thus easing the initial reluctance patients sometimes experience when encountering a new physician.
On the cusp of launching his medical center’s hospital medicine program, Dr. Becker sees that good communication between referring physicians and hospitalists will ensure the program’s success. He advises physicians to remember their classes in communication as third-year medical students, when most participate in videotaped patient encounters. It’s always instructive, he says, to see how we come across to others in conversation.
Both verbal and nonverbal cues play a part in good communication. A 2003 study by Griffith and colleagues concluded that better nonverbal communication skills are associated with greater patient satisfaction, and that formal instruction in nonverbal communication can be a good addition to residency training.3
“I find that doctors talk to each other, in general, very easily,” says Dr. Becker. Sometimes [good communication] is just a matter of opening that door and essentially keeping the former attending, the PCP, apprised of what is going on.”