Why it’s important to brand your medical practice

Originally published in HCPLive.com

by Jeff Brown, MD

You might be thinking, “Why should I consider branding or marketing?” And your reasoning might go something like this:

1. As a doctor, I already have a powerful, built-in identity;
2. My practice is full;
3. Even if my practice isn’t full, Congress is in the process of putting 40 million more insured people into the available patient pool over the next few years.

All points well taken. But marketing and branding aren’t just about increasing volume, and therefore revenue; it’s also about adding some additional measure of value to what we do. These nuanced efforts play out over time to become more important than you might initially imagine. And, positive or negative, they tend to linger.

I’m also writing about branding because this touches upon my mantra that docs get little or no exposure in training to non-medical areas of how we function in an organization and/or run a business. And whether we like it or not, it turns out that these non-medical considerations affect not only our economic bottom line but also how well we can care for our patients and the way in which we think about ourselves.

It pays financially and emotionally to think about a carefully weighed “brand.” That’s one reason why even docs who do not specialize in a focused sub-specialty become known, often inadvertently, for having a particular area of interest or expertise. It’s easy and natural for people to want to encapsulate a doc because of an impression. Wouldn’t consciously aiming for a certain identity be better? Wouldn’t that get the referrals and patients that you prefer? How do the patients best suited to what I can do best identify me, so that I can help them for the benefit of all concerned?

To get to specifics, one thing that every doc can do that will make a difference is to take a simple public speaking course. I know, every survey says that people would rather walk naked in church than have to speak in public. But docs are naturals for this role. Much of what we do is teaching. We are ourselves always learning and the little training involved can convert you to a confident believer. You can then better present the aspects of yourself and your practice which you desire to promote, in a more directed, self-aware manner.

One obvious example of how this can help is the CME marketplace. I have yet to go to a meeting where my number one feedback comment was not to allow the eminent Dr. X back on stage without some speaking training. How can you be effective if you don’t really know how? Too many docs are in denial about this. Dense slides and monotone mumbling on an arcane subject is an insomniac’s dream, not communication. And it’s not good for your brand, meaning either you will not be asked back or you won’t be getting more of your desired patients referred or attracted. A brief introduction to public speaking would add value to every physician’s training, and it’s easy enough to find in any locale on your own. Once you’ve got the basics under your belt, you might notice increased effectiveness, even in the examining room, not to mention how much you enjoy using these skills.

We all know how important appearance is, and we know that the old saw, “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” is true. And I’ve seen several studies that underline the value that patients place on the appearance of our offices and us. But bring this subject up to docs and they often get huffy and defensive. “Why?” I ask. It’s all to the good to review and improve. For instance, over your lunch hour sometime, take a stroll to a few nearby offices that you have never visited. Walk in or just peek in the window. Whatever you see will either make you feel better about your current situation or give you some ideas for improvement. If there is any cost involved for any changes you might make, it will come back to you manyfold both financially and psychically in pride and compliments.

And when was the last time you got that good feeling that comes from a new white coat with your name embroidered on it (amazing, but even in your office people still need to be reminded of your name sometimes)? Or rotating to a freshly laundered one daily or weekly? How about a new or cleaned tie? And didn’t we learn anything from Ignaz Semmelweis and his struggle to prevent (puerperal fever) infection transmission?

As professionals we are preoccupied with a lot of important work every day and branding, or whatever you may want to call it, may seem unimportant or trivial. Except it’s not. Like it or not, we are judged every day, and how we present ourselves affects our ability to do the best job for our patients, affects our bottom line, and therefore how we feel about what we do.

Jeff Brown is a family physician who blogs at Take As Needed.

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