by Caryn S. Easterling and Stephanie K. Daniels
Consumers today have more available knowledge and are more sophisticated regarding medical and rehabilitative services. Many professionals find it necessary to market their services in order to keep consumers informed and to perpetuate referrals. Speech-language pathologists are the preferred professional referral for patients with dysphagia. If, however, you are not receiving referrals you can market your professional training, experience, and skills to develop your referral base or substantially increase it.
Marketing may appear to be a daunting task. As professionals, we may have less time available at a specific job site and less time to discuss patient services with colleagues and family. Other perceived obstacles include a lack of training in proactive marketing strategies and, most important, inadequate communication regarding our successful outcomes to other team members and to the consumers of our professional service.
Because dysphagia practice has become such a large portion of SLPs’ caseload in every practice setting, other professionals have taken an active interest in this "market share." We can no longer just be visible in our work site to receive the referrals. We must project our training and expertise in the results of each case we evaluate and treat, and be active on the team that decides the patient’s care plan. The times have changed and we must use marketing techniques to promote our expertise in dysphagia.
ASHA has specific tools to help you market your dysphagia practice. Two of the available brochures—"Feeding and Swallowing Problems in Children" (ASHA, 2000) and "Swallowing Problems in Adults" (ASHA, 2000)—are ideal for the average consumer. Each brochure describes the phases of swallowing, etiology, signs and symptoms, consequences, and the role of SLPs in dysphagia evaluation and treatment. (All resources in this article can be obtained by calling the Action Center toll-free at 800-498-2071. In addition, a comprehensive list of ASHA’s health care resources will be published in the next issue of The ASHA Leader and will be available in The ASHA Leader Online .)
Having brochures available at various locations in your facility and distributing them to colleagues may increase referrals. However, a crucial part of a good marketing plan is to discuss dysphagia, and its evaluation and treatment, with potential clients outside your facility. You may want to plan an inservice at the local school, support group, or university or be a featured speaker for a radio or TV talk show. ASHA brochures can be attached to your business card, lending a personal touch to your marketing effort.
A number of articles in the "Let’s Talk Health Care" series available from ASHA focus on dysphagia. These articles, which also are designed for the consumer, include "Feeding and Swallowing Disorders in Infants and Children" (Newman, 2002), "Swallowing Problems in Adults" (Coyle, 2002), and "Swallowing Problems After Head and Neck Cancer Treatment" (Lazarus, 2002). We must be creative in distributing information in conjunction with identifying public speaking platforms that increase visibility of the service we provide, the training we have, and our experience and outcomes with our patients.
It is important to emphasize the training SLPs have that is specific to dysphagia. Three ASHA publications that address this are "The Roles of Speech-Language Pathologists in Swallowing and Feeding Disorders: Position Statement" (ASHA, 2002) and "Technical Report" (ASHA, 2001), and "Knowledge and Skills Needed by Speech-Language Pathologists Providing Services to Individuals With Swallowing and/or Feeding Disorders" (ASHA, 2002). These documents can be downloaded from ASHA’s Web site .
One of the best marketing strategies is to promote the effectiveness of your services. ASHA’s National Outcomes Measurement System (NOMS) makes it easy for members to collect data that speaks more loudly than volumes of promotional material. Members who enroll in NOMS receive free training in how to complete ASHA Functional Communication Measures, which include a seven-point rating scale for swallowing. The swallowing measure is more sensitive than other ratings and can reflect your outcomes on a quarterly basis. You also will receive a benchmark of your outcomes with respect to national outcomes in dysphagia. Consumers, payers, and professionals look for data to make their referral decisions, and NOMS provides the evidence to demonstrate the value of your services.
Marketing takes effort and time. It takes time away from family and personal life, and you don’t get paid to do it. However, you can increase your referral base and caseload by educating consumers and peers. Start now to develop a plan to market your dysphagia services using ASHA’s resources. Marketing can make and keep you the expert. If done effectively, it can help you continue putting your passion into practice.
Contact Caryn Easterling at firstname.lastname@example.org, Stephanie Daniels at email@example.com, or Paula Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about NOMS, contact Tobi Frymark at email@example.com or through the Action Center at ext. 4330.
This article first appeared in the June 2002 issue of Division 13’s newsletter, Perspectives on Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders , Vol. 11, No. 2. For more information about the division, contact the Action Center at 800-498-2071 or visit the Division 13 page on ASHA’s Web site.