August 11, 2009 Feature

Communicating with Patients and Providers

All businesses (including health care organizations and private practices) need to market their services to attract customers, clients, or patients. Marketing is so important that it is usually part of any successful organization's strategic plan. The effectiveness of marketing designed to develop name recognition and a public perception of quality, value, and trust can determine the organization's ultimate market share and financial viability.

In the Division of Speech Pathology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, we market our services in many ways. As a result, we are the largest pediatric speech-language pathology program in the country and have a long list of patients waiting for services. From our experience, we suggest several strategies.

Marketing to Potential Referral Sources

We found the following strategies to be effective in reaching out to referral sources:

  • Lectures. Offer to speak to physician groups about disorders that they see and we treat. Many physicians do not know about the services we can provide. Certainly, putting a face and personality to your program also helps.
  • Handouts and brochures. Provide easy-to-read handouts/brochures at lectures and mail them to potential referral sources. These handouts should include important clinical information but also information on how to refer to your program.
  • Surveys. Send a survey to current and potential referring physicians to demonstrate that you care about serving their needs. From our surveys, for example, we learned that physicians do not want long, detailed reports. We changed our report format and let physicians know we responded to their feedback.
  • Personal visits. Set up 15-minute meetings with physician practices. Give them brochures and discuss the types of patients that are appropriate to refer.
  • Letters. Send an annual letter to professionals who are current or potential referral sources. Include a brochure that describes your services and gives guidelines for referrals and a phone number for physicians to call if they have a question, are concerned about a patient, or need patient handouts.
  • Web site. Include material on your Web site that describes your services and provides information for physicians and families. We find that people are more likely to seek services if they find helpful information on our Web site.
  • Media coverage. Look for every opportunity to obtain publicity about your program. Although television and newspaper coverage may be hard to get, it is relatively easy to place an article in a physician's monthly newsletter or on the hospital's Intranet.

Marketing to Potential Patients

The following two strategies worked well in raising awareness of our services to potential patients:

  • Free screenings. Free or low-cost screenings advertised through the media often provide an ongoing source of new patients.
  • Events. Partner with another business or organization to host a mutually beneficial event. Through a partnership with local bookstores, for example, we offer a free program about using books to stimulate language development; in return, the bookstore attracts more people to the store. We offer a valuable service, and we receive free publicity and books.

Marketing your program doesn't require a billboard on the expressway or a sign on a bus. Instead, marketing typically involves direct communication with potential patients or referral sources. Marketing can be done while serving others and, therefore, has more credibility and value than advertising. Regardless of the size of your program or budget, marketing should always be part of your strategic plan.

Ann W. Kummer, PhD, CCC-SLP, is senior director of the Division of Speech Pathology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and professor of clinical pediatrics and otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Cincinnati. Contact her at Ann.Kummer@cchmc.org. 

cite as: Kummer, A. W. (2009, August 11). Communicating with Patients and Providers. The ASHA Leader.

  

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