HOW TO GET (A LOT) MORE NEW PATIENTS - Secrets of a Highly Successful Medical Practice, by J E Limpin, MD, and E L Forys, Esq. MD Publishing Co., Covina, CA, 2000, 115 pp, $85, ISBN: 0- 9675902-9-9.

Review by Del Meyer, MD

This short, concise book of strategies and ideas was written by a physician, a medical office manager and a marketing consultant, who have opened four separate medical offices that have evolved into busy and highly successful profit centers, managed care influence notwithstanding.

The nine short chapters are a fast read and an easy reread. Starting with the premise that the acquisition of new patients is the key to success, we are shown how to prepare for increased patient traffic. Before doing anything, they suggest, re-evaluate your location, the outside sign, and your suite. The waiting room should be neat, clean, carpeted, spacious, well lit, air-conditioned, and free of odors. There should be magazines of interest to both men and women, free medical brochures, a handy box of Kleenex, a water cooler with an adequate supply of cups, a trash can, and a television.

The staff must be pleasant, friendly and expert, and should smile readily. Try to make all patient contact experiences positive. Pay attention to your employees’ telephone conversations with patients. They should be saying "how can I help you?", not "may I help you." Have adequate telephone lines. Get an 800 number that spells out something catchy or useful. Even your fax should be an 800 number. You want people to contact you, don’t you? At lunchtime, don’t close the office and turn the answering machine on; people dislike getting an answering machine in the middle of the day. Leave a live person to answer the calls at all times during regular business hours.

Don’t focus on how many patients we can see in one hour; think about how many will return again and again because you spent a few extra minutes with them and showed some genuine concern for their well being. Surprise them with your personal attention and in turn be surprised at how your practice will prosper. Patients aren't buying just an examination and a cure; they are really purchasing a whole relationship experience package. This includes your appearance, your image, your behavior, your dress, your employees, your environment.

Price does not always sell. Try higher rates: appeal to exclusivity and the desire for quality. Avoid middle of the road pricing--you won't appeal to the bargain hunters and you won't appeal to the quality seekers either. The authors advise against treating people for free or less than standard fee. However, a senior citizen discount on your slowest day will help those on fixed incomes and fill your Mondays.

Accept credit cards, join the Chamber of Commerce, and get listed in directories. Redo your business card; put your photo on it, make it a little bigger, use color, add your Logo, [and your e-mail address]. Telemarket your old inactive patients by informing them of your new hours, equipment, staff, procedures, flu shots, pneumonia shots and other services. A refrigerator magnet with your name and telephone number on it is a premium 'give away’ so that patients never have to look your number up in the phone book.

Referrals are extremely valuable. Always give your patients more than they expect in quality time, compassion, concern, free samples or extra services. This opens the door to receiving something in return: referrals. Good marketing is an investment, not an expense. When you start a practice, expect to spend 40% of your time marketing. Later when you have plenty of patients, reduce it to 20%, but never to zero.

Increase your exposure to create value to your practice by writing letters to the editors of local publications, writing columns or articles, giving free seminars, or sponsor an event or an award. If you speak at a function, be sure to send out press releases and invite key individuals.

This is but a small sampling of the many useful ideas the authors offer, and even if you find only a few you can use, the book will have more than paid for itself. I’ve seen a 10% increase in consultations in the past two months since incorporating some of these ideas into my own practice.

This handy reference heralds a much-needed return to the practice of free enterprise in healthcare where patients come to us because they want to, not because their Managed Care Organization, or Independent Practice Association or their Health Maintenance Organization require it.