Marketing 101

by
  • Zakowski, Mark, MD
| Sep 04, 2012

Why talk about marketing? I’m a doctor!

The days of physician as healer, with stellar reputation and generally little competition or interference in the doctor-patient relationship are waning. Indeed, as a Master in Public Health student reluctantly admitted to me, her teacher(s) told her the problems will get better as the older doctors retire. Clearly the status and perceived VALUE of the physician-patient relationship has suffered a great decline in academia!

Welcome to Marketing 101.

Our professional societies, the ASA and CSA have taken the “high road” for many years, and have only recently begun to actively promote who we are and what we do—even this is a preliminary form of marketing! However, you, the individual physician, cannot be complacent, thinking that joining a society, or even being employed by a large organization will be enough to ensure long-term security. It won’t. Your ability to treat your patients, your freedom to choose the best treatments for your patients, your payments for professional services, and perhaps even your ability to practice at all, are based upon someone else’s perceived value of your services. Hence you need to be marketing yourself, every day. You cannot be satisfied, letting others do the work for you. You are personally affected in your day-to-day life by how others perceive and value the work you do.

Questions you should be asking yourself include: Who is my customer? What do they want? How can I provide that service? How can I help them understand the complexity and value of what I do? As anesthesiologists we have excelled at taking complex, dangerous medical and surgical procedures and turned them into “routine” everyday events, with high success rates and low morbidity/mortality. A few years ago, the National Institute of Medicine singled out Anesthesiology as the ONLY medical specialty that has improved patient safety in the last 20 years. We have become so good and made it appear so easy that others have said, “I can do that!” Few outside our specialty truly understand the complexity and difficulty involved in being the peri-operative physician—or as I like to say, the “Guardian Angel”—of the patient before, during and after the increasingly complex procedures being performed.

But how do we increase our perceived value to our varied customers: patients, surgeons, hospital administrators, insurance companies and legislatures? Tell them! How many patient or other contacts per day do you have? Two, five, twenty? Speak up! Every single day provides ample opportunity for you to let the people you meet understand your value. Don’t make the interaction about you, but about how you provide value to them, your customers. Even something as simple as explaining what you are doing can work. Instead of just saying you are putting in an arterial-line, emphasize the complexity of the case, benefit of the A-line, and how you will use your years of medical training to help guide and protect your patient through the anesthetic. Tell the patients. Tell their families. I’m reminded of an old professor of mine who would bluster into a patient’s room for the pre-op, and start by saying, “I’m Professor of Anesthesiology and I’m going to save your life.” While perhaps a bit extreme, in speaking up, the patient and family perceived significant value in his role, which they might otherwise have overlooked!

The majority of Medicare recipients prefer to be taken care of by a physician for their anesthesia. Let’s build upon that base of goodwill and expand to let all of our different “customers” in on the critical secret of the complex and potentially dangerous procedures being done—and how you, the anesthesiologist, provide outstanding value as their medical Guardian Angel. Isn’t that worth something to you?

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