Congratulations! You’re at the light at the end of the tunnel. After spending most of your young adult life in a hospital and making it through the maze of standardized tests, you’ve amassed enough medical knowledge to fill up several Wikipedia pages. You’ve landed a private practice position that excites you, and you are ready to make the transition from trainee to attending- or so you think.
You have the knowledge and training to provide the best care to your patients, but do you know how to maintain and grow your medical practice? While medicine is a calling, healthcare is very much a business.
Here are a several essential strategies you’ll need to grow your medical practice and keep it off life support.
Even if you are in a large, well-established medical group, you will still need to master the art of networking. Growing a medical practice, like any other business, relies on a steady stream of good referrals. Primary care physicians (especially if you are a specialist) and other doctors will become your source of referrals. Medicine is a social network, and it is vital that your name and face be embedded in your colleague’s memory when their patient asks for a GI referral or the best ophthalmologist in town.
Make sure to join your regional or citywide medical association and show up regularly to local, citywide or university held M&M meetings. Embrace social gatherings like holiday parties, wine socials and more. Not only are they packed with great food and good company, they serve as a casual opportunity to put an extra plug in for your practice. For example, I once used a holiday party to convince my colleagues that I truly deserved my preferred OR time slots!
Remember to reciprocate. Offer to give a lecture at city ground rounds or for your local PCP’s office meeting. As you educate your colleagues, you reinforce your specialty expertise or the niche market that you are passionate about building.
Streamline Your Time Management
While you don’t need an MBA at the end of your already long list of credentials, savvy business skills will serve you well in your career. A streamlined business strategy is vital! Now is the time to make your templates for common patient scenarios (use the templates on your current EMR to serve as a guideline). Solidify your practice preferences; for example, I prefer a three-piece drape for cystoscopy while others prefer a single piece. While both are effective, streamlining your preferences now will allow for a more enjoyable workflow in the future.
If you notice something that works well in training, write it down, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel countless times. I remember my chief resident carrying a notebook and writing down things he liked in the OR and clinic in the last few months of training. It’s also an excellent idea to bluntly ask about the office staff and resources in your new position, so you are not caught off guard by an understaffed office or a shortage of supplies or equipment necessary for your productivity.
Remember your time is money and you’ll need a bit of it to pay off those school loans. Think strategically about your schedule and how you will stick to it. Do you have dedicated administrative time or downtime to respond to patient calls and online queries? You’ll need to make sure that you have time to fit all your activities into your schedule. Remember, in the real world, ACGME work hours do not carry weight, so you will be in charge of building your work-life balance!
Adopt a Patient-Centered Care Approach
While patient-centered care seems to have become a buzz phrase in the last few years, the concept has been conceptualized by modern medicine for much longer. In 1921, Dr. William Lower, the founder of the Cleveland Clinic wrote, “a patient is not dependent on us, we are dependent on them.” These words still hold incredible weight in today’s healthcare arena and for growing your medical practice. Always treat every patient like the most important person on your team.
I remember receiving several direct referrals in the first few months of practice from patients because as they put it, their prior doctor “just did not listen.” While these doctors were all highly skilled, patients prioritize feeling heard by their care providers. Patients talk, and you want it to be all good news.
Sit down when you enter the exam room, shake hands and always address patients- and their questions- respectfully. If issues extend beyond the scheduled time, develop a polite but firm phrase to redirect your patients to follow up at their next appointment or by emailing your office staff. Providing patient-centered care does not take inordinate amounts of time but allows your patients to know that you are sincere, optimizing the doctor-patient relationship that will keep you in business.
Build a Unified Marketing Strategy
A vital key to growing your medical practice is press. While I won’t go as far as to say that “all press is good press,” you do have to be visible to your patients. Set up a recurring meeting to discuss marketing strategies with your office manager, so that you are on the same page as you grow you medical practice’s image. Utilize free and paid advertising, thinking of this as an investment in building your medical practice, rather than an expense.
Free advertising sources like your city’s “Best Doctors” lists or local health fairs or festivals are invaluable. Also consider putting out a press release for any new services your practice is offering in the town newspaper, or use Google or Facebook advertising to increase engagement with your local community online. Never miss an opportunity to ask your patient to leave referrals, especially on your website or physician rating sites. In today’s technological age, almost everyone has a website and social media presence, but remember to update and to engage. Provide incentives for new patient visits or start a “Get healthy for the New Year” or “30-day eye health challenge” for your Facebook or Instagram followers.
Transitioning from trainee to attending is a significant accomplishment. Enjoy the process, but make sure you take the time now to strategize how to make this next step as smooth as possible. Use these tips to grow your medical practice for years to come!