A successful physician relations program utilizes a range of tactics – including in-person contact, professional networking, sales calls and hospital presentations for new service lines. However, an often underused strategy is an integrated communications plan that includes physician newsletters and other written materials. The focus of this column is on how physician communications can be employed to enhance the success of a physician relations program.
Benefits of Physician Communications
There are many benefits to providing regular written communications for your physician audience. Here are some of them:
• Provide information. At its most basic level, your communications should inform the physician about your hospital and highlight aspects that set you apart from the crowd. We’ll discuss the type of content you’ll want to include in your written communications a little later.
• Establish credibility. One of the underlying goals of physician communications is to establish your hospital as an expert in particular areas, such as cardiology, oncology, gastroenterology, orthopedics, etc. Articles that include physician quotes and demonstrations of proficiencies in procedures and treatments help achieve credibility.
• Remain top of mind. You can’t expect physicians to think of your hospital if you don’t cross their radar from time to time. Timely and regular communications such as newsletters help to ensure that physicians see your name and will think of you when they need to refer a patient.
• Fill in the communication cracks. Even when your rep meets with a physician, it’s possible that not all the information a physician needs to know will get communicated because of time pressure, etc. A newsletter or other written communication can help fill in the cracks from an information perspective, support and reinforce key messages in a consistent fashion, and be provided as a “leave behind” after meeting with a physician.
The old adage “content is key” certainly applies to the information you send to physicians. What’s most important is that you include information that’s meaningful and valuable to your physician audience. Here are several ideas for content:
• Physician use of new technology. Stories involving physicians using the latest and greatest technology position you as an organization that’s progressive, providing state-of-the-art procedures and seeking to achieve the best possible patient outcomes.
• Physician spotlights. Physicians like to read about other physicians. Physician spotlights provide the opportunity to highlight the work of a particular physician or simply to introduce a new physician that brings special capabilities. Features in a Q&A format can be particularly effective at producing information in a way that’s readable and entertaining, yet still informative.
• Service line additions. This is an opportunity to announce expansions in service lines that may differentiate you in the marketplace. Such added capabilities provide additional reason for physicians to take an interest in what your hospital is doing.
• Patient profiles. Sometimes it’s easier and more entertaining to tell a story through the perspective of a patient. A short human interest feature can be as attractive to physicians as it is to the general public.
• Continuing education opportunities. Be sure to include medical education offerings that you provide. This allows physicians to gain required continuing education credit while becoming better acquainted with your hospital and what it has to offer.
• Clinical trials. If your hospital is involved with clinical trials that may be of interest to your readers, share away. When physicians know that you’re participating in clinical trials in areas that interest them, they may be more apt to send patients your way.
• Hospital recognition and awards. You’ll naturally want to tell the world – and regional physicians – about the awards your hospital has received. However, it’s important that you be selective in how you communicate this information. If it comes across as chest beating without relevance to the physician audience, it’s not meaningful and therefore has little value. Explain the significance of such awards and what it means to physicians using your facility.
• Information on how to make referrals. You should include several references as to how a physician can refer a patient. This might be obvious, but it’s important you make this “call to action” clear and easy to find.
After you’ve developed ideas for content in your physician communications, there are a few other considerations you’ll need to address.
• Frequency. To maximize effectiveness of communications, it’s important they go out with regular consistency. Ideally, your publication will go out every two months. It’s better to produce a shorter publication more often than to produce a longer one less often. Visibility and exposure are critical.
• Length. Much as you might like to include a wealth of information, physicians, like most everyone else today, have limited time to read lengthy publications. Keep it short – generally no more than four pages – and to the point. Everyone’s time is valuable, particularly the busy physicians you hope to reach.
• Electronic or Paper? It’s tempting – and considerably cheaper – to send publications electronically. The benefits include reduced cost, faster turnaround and the ability to embed links. However, traditional hard copy publications tend to have a longer shelf life and maintain more overall visibility. Most complete communications plans include both electronic and print medium.