Tuesday, February 24, 2004

How to Find Patients

"So how are you going to find patients?"

That was the one question everyone kept asking me when I told them of my idea of opening a solo practice. And I still have yet to find the answer since I've had no patients yet. I knew things would be slow, until more and more people found out about me. I always figured word of mouth would be my best method of generating new patients. Unfortunately, not enough mouths know about me yet. There probably has to be a critical mass of people who know about me before someone who needs my services decides to call me for an appointment.

Plan 1: Open House (last week), for family and close friends, some former co-workers. About 60 people attended. Another 40 people were sent flyers/email, so they at least know about my practice now. Result: anecdotal reports from here and there of people who know people who are thinking of coming to see me.

Plan 2: Newspaper ad appearing in small local weekly newspaper tomorrow. Since I have no patients yet, it will a photo of one of our local friends' family (which I took myself with my digital camera for the ad). I did the layout myself on my Mac, and borrowed a tagline from a few years back used by the American Board of Family Practice: "Would you like to have a doctor who specializes in you?" I hope to feature a different local family every 2 weeks, and since South Pasadena is such a small town I figure many residents will recognize at least one of the families and reinforce the "neighborhood" aspect of my practice. South Pasadena only has a population of about 25,000. Since my aim is to reach a panel of 1000 patients, I'm very optimistic of reaching that goal within the local community.

Plan 3: Call local Catholic church and place ad in their weekly bulletin. While I am not a member of this church, I've had 2 people urge me to put an ad in it, if only to spread the word that I am out there. Makes sense to me and this I will do tomorrow.

Plan 4: Go around to local medical establishments and hand out business cards/brochures. I already handed out business cards to the Ob-Gyn doctor next door to me. There's also a plastic surgeon, and a rehabilitation medicine office in town whom I haven't met yet. I handed out some cards to a local pharmacy, but there are at least 3 others in town I haven't hit yet. This reminds me of when my parents bought a restaurant when we were growing up, and we would go across the street to the Target parking lot and put flyers under all the windshield wipers. I hope I won't have to do that, but whatever it takes, right?

Plan 5: Blood pressure screening at local Senior Center Health Fair next month.

Plan 6: Give monthly health awareness lectures at same Senior Center. My first talk is scheduled in April on "Mad Cow Disease". I offered a variety of topics concentrating mainly on senior-related issues, but they chose Mad Cow disease as the topic they'd like to hear first. Certainly a "sexier" subject than Osteoporosis.

Plan 7: Get on the local hospital's online referral database. I sent in my information yesterday and hey! Whattayaknow! I'm there already! Someone's on the ball at Huntington!

Plan 8: Get on various insurance plans as a provider. This will probably be the second biggest source of new patients, next to word of mouth. I've been told it may take up to 3 months from the time I apply until acceptance.

Plan 9: Yellow Pages. I thought I had submitted my order, having spoken to a SBC Smart Pages rep by phone a few months ago. The first guy I talked to was pushing me to buy a large color ad, when all I wanted was a single line ad, since I had heard that very few people find a doctor that way. When he found out what I wanted, he seemed to lose interest and said he would call me back. He never did. The second guy I talked to was more helpful, but apparently, needed to have the 1st guy call me back to confirm the order. Which he never did. That probably explains why I'm listed as "South Pasadena Family". But at least I'm listed under Physicians! They got that part right! (Maybe I shouldn't have told them I get phone service through AT&T).

Plan 10: Postcard mailers targeted to South Pasadena residents. I'm considering this down the road if I don't get enough patients in the next few months.

I'll be patient. I'm giving myself 2 years to build up my practice to its "full capacity". And if things don't work out, there's always...

Plan 11: Sticking flyers under windshield wipers of cars at Big Lots (South Pasadena has no Target).