It is crucial to know the characteristics of your practice's service area. Start by asking basic questions about the service area, including the following:
- Is the population growing or declining?
- What trends are you seeing with respect to the average age, sex, household income, race/ethnicity mix, education levels, and length of residence?
- Describe the work force: Is there a predominant employer?
- What is the mix of retail, manufacturing, governmental, and service occupations?
- What potential effect will environmental factors have on the community's physical and mental health?
- Who are your competitors? How many similar physician practices serve the same population?
- What is the distribution of primary care versus specialty care physicians in the service area?
- Do consumers out-migrate from the service area for specialty care, and if so, why?
- How do consumers/patients differentiate physician care delivered at your medical practice from what is offered at competitor practices?
- What attributes do they value that can be leveraged to build awareness, preference, and, ultimately, utilization of your group's service offerings?
- How do consumers perceive the physician group?
- Is there anything truly distinctive and meaningful about the group, and if so, how is this being communicated to the marketplace?
- What sources do consumers rely upon to get information about physicians and the group's clinical offerings?
- How do consumers make their choices about where to go for care (e.g., health plan, employer, word of mouth, etc.)?
- From where does the practice draw 80% of its referred patients?
Much of this information is available through secondary market research, which refers to already existing information obtained from external sources, such as the Medical Group Management Association, the U.S. Census Bureau, and local and state medical associations. It also includes internally generated data, such as relative value units, current procedural terminology codes, and patients' ZIP codes.
Unlike hospitals, which have access to standardized inpatient market share reports, most medical groups don't have a lot of detailed information about their market share and must rely on estimates. The National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey publishes physician visits by specialty every two years. However, this information is specific to regions of the country and not to local area marketplaces.
There also are proprietary outpatient modeling software packages that estimate office visits using claims-based data. These may be a better solution, depending on your needs. The important thing is to recognize trends and to know what is happening in the practice service area. Choose the method that best helps you do this.
This article was adapted from Physician Entrepreneurs: Marketing Toolkit, a HealthLeaders Media book.