Starting up a direct care practice can be very inexpensive. With the Direct Care Lite theme in mind, I want to review how you keep costs low when marketing a brand new practice. The great news is that YOU are your best advocate. While I realize this concept may inspire fear in the hearts of many physicians who do not see themselves as marketing experts (never mind the fact that you're already worrying about being a business person and entrepreneur!), it is not that hard and yes YOU can do it!
If you start a practice from scratch, you have few or zero patients on day one and have to find a way to spread the word yourself. Of course you can hire a paid marketing support person, but in my experience they help more once you've already gotten the ball rolling. Without any patient word of mouth and without much money to fund your marketing budget, you have to strap on your boots and pound the pavement yourself.
Here are my top suggestions for self-marketing for free:
- Find all of the local online and print newspapers and email a few people you find. Look for a content editor, someone who wrote an article you like, or any name you can find. Send them your pitch - i.e. why you started such a unique practice, how it is new and there is nothing like it around, how this model is growing leaps and bounds and we finally have one here! Expect to email them many times over the course of months. Some will write something quickly and others will take time responding.
- Link every article about you on your website - Share the link via your website on facebook, instagram and in a newsletter. Organic publicity via shared social media links that lands people back on your website is worth its weight in gold!
- Use each article for the next one - send the link(s) to your site and the articles written about you to each new news source that you are hoping will write about you so they can see that you are newsworthy!
- Network, network, network - every person you meet should hear about what you're doing. Tell your kid's friends' parents at soccer, tell your church group, tell the person you run into at the coffee shop. For every person who shows any interest, get their email. Add every email you collect to your newsletter. If you're invited to a BNI group, say yes. If you have the option to go to an evening marketing event for the town, say yes. If you can attend a local chamber of commerce event, say yes! You get the point - I promise once your snowball is rolling you won't have to do this anymore :).
- Start a newsletter - as I've mentioned above this is key. It gives you one place to store every email you collect from networking and to put together the links of articles that you generate from local press to share with the email list. You should also link to any blog posts you write for your practice, share photos, make it personalized about who you are and why you are doing this as you start out.
- Have a Facebook and Instagram Presence - post as often as you can remember. Post every blog you write, every article that is published, do a "throw back thursday" and repost old articles, share photos of your day-to-day as a DPC doc, and add local events where you tag local businesses so they like and tag you back!
- Collect Google reviews - 7 years into practice we have patients all the time who join and say "your reviews are so much better than every other practice that I just had to join!" Ask every new patient in your welcome email to review you on google and/or facebook (Google is tops because it is everyone's favorite search engine and your high review will bump you higher on searches). If anyone gives you a compliment, thank them and ask them to post in a review (and feel free to explain it's the best way for other patients to find you!). Use your reviews in memes on facebook/IG and in your newsletter to share the words of others recommending you.
- Blog - use your website's blog to write about what interests you in medicine, in DPC, in your world. Make it personal and informative. Make sure to link to other articles to help with Search Engine Optimization. DPC blog examples for ideas: https://www.plumhealthdpc.com/blog,
- Recirculate - basically once you've done everything above, do it again. Cycle through these things over and over until you've gotten to a point where you can start putting some money into facebook and google ads (and/or hire someone to help with that) and/or you have patient word of mouth taking hold. Seven years in and one of the few expenses we still splurge on as we continue to grow our panel is a marketing expert, google adwords, and facebook advertising. We may be full soon and end this arrangement, but for years it has paid us back. But our first two years we did not put a dime into this and we got our own ball rolling...and you can too!
More on keeping overhead low when you startup...
More on startup cost calculations...
If you're new to the concept, this post will review what it means to be a Direct Care practice. Most accept that the Direct Care model of medical care delivery began with Garrison Bliss MD at Qliance in Washington State while others believe pioneers like Brian Forrest MD of Access Healthcare Direct receive a lot of credit too. Regardless of the exact details of its roots, the concept has remained simple and grown exponentially.
Direct Primary Care (DPC) is the most common Direct Care practice. Rather than billing insurance like the Fee For Service model (FFS), DPC doctors bill patients directly as a monthly membership fee. This allows a predictable stream of income for the practice and gives doctors the opportunity to reduce the number of patients per physician, leading to much higher access for patients to their doctor. Most practices offer cell and email access directly to the physician. Many also offer discounts on labs, medications, and assistance in accessing more affordable imaging and specialty care.
The major goals of DPC are affordable, transparent cost for direct access and care through a physician who is not over-burdened by patient volume and insurance-dictated administrative responsibilities. Removing the burdens related to insurance billing (staff & related benefits, billers, data-miners, etc.) reduces the overhead costs required to run a practice. This is what allows doctors to have fewer patients on their panels (i.e. 300-600 rather than 1000s) and therefore spend more time per patient (including in-person, remote care, researching difficult medical concerns, etc.).
In reducing the administrative burdens faced by physicians in the FFS world, Direct Care doctors regain the control of direct care of patients, their own scheduling needs, and remove the sense that their rushing through their days checking boxes and referring patients out. If you're intrigued by the possibility of reigniting your flame for practicing medicine and patient care, I urge you to keep exploring how I've established and run my DPC in the simplest of ways.
Keep reigniting your flame for medicine:
- Be the Doctor You've Always Wanted To Be...
I am a Family Physician, wife to a doc, and mother of three with a mission to convince you as a doctor that you are worth more than the system is giving you and that you are already well-equipped to make a big change without adding more burdens! My passion is helping existing or start up Direct Care practices learn to troubleshoot, streamline, and simplify.