Physician Marketing and Outreach
Today’s hospitals and healthcare systems are increasingly becoming more focused on building and
sustaining relationships with referring physicians as a key market segment. Many leaders are
looking for new and innovative ways to engage referring physicians in an effort to grow referral
volume and share of wallet. A common challenge is that referring physicians are becoming less
interested in the typical outreach tactics employed by today’s physician relations programs.
How can hospitals and healthcare systems increase awareness and build relationships with an
audience that is becoming resistant to traditional methods of outreach and marketing?
Gelb has worked with a number of top-rated academic medical centers and hospitals to assess the
referring physician experience and develop strategies to grow this unique market. We have
interviewed thousands of referring physicians across markets and specialties, giving us a unique
perspective in the goals, wants and unmet needs of this important market segment – one that may
contribute to over 50% of new patient volume.
At Gelb, we believe that designing innovative strategies to target referring physicians requires
three areas of focus: Market Insight & Opportunities, Strategic Planning & Execution and Program
Effectiveness Measurement. Ideally, this is an on-going, iterative process – providing a method for
continuous insight development and execution improvement. This white paper examines these
three areas of focus and provides actionable insight and prescriptions to help leaders in physician
relations and marketing identify market opportunities and grow customer lifetime value.
With over 50 years in marketing research experience, we consider insight development as the
foundation to the creation of innovative strategies. Generating market insight and identifying
opportunities requires exploration of several areas of inquiry. Three primary goals of this inquiry
are to segment the market in meaningful ways, to size the market for key services, and to assess
Part 1: Market Insight and Opportunities
First, it is important to review your current market segmentation schema for referring physicians.
Development of meaningful referring physician market segments and personae is key to strategic
planning and effective execution. With the proliferation of tools and technology to enable 1:1
marketing and outreach, a robust market segmentation can help physician relations programs
leverage these tools in ways to build substantive relationships with physicians.
We recommend going beyond basic demographic segmentation by incorporating both
psychographic and behavior-based data into the development of referring physician segments.
This approach will enable you to design a custom approach to target your communications and
tactics. Below are some segment characteristics you may consider:
Once a market segmentation has been defined, analysis of the composition of your current
referrers versus the composition of the market can help you understand what segments are
currently attracted to your brand and highlight opportunities for growth.
The ability to quantify the size of the market is an important component in prioritizing marketing
and outreach activities as well as for goal setting and measurement. Market sizing is a means to
approximate the current and potential volume for a service line or service/procedure. Depending
on the tools and data you have available, there are several methods to approximate market size.
Using third party data sources, typically based on claims data, it is possible to determine the
volume of procedures that a physician, practice, or hospital is performing. Summing up the total
procedures for providers in a particular market can provide you with the size of the market, or total
“pie”. Rolling up procedures by service line can extend the analysis to provide a summary of
market size by service line.
From here, additional analysis can be performed to assign a revenue value to this market as well as
the ability to calculate an organization’s market share for this particular service. Understanding
share of market for a service/procedure is important in identifying “care path” leakage. Do you
have a high market share for diagnostics versus a low market share for certain treatment options?
It may be that marketing and outreach tactics can be utilized to create awareness for underutilized
services through targeting and messaging.
Understanding market share and referral patterns by procedure or service can surface
opportunities for growth and highlight areas for improvement.
A final component of market insight and opportunities is assessing the competitive landscape.
Here is where things can get complicated. Hospitals and healthcare systems compete for referrals
with each other, with practices and even with physicians. Competitors may vary based on service
and location. Other factors that impact competition include affiliations and employment
Many organizations look to tracking and analyzing referral chains to understand competitors. This
is difficult to perform without resorting to black box algorithms. While tracking and analyzing
referral chains may provide some competitive insight, we have found that there is often more value
in knowing why a physician chooses to refer a patient to a particular provider over another.
Researching what we call Physician Decision Factors, we assess the competitive landscape in a
market in terms of brand (awareness, reputation, preference, satisfaction and likelihood to
recommend), referral experience and marketing/outreach effectiveness.
Decision Factors research can identify key competitors as well as surface how a physician chooses
to refer to a particular provider. This type of research provides prescriptive insight into how to
influence the decision-making process through positioning, marketing and outreach.
Key Takeaway – Market Insight and Opportunities
- Developing innovative strategies to engage referring physicians and grow referral volume requires
deep insight into your addressable and available market. A solid foundation for strategic planning
means incorporating segmentation, market sizing and competitive assessment techniques to
develop market insight and to identify opportunities.
- Market segmentation helps to segment prospects and customers based on their goals,
wants and unmet needs, providing a framework for crafting and delivering relevant
messages and for designing 1:1 marketing and outreach.
- Market sizing can be utilized to prioritize program activities and focus on opportunities by
targeting certain physician segments to gain market share, building awareness of
underutilized services, and identifying leakage in the path to care.
- Whether it is reputation, relationship, experience or even convenience, knowing how a
physician chooses a care provider, a competitive assessment provides a basis for how to
influence referring physicians through competitive positioning, marketing/outreach and
Part 2: Strategic Planning & Execution
Armed with deep market and customer insight, our next area of focus is strategic planning and
execution. When developing strategies for referring physicians, we begin with business goals and
objectives. These typically consist of objectives like growing volume for certain service lines or
programs, improving the referral experience, etc.
We have found that there are three key areas of strategic focus to achieve these goals and
objectives: attract and attain new physician relationships, engage and convert, and grow customer
lifetime value and advocacy. Strategic planning that incorporates these three components ensures
your marketing and outreach activities are targeted toward growing relationships across the
Attract & Attain
Selecting tactics to attract and attain prospects and leads begins with institutional strategic focus
and market sizing. Once certain service line/service priorities are set, the next step is to explore
outbound and inbound strategies for identifying and attracting prospects and leads.
Outbound strategies may include tactics like purchasing lists of physicians in your market who are
not current referrers based on set criteria (e.g. service line priority). This list can be utilized for
targeted marketing and outreach- such as email marketing and field visits.
Inbound strategies require an assessment of offline and online content available and in use. In our
research with referring physicians, we have found that online resources rank high as useful
materials for choosing a care provider. Reviewing collateral in terms of vehicle, content, message
current usage will be important.
For example, if pediatric neurology is a strategic priority, it will be important to assess the materials
available and current usage. How frequently are the pediatric neurology related website pages
visited? What are the page paths to conversion? How are paid search campaigns performing? The
purpose of this assessment is to determine if current content is easy to find and access and will
facilitate the path to referral.
Both outbound and inbound tactics should be designed to support strategic priorities as well as
tailored to market segments. As an example, if our primary target is in-market pediatricians and it
is determined that this segment’s goal is easy, convenient, family-centered care, then we will
assess content for messages that align with this goal- for both inbound and outbound tactics.
Engage & Convert
Developing strategies for engaging and converting physicians requires a slightly different approach
then those for attracting physicians. Once your facility is within the consideration set, the ability to
convert a lead to a referral can be impacted by both access and the referral process.
From an operational perspective, careful analysis of the referral channels to assess the referral
experience is important.
From a marketing perspective, messages about access and ease of access at key touchpoints for
strategically important services can be helpful in moving a physician through the funnel, from a
lead to referral.
Grow CLV & Advocacy
Building relationships with referring physicians begins early in a physician’s career and lasts long
into retirement. We often hear physicians describe how their perceptions of hospitals and
healthcare systems develop over time. It may be an experience in medical school or a relationship
with a colleague. Either way, referring physicians represent a unique market segment with the
potential for a tremendous customer lifetime value.
In our work, we often work with leaders in physician marketing and physician relations to identify
ways to maximize this potential. Interestingly, preferences really vary by physician market
segment. Physicians in your local market have different expectations and needs than those who
may be in your extended market. Specialists and primary care physicians are also different in how
they prefer to engage with hospitals and healthcare systems.
Despite the nuances between segments, most referring physicians expect to be treated with
respect and to have a mutually beneficial relationship with care providers. It is imperative to ask
yourself and your leaders- do you demonstrate respect for referring physicians, for their business
and for their patients?
Below is a list of best practices to incorporate into strategic planning for demonstrating respect and
growing customer lifetime value:
Key Takeaway – Strategic Planning and Execution
Combining market insight with strategic planning and execution can accelerate the growth of your
physician marketing and physician relations work. The ability to target and segment your market is
essential to your ability to design and execute marketing and outreach tactics that really connect
with your physician audiences to attract and retain relationships.
When it comes to execution, a solid Physician Relationship Management (PRM) platform is key to
supporting your program in terms of both sales and marketing activities.
Part 3: Demonstrate Program Effectiveness
Most physician marketing and outreach programs rely on lagging indicators, such as referral
volume as a means to measure program effectiveness. While business metrics, like referral
volume, are very important metrics, we believe that a balanced approach includes other measures,
When designing a measurement strategy for physician marketing and outreach programs, at Gelb
we recommend a top down approach. This means starting with your organization’s business goals
and developing program objectives to support each. From there, drilling down to measures and metrics that demonstrate each objective is the next step. Finally, setting goals and targets for each
metric completes the process.
Some of the key performance indicators we incorporate in measuring physician marketing and
outreach programs include measurement of the quality of the relationship (satisfaction, Net
Promoter Score, referral experience), length of the relationship and level of engagement (emails
opened, CME courses attended, attendance at special events).
Technology also plays in important role in demonstrating program effectiveness. The ability to
capture and integrate data from a variety of sources, analyze the data and then visualize the
findings can really simplify reporting while providing a means to share insights with your program
as well as other stakeholders. Choosing the right reporting and dashboard tool can reduce the
amount of time required to source, integrate and analyze the large volume of data required to
demonstrate program effectiveness.
Key Takeaway – Demonstrate Program Effectiveness
The inability to measure and demonstrate program effectiveness can become a barrier to
execution of even the most well-thought strategies. Knowing what is working and what is not – can
provide decision makers with the insight required to make mid-course corrections and maximize
effectiveness of effort.
Access to reporting and dashboard technology can accelerate the process, from collecting data
collection to insight development, providing real-time knowledge for decision-makers.
In conclusion, designing innovative strategies to target referring physicians requires three areas of
focus: Market Insight & Opportunities, Strategic Planning & Execution and Program Effectiveness
Measurement. An integrated approach that includes these three areas can help your organization
identify opportunities and market segments to explore, move leads and prospects through the
funnel and build strong lasting relationships that grow customer lifetime value and advocacy.