Local Health Care Services
In addition to community demographic information, it is helpful to learn about the healthcare facilities and providers in your area. This information can help you decide on aconvenient location for a new office, when to schedule office hours, and the best way toadvertise to reach the greatest number of new residents in the community. To gain abetter understanding of the health care services offered in a community, determine thenumber of hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living communities, etc., that are nearby. Ifyou are affiliated with any of these organizations, review their inpatient populationbecause you will likely serve patients from the same geographical area. Any newfacilities that are under construction in the community should also be considered.You should learn who all the physicians are in your area because they will be both yourcompetitors and potential referral sources. Inquire about the size of each physician grouppractice and what special services they provide. The AMA manages a database of health carepractitioners: https://www.ama-assn.org/life-career/ama-physician-masterfile. The directory includes a listing of all hospitals, nursing homes, managed care organizations, ambulatorycare centers, and group practices by town.
After you have located the names, addresses and specialties of the physicians and otherhealthcare organizations in your community, mark their location on a map. It is oftenhelpful to use colors or symbols to indicate different health care providers andorganizations to assess advantages or disadvantages of your practice, your geographiclocation, distance from competitors, and distance from other practices that could affectreferrals.
If you are established in a community, you have easy access to the information needed todevelop a profile of your practice. If possible, study your total patient population byextracting information from your practice management system, or randomly select a fewhundred active patient records to analyze. In particular, you should know the age of yourpatients, their residence and working locations, your primary sources of payment, andhave a general idea of your practice capacity. Work with your staff on this project andask them all to write down how they think the profile will look because it is often veryclose to actual data. If your computer cannot easily generate the data needed, assign eachmember of your staff specific data to collect to expedite the process.
There are differences in the age and sex of patients among specialties, but the averagepractice has a patient population of approximately 45 percent male and 55 percentfemale. A review of patient’s zip codes will probably reveal that most patients live nearyour office. Determine if physical barriers, such as highways or rivers, or competitorsprevent residents in local zip codes from reaching your office. If your community isgrowing and you want to serve this new population, your marketing strategy should bedesigned to make your practice visible in select neighborhoods, and involve contacts withnewcomer clubs, civic organizations, schools and new physicians. If your community isstable, your marketing activities may be centered on increasing and maintaining patientsatisfaction, adding services that will serve the needs of your current patients andinvolvement in ongoing community services.
Communicating to your existing patients all the services available for their immediate orextended family members is another easy way to increase your practice’s patient base.An office with a comfortable atmosphere that emphasizes personal touches, such ascommenting on known activities of family members or recognition of family stresses,while adhering to HIPAA standards, are strategies that increase patient satisfaction andgenerate more word-of-mouth referrals to other family members and friends.
Other useful data that can be extracted from your appointment records includes: totalvisits per year, average number of visits per month and whether the patient load hassignificant seasonal variations. As you review the data look for changes to the number ofactive patients, percentage of new patients that return for follow-up visits, and thenumber of new patients or ancillary services that could be added without addingadditional staff. If you are new in practice and have less than one year’s experience totrack, try extrapolating from the data you do have but recognize that you may missseasonal variations. This analysis helps determine practice capacity and to predict howthe addition of new patients might affect your practice.
If you currently provide any ancillary services, develop a list of the services mostcommonly performed in your office, such as electrocardiograms, stress tests, andlaboratory tests. Determine if there are any patterns in the data that may indicateadditional services that could be useful to patients. A close review of patientcharacteristics or ancillary services utilization may indicate the predominance of onedisease in your practice. If this is the case, you might consider adding disease-management group visits, or providing additional ancillary services that address thespecial needs of this patient population and their families.