Physician Relations Secrets

Physician Relations Secrets Revealed

The business of physician relations can be a bit bumpy sometimes, but the marketing and communications folks at St. Anthony’s Medical Center in St. Louis use a systematic approach that’s shaping expectations and smoothing the road between hospital and physicians.

Of course, you’ve got to observe all the rules of the road…and “regulatory guidance” means that the rules are different for what can be done (or not done) in marketing support of hospital/health system physicians vs. private practice docs.

So what’s their physician relations formula for success and how—mindful of all the rules—to effectively support hospital or health system employed physicians?

St. Anthony’s Marketing VP Tess Niehaus and Senior Marketing Coordinator Jennifer Benz wouldn’t give away all their secrets. But they did provide insightful answers—and a lot of professional tips and fun ideas—in an entertaining and informative presentation at the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) Annual Conference this month. (And they’re not really “feuding,” it’s just the playful title to their presentation.)

Their approach begins with the concept that physicians are busy people, and smart as they are, they may have a limited background in marketing. Chances are, they have even less of an idea of what the hospital marketing and communications team can do to support them and their practice.

St. Anthony’s has developed a detailed, two-part checklist of all the initial steps and subsequent support tactics to establish a positive foundation for the hospital-physician relationship. The first part of the list—things that occur before the physician is formally “on board”—includes, for example, a personal meeting with the physician.

The meeting lets the physician know that there is a proactive game plan in play for their benefit. The entire process begins rapport-building, answers questions, open channels for working together, and generally shapes expectations. It’s also a two-way street; the hospital learns more about the physician and the practice.

And contrary to what they might think, marketing isn’t just about doing “promotional ads.” Their department will do such things as prepare individual thank you notes for new patients (to be signed by the doctor). The hospital call center, as another example, tracks and reports monthly how many referrals have been directed to admitting doctors.

The checklist also includes assuring that important details are completed, such as communicating the physician’s name and information internally, on the hospital website and the Find a Doctor directory. Physicians are also featured in short, educational videos the website.

Tess would not tell us all her insider secrets to success, so we’d like to hear from you about Physician Relations and what’s working. Post a comment here, or send us a note.


Tess Niehaus is vice president of marketing and communications at St. Anthony’s Medical Center, is the president-elect of the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development of the American Hospital Association.


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Stewart Gandolf

Stewart Gandolf

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Healthcare Success Strategies
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is happily married and a "rock-n-roll daddy" to two wonderful girls.
Stewart Gandolf
Stewart Gandolf


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