Another way to ask that question is who matters more going forward; the high-cost specialist or the primary care physician who is the gatekeeper for admissions, referrals and treatment? The answer is really self explanatory.
So why then do hospitals and health systems continue to market their specialists?
I think there are a number of reason for that, but mainly healthcare marketing and in some cases senior leadership is slow to change their marketing paradigm. It's easier internally to promote specialists. Its feeds internal hospital beast that marketing is doing something. It makes the Board and senior management happy not to mention the specialists.
Let's face it, I never heard hospital senior management jump up and down with glee when I talked about physician referral advertising and promoting primary care. And that was in the 1990s. Still pretty much true today in 2012.
But primary care is where it is at and healthcare marketing departments with their senor leadership teams need to get on the train. This goes well beyond just employing primary care physicians. It mean making substantial changes in your healthcare marketing and not focusing on the gee-whiz technology or specialty physician.
With millions of people potentially gaining health insurance, their first stop is going to be the primary care physician not the specialist. It may even be a physician extender in a retail clinic setting. But, it won't be the hospital or the specialist.
Okay, maybe the hospital ED where you can get the chance to involve a primary care physician in the follow-up care. But in the near future that's the last place you want to see someone for routine care. And people will continue to go there if they don't have a primary care physician.
So when you think about 2013 marketing, I highly recommend that all you healthcare marketers out there start focusing on marketing your primary care physicians. Including those primary care physicians that are employed as well as those that are independent practitioners admitting to your inpatient beds and referring to your outpatient services.
Building a differentiate-able market position, defendable experience/service strategy to get ahead of your competition, as well as the ability to participate in risk sharing and value based purchasing agreements is going to depend heavily on your ability to market your primary care physicians.
If you wait until 2014 to change your healthcare marketing strategy from specialist to primary care, it will already be too late.
That sound you hear is the train leaving the station.
Michael Krivich is an internationally followed healthcare marketing blogger with over 4,000 monthly pages views in over 52 countries worldwide. He is founder of the michael J group, a healthcare marketing consultancy dedicated to creating value through strategic marketing for hospitals and health system regardless of payment mechanism, either fee-for-service or value-based to increase market-share, revenue , brand and demonstrate actual return on marketing investment. Michael is a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives and a Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association.