Friday, March 09, 2012

How can you get your patients to trust you?

The biggest problem for young doctors who have just started practice is – How do I get patients to come to me ? This is extremely hard to do because most patients would rather go to a more established senior doctor who has a good reputation , rather than the new kid on the block. This means that even though you may be extremely technically competent and qualified , you may just be sitting and twiddling your thumbs because patients don’t know about you. This can cause a lot of heartburn , and is one of the reasons why so many young doctors are willing to give cuts and kickbacks to family physicians , to induce them to refer patients to them.

Not only is this an unethical ( and illegal) practice , it's also one which causes a lot of damage to you. Once you start giving kickbacks , you can never stop . You are effectively signing away about 50 percent of your lifetime income over to the referring doctor. When you consider that taxes will take away another 35 percent, what will you live on ?

Not only is giving kickbacks bad for your morale and self-esteem, it’s a mug’s game because it's easy for the referring doctor to keep on squeezing you even further as time goes by. Thus, if the GP is now charging you 50 percent as a kickback , there is nothing to stop him from charging 60 percent tomorrow, because a new doctor has started practice just down the road, and is willing to offer him that much more. Kickbacks do not create any loyalty - and the referring doctor is always in control because he can create a bidding war which you can never win.

Life used to be much simpler in the past , when family physicians would respect specialists , and would refer patients to the specialist who had the most expertise and competence in a particular area. No one gave kickbacks in those days, and the focus was on healing the patient. Today, family physicians do not respect specialists any more . After all, how can you respect anyone who is willing to take a kickback ? Specialists have become a commodity, and one specialist can easily be replaced by another ( if the incentive is right).

There's no point complaining about the declining state of ethics today. You have to face up to reality and deal with it. The good news is that there are success stories - smart specialists , who have created a brand name for themselves, and no longer have to depend upon a GP for referrals. You need to learn from them! Rather than depend upon a family physician to refer patients to you, you need to think of alternative options.

Let's stop for a minute and think about why referrals from family physicians are so important . It all boils down to a question of trust. Because patients trust their family physician , they will accept a referral from him with the hope ( which is perhaps exceptionally naive these days) that their GP will send them to the best possible specialist. Patients need to be able to trust a specialist before they will go to him . Since they already have an existing relationship with their GP and trust him, they are happy to transfer their trust to the specialist to whom the GP refers them to.
However, this is a broken model for many reasons. For one thing lots of families don't even have family physicians these days , because general practitioners have become a dying breed. Secondly , lots of patients are aware of the kickback system within the medical profession, which is why they don't trust referrals from GPs anymore these days.

So what do patients do when they are looking for a specialist? Some of them will go to the local corporate hospital because this has an established brand name , and they feel that they will be able to trust the specialist who works in that particular hospital. Many will ask either a friend or a family member for a referral to a specialist. Again, this boils down to a question of trust - and because they trust their friends and family members , they are happy to accept the recommendation of a referral from them.

So the question which arises is simple – how can a new doctor get patients to trust him? Bridging the trust gap is not a simple matter of spending money on advertising. It takes time for patients to trust a doctor, which is why it takes time to build a word-of-mouth reputation.

A quicker way of building trust in the community is to go online – which is where all the patients are anyway ! The best way of doing this is to create a website which provides a lot of information about the particular medical problem in which you specialize. If you take the time and trouble to educate your patients , you will automatically be perceived as being the expert in that particular area. If patients trust your expertise, they will be happy to come to you for their medical care.
Most patients are online these days. They will use the Internet in order to find out more information about their medical problem - and while they are online, they will also look for second opinions . Most patients need reassurance that their doctor it providing them with the right advice and that they are on the right track. If you create a website which is not about you but about the patient’s medical problem, and are happy to share this information with your patients , they will be able to trust the fact that you are an expert in this field , and will be much more likely to come to you for their treatment.

While this can be a time-consuming exercise, the good news is that it's not very expensive. If you're a new doctor , you're quite likely to have a lot of spare time on your hands because you don't have many patients, so you might as well use this time to develop educational materials for your patients and publish these online. This is a lifelong investment which will pay rich
dividends !

Everyone is moving online these days - to buy books ; choose a restaurant ; or book airline ticket. Patients have moved online as well, and it's high time doctors realized that the best way for you to earn your patient's trust is to invest in a website, which educates your patients. Your patients will be grateful to you for sharing your expertise and empowering them with Information Therapy !
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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:26 PM

    Dear Dr,

    Wonderfully said! I hope young physicians will follow the advice you have given them. Instead of getting caught in the unethical practise of giving bribe (kickback is a better word for bribe or :) ) to recruit patients, if doctors follow your path it benefits both the patients and the physician as well :) Dr, are you just perceived as an expert in the field of IVF or are you an expert really? :)))) Might be you could have said, ‘when a physician takes the time and trouble to educate his patients he automatically becomes an expert in his field because of the continuous learning process he has to undergo’. This sounds better, right? :)

    To tell the truth, when I read your post the first thought which came to my mind is 'isn't it a total business-minded attitude?’ how could you write like this? But when I think deeply it is obvious that the practise of medicine, which was once considered as a 'noble profession' is just a business today. When a young doctor has the expertise which will help the people in need, he can't simply sit jobless and moneyless by following the lost ethics within the medical field. You can't also go around educating ethics to an unethical doctor as they have crossed the age to learn all those nicer things. The best way is to understand the present situation and practise medicine in the most ethical way possible so that you don't go against your conscience and at the same time earn enough which will keep your kith and kin happy.

    It’s a sad truth that medical practise has come to this standstill. All this evil (lack of morality) stems from our educational system. I have seen children getting coached for the so called professional courses without even getting proper time for recreation or sleep. Both parents and teachers term it as hardwork! Medical profession do not need hardworking, unethical, uninterested, money-minded, robots. We need smart-working, caring, intelligent, well-read and empathetic physicians :)

    Have a beautiful weekend!


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