We seem to be in a “get big or die” phase of healthcare right now. The cost of running a small practice has skyrocketed in the past decade, and often the solution is to merge with other small practices to form a larger, stronger entity.
When the decision is made to merge or acquire other practices, the focus often falls on increased leverage with payers, shared cost of electronic medical record systems and decreased overhead. Merging the brand is seen as an afterthought. But in reality, it might be the most important decision in the process. If run well, each individual practice has spent years creating brand equity by providing a high quality of care and earning patient trust. Patients know their practice, trust their doctor, and have strong feelings of allegiance to the practice.
So the goal is to merge the individual practices in such a way that these positive perceptions are retained and shared with the other practices in the group. While every situation is unique, there are a couple of general tips that will support the process and increase the likelihood of success.
1. Plan a Transition Period
If the name of the practice will be changing (and we generally recommend all practices come under one name), there will need be some period of time where both names are available to patients. For some practices where patients are seen every month, this time period may need to be relatively short. For other practices who see patients on an annual basis, a much longer transition time may be needed. Consider putting some marketing resources behind publicizing the new name during this transition period. This is a golden opportunity to remind patients that you are available to the community and to get people back into the office for a visit.
2. Consider Localizers Wisely
Small practices are tightly bound to the geography they serve and often reflect this by having cities or neighborhoods as a part of their name. When merging practices under one brand, these localizers will almost certainly need to be expanded. Keep in mind that it is hard to envision where the practice might be in a decade, so avoid selecting a new name that will impose problematic geographical limitations.
3. Avoid Physician Names
If Drs. Smith and Jones are merging with Drs. Schmidt and Banelli, it can be tempting to simply call the new entity Smith, Jones, Schmidt and Banelli, PA. Avoid this when possible. Take this opportunity to establish a practice that is stronger than the individual doctors. It will have more staying power, value, and flexibility to adapt to future market changes.
4. Define an achievable Brand
First off, brand is not just your logo. For a discussion of this, spend a minute reading “What is Branding and Do I Really Need It?” Brand is best described as “the perception someone holds in their head about your practice.” Brand is what a patient or referring physician thinks about when they hear your name.
Now is your chance to define exactly what you want this perception to be. What do you want someone to think when they consider your practice? Cutting edge? Family? Empathy? Partnership? Efficiency? You’ll never achieve what you don’t define, so put this down on paper. Take the time to establish this and get buy-in from the major stakeholders.
This being said, you have to be realistic. Take stock of the assets you have and how you will use them. Pick a brand statement that is attractive to your market and achievable with the practice assets that are available.
5. Bring Service in Line with the Brand
When asked what branding is, I often reply that it is “everything.” This is especially true when merging practices. The details matter. If one of your core brand characteristics is “efficiency,” then the patient needs to spend a minimum amount of time waiting for lab results in every practice in the group. If a target brand attribute is “empathy,” every doctor and nurse needs to call the patient by their first name and make the effort to understand their condition before walking into the exam room. Now is the time to document and implement care and operational guidelines that support your target brand.
Keep in mind that these are general tips that will help most practices. In every situation there will certainly be other considerations that need to be addressed. Now may be the time to establish a relationship with an experienced healthcare marketing company like Proclaim Interactive to help you navigate the process. If so, drop us a line. We’d love to get to work for your practice.