Starting an O&P Practice: Completing the Puzzle

Before you can effectively market a new business, you need to understand the difference between marketing and selling, Dennis Clark, CPO, president of Point Health Centers of America Inc. and Clark & Associates explained.

“If you are selling … you are out there talking about yourself and your product and [why buyers] should buy that from you,” he said. “What we do is more individualized.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, O&P is not a market driven like those products toted in television commercials and in popular culture.

Elizabeth Mansfield, president of Outsource Marketing Solutions urges new business owners to shift their focus from selling themselves and their products to uncovering the needs of their prospective referral sources and patients to see how they can improve the services they are currently receiving.

“Ask them what their needs are, find out what problems they are having and how they can be solved,” Mansfield said. “Do more listening and less talking. It is all about finding the solution and marketing yourself that way. What is it that you have to offer or could make available to them if you listened instead of trying to sell yourself?”

O&P fills a significant void as a fixture in a select group of lives nationwide. For this reason, marketing is incredibly important and can be successful in helping to get a new business moving.

Being heard

Starting an O&P Practice: Completing the Puzzle
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Polushkin Ivan

Reaching out to physician’s offices for referrals can be nerve-racking whether it is your first time walking through that door or the thousandth. Developing a strategy that works for you is the key to not only getting your foot in the door but staying put to have your say.

“My main marketing strategy was and still is that I didn’t come to them with the intention to get all their work,” Lou Perrotta, CPO, owner of Perrotta Prosthetics and Orthotics, said about speaking to physicians. “What I am hoping for is to be able to do some of the work.”

In Perrotta’s pitch, he even explains how having more than one provider is good for patients and O&P companies because it forces competition thus demanding more precise and better work and raising the bar in the level of production.

“If they only refer to one person then that person can get a little bit slacked.” Perrotta told O&P Business News. “Most people agreed that there was plenty of work for everybody and that referring to just one company is not necessarily the best thing for everybody.”

When targeting physicians for referrals, keep in mind that you may not actually get to speak to the physician but instead to an office manager or nurse or other office representative who plays a key role in the decision-making process.

“If I targeted a physician who I wanted to meet, I would call and ask to speak to his or her nurse, not to the doctor,” Perrotta said, adding that many times meeting with a nurse or office manager has led directly to referrals and that it is not always necessary to meet with the physician for the go-ahead.

In-services are another great way to branch out a new business, especially at this time in O&P when so much new technology is available. This is an opportunity for new business owners to get to know their potential referral sources while also showing off their knowledge and why they should be taken seriously.

“The important thing is for them to establish themselves as a resource,” Mansfield said. “They want to make sure they are marketing and creating awareness.”

Dos and Don’ts of Marketing
  • Do sponsor a local recreational soccer or softball team. Your company name and logo will be visible on team jerseys and oftentimes kids reuse those t-shirts for years, Mansfield said.
  • Do seek out the missed opportunities. Every new business owner reaches out to physicians, but do they all reach out to local school athletics trainers? Mansfield suggests this group as one missed opportunity that just might send you some business.
  • Do think outside the box. Determine what sets you apart from the competition and let your referral base know it.
  • Do look for nontraditional marketing ideas outside the realm of O&P to incorporate into your strategy, Mansfield said. Whatever lured you into your local coffee spot or retail chain store might not be directly applicable to your business but with a little consideration, you might be able to employ similar techniques.
  • Don’t expect referrals to start flooding your office because you buy a doctor’s office lunch, Mansfield advises. Lunches are a good idea if they are held in conjunction with an in-service or another educational opportunity, but an Italian sub is no way to guarantee a patient base and the easiest way to drain your budget.
  • Don’t underestimate the benefits of outstanding work. Many orthotic and prosthetic patients belong to support groups or online forums and will be glad to pass along your information if they feel they have received exceptional service. Everyone you treat is another referral source.
  • Don’t be afraid to approach physician’s offices for referrals. If you receive a negative response, don’t let that stop you from visiting the next. Not everyone will be interested but you need to develop a thick skin to find those who are.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of physician camaraderie. If you are working with a physician and a new one has recently moved into the area, they might both be looking for services, Perrotta suggested. You may be surprised to hear the good work they will put in for you.

Leaving your mark

Speaking to physicians, nurses, case managers and entire groups of people at in-services are excellent ways to spread awareness and get your name out to local businesses, but leaving a lasting impression can also help to keep your business fresh in their minds. Materials such as brochures, patient testimonials and even pens and paper notepads with your business logo all help to reach this goal.

“When we provide in-services, we like to leave multiple things with them,” Jeff Quelet, CPO, owner and vice president of Ability Prosthetics & Orthotics said. “We have a bifold folder and within that folder we have several things; the prescription pad with the Ability P&O logo on it, clinicians’ biographical information … and patient education pamphlets.”

Determine what sets you apart from the competition and let your referral base know it.

Additionally, Ability P&O distributes magnets and pens. Earlier this year they also began giving out patient success stories in an effort to draw new business to their expanding company.

Clark agrees with these approaches adding that patient testimonials are a large part of their strategy for success.

“If I go in to talk to a physician, I’ll listen to what their needs are and talk about the features of our business but I always leave something behind,” he said. “We often leave pens or something else we think they might use that has our name and logo on it but patient testimonials have always been a big part of that. In any of the materials that would put out we always mention the credentialing of our staff because the physician wants to know that they are going to be referring patients to someone who can handle the job.”

Despite your best efforts in speaking to people and leaving memorable materials behind, Clark urges new business owners to go one step further and follow up with physicians.

“There are a lot of people out there who don’t send thank you or referral letters,” Clark said. “I take the opposite approach. I send a follow-up letter.”

The computer age

Personal interactions speak volumes when it comes to choosing care providers, but what is being said about you by others? The Internet holds a wealth of information of which every new business owner should be aware. Not only should a business have a well-run and regularly updated Web site, owners should also do some research to see what else is on the Web regarding their business as well as them personally as the owner.

Web sites are great portals into your business without ever leaving home. Patients and physicians seeking specific information are likely to turn to your Web site before calling directly. For this reason, you should spend time developing a Web site that works well for you that you can update on a regular basis. This addition to your business should reap positive effects as the opportunities for marketing are endless.

When targeting physicians for referrals, you may speak to an office manager or nurse who plays a key role in the decision-making process.

“The reason I like Web sites is because I can put up information on arthritis or amputation; on sports medicine or geriatric care or pediatric care or diabetes,” Clark said. “That way when someone goes to our Web site to find out about their particular area of interest, they can pick it right up. In a pamphlet, I am limited.”

If you are not well-versed in Internet usage it might be a good idea to enlist the help of someone more experienced who can help you design the Web site and also help you to decide what key works are most commonly searched to help potential patients or their physicians to come across your page when searching specific items.

A bonus to having a well-developed Web site is that you can update the information as often as you like. Print brochures and pamphlets may not be cost-effective if you can not update them regularly.

As for your online reputation, Mansfield suggests searching yourself and your business name to see what is already on the Internet before you begin to create your online presence. While you can not control everything that is online, it is important to update outdated contact information listed on a manufacturer or association Web site. A simple search will get you well on your way to creating the following you want.

Getting involved

Getting involved within the community is another great way to market your services.

“You don’t know who is mother, brother, sister, father, grandfather, grandmother may need the kind of service that you provide,” Clark said speaking from experience.

Since the early onset of his career, Clark has continued to reach out to Boy Scout troops, church organizations and hospital groups. His circuit of civic organizations has been so successful over the years that he no longer needs to seek out these speaking opportunities but instead is often invited by different organizations.

Quelet is having a similar experience as his years with Ability P&O continue to grow.

“When we first went about getting involved, we found events for our market,” he said. “Since we have been in practice for 4 years some organizations are starting to come to us.”

A bonus to having a well-developed Web site is that you can update the information as often as you like.

Working for causes like the Wounded Warrior Project and with local amputee camps has been one way to get the Ability name out in the community. But, like Clark, Quelet does not limit involvement to O&P related causes. Within the local community they have taken part in breast cancer awareness activities.

“Getting involved provides some name recognition to say that we are not just an O&P facility that provides product but part of the community as well,” Quelet said.

In addition to recreational marketing within local communities, Mansfield recommends that new business owners become members of the Chamber of Commerce and network with other business owners within the community. One group of people in particular with whom Mansfield strongly suggests getting to know, who might seem like interesting allies, is local realtors.

“You might want to network with your local doctors but you might really want to try establishing a relationship with your realtors and you can do that through chamber of commerce gatherings and local community organizations such as Rotary,” she said. “Realtors are your untapped networking superstars that can be helpful.”

Beginning a new business is a stressful undertaking and marketing that business in order to become a thriving company can be downright exhausting. Chances are you decided to go into business because you are passionate about helping people and passionate about the state of the industry. Retain that passion and let it come through in your marketing message and it will not be overlooked.

“The prosthetic and orthotic industry has a great story to tell is being told on the news almost everyday. The awareness of what we do is out there,” Clark said. “Each of us does a great job communication to patients one on one but we tighten up when we get up in front of a larger group. Realizing your passion for what you do and the knowledge you have and how interested other people are in that knowledge will make you a great speaker.” — by Jennifer Hoydicz

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