The importance of good PR

The first step in any public relations campaign is accomplished by providing the best possible service to clients, with a commitment to excellence. And, an excellent public relations campaign is founded on facts. Trust is at the core of public relations, and building credibility is valuable to a practice.

Many terms are used by a physician in describing his credentials to a patient. In printed materials and advertisements, a licensed medical doctor may be termed a “plastic surgeon” or “cosmetic surgeon.” Yet, as Dr. Richard Greco, spokesperson for The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), explains, “Since individuals considering elective cosmetic surgery often use information found through public relations activities to help decide on a particular surgeon, it then becomes the responsibility of the physician to inform the patient of their experience with a particular procedure and the likelihood of the patient obtaining the results they desire.”

A physician’s training, education, board certification, associations, and particular areas of surgical interest offer a patient the means to better identify the surgeon’s qualifications. The more information a patient has on a particular physician’s specialty, the better decision he/she will make with regards to their surgery.

Dr. Peter Fodor, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), explains, “The most common statement from patients who seek my expertise to improve the results of a surgical procedure they had elsewhere is that, initially, they did not conduct sufficient research to find a surgeon to best serve their particular surgical needs.”

So, let’s talk about private practice ‘tools’ needed to get the word out.

Tools to Reinforce Trust

Dr. Greco has found that the continual presentation of credentials in a nonpromotional manner reinforces credibility with potential patients. These tools can prompt patients to inquire about more detailed information regarding the procedure and the physician’s approach to the procedure. A better-educated patient has a better understanding of realistic anticipation and outcome. And, then, the ultimate goal can be achieved—a satisfied patient.

One tool used to reinforce patient trust is to provide interested callers with an “on hold” message giving detailed information regarding the physician’s credentials. “Often, potential patients on hold have called a particular physician’s office to request general information or to set an appointment. This physician is a stranger to the caller,” comments Heidi Mueller, product director for Audio Messaging Solutions, LLC in Clearwater, Florida. “An informative on-hold message comfortably introduces one stranger to another. It allows a patient’s general questions to be easily answered so that once in the office, the patient can get to the core of his/her concerns.”

A rubber stamp signature listing a physician’s credentials by email communication can also help a patient learn more about phy­sicians who practice cosmetic or plastic surgery. Also, listing credentials on brochures, consent forms, and other practice literature reinforces credibility. Another technique might be a practice Web site that offers educational information or an interactive video on the Web site whereby the doctor educates prospective patients.

With broadband access rates approaching nearly 70% in markets like San Diego (Nielsen Media Research—September 2004), a physician has the ability to educate prospective patients in a self-paced video experience delivered online.

Jay Jackson, CEO of IBCTV, LLC in Chicago, an interactive video and online marketing firm, advises his clients of several ways they can build patient trust using educational tools. He suggests utilizing the video medium to establish a credible relationship by:

• educating from a medical prospective;

• leveraging the doctor’s experiences and testimonials;

• explaining the doctor’s training and credentials;

• exposing the practice’s philosophy of patient care; and

• establishing the bond between patient and doctor through eye-to-eye contact.

Jackson adds, “We have found that the interactive video medium allows people to feel more comfortable than other more impersonal forms.”

The correct television or video presentation can and does generate positive results. The good will of a physician’s practice can also be demonstrated through participation in hospital committees, national boards, community endeavors, continuing education, and ongoing involvement with medical organizations.

And, of course, there is no better way to reinforce trust than through effective physician/patient communication. For those doctors, however, who have difficulty expressing themselves during a one-on-one physician/patient consultation, taking a course in public speaking might prove a productive goal.

Using the Terms

The terms used to describe credentials for physicians practicing plastic or cosmetic surgery varies. As past ASPS president Dr. James Wells notes, “In California, the term ‘board certified’ can only be used by a physician certified by an American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS)—recognized board or a board deemed to have equivalence with an ABMS board. The terms ‘diplomate of’ or ‘member of’ and XYZ board may not necessarily identify an ABMS board-certified physician.” In fact, Dr. Wells advocates, “Patients are advised to confirm the training and background of a physician performing a procedure in which that patient has an interest.”

Although in current Yellow Pages ads numerous types of specialists are listed under the category “Plastic Surgery,” the day may soon come when this is a thing of the past. Several states are working to create legislation that will better disclose credentials in advertising and the press. And, perhaps, the ABMS will do its part to influence additional changes.

 To determine the best approach for your practice, check with vendors who provide the educational tools listed above, the medical organizations, the business codes, and the professional code of ethics.

The Benefits Versus the Cons

Getting the word out can appear to be a daunting task. Yet, selecting the right terms and listing the necessary information on your printed materials or in your email signatures can help deter potential miscommunication. Effective physician/patient communication through an on-hold message service, Web site or interactive video presentation could generate more prospective patients for your practice. Ongoing participation in community activities leads to a more public profile and gives you the opportunity for prospective patients to get to know you. And while such activities might appear to be an enormous undertaking, the rewards can be great.

Lesley Ranft is a freelance writer and independent public relations consultant for businesses in the health care and technology industries. Email: [email protected].