Multiple resources are available to help community oncologists maintain success by increasing awareness of their practice, providing the most innovative treatments to their patients, and preparing for the future of oncology care.
Vicki Albrecht, PhD
When independent community oncology practices thrive, both patients and physicians benefit. Community oncologists who are able to maintain their autonomy can determine not only the best treatment regimen for a particular patient but also the environment in which those patients are treated. Fortunately, multiple resources are available to help community oncologists maintain success by increasing awareness of their practice, providing the most innovative treatments to their patients, and preparing for the future of oncology care. In this article, we’ll outline tactics that oncologists and practice managers can implement in the short-term to improve efficiency and find more time to spend with patients.
It is important to understand the driving forces behind patient referrals because new patients are the lifeblood of any practice. For many practices today, referrals from physicians are the source of a many new patients. A few simple activities, such as maintaining an open line of communication, being transparent about pricing, and keeping report turnaround times short can foster strong, ongoing relationships with referring physicians. Make it easy for referring physicians to work with you. Oncology practices that are known for streamlined service will naturally be more desirable partners. Engaging a referring physician’s office staff and sharing a clear value proposition about how your office can provide high-quality care will ensure your practice is foremost in mind.
Beyond solidifying the referral base, practices should find outlets through which they can share their approach to treatment and the value their practice provides to the community. The increasingly competitive oncology marketplace is a challenge but also a compelling reason to invest in marketing. Today, the most common marketing occurs through online channels. An important first step in online marketing can be a refreshed website, as that’s where many patients look when evaluating where to receive care. The website should serve as the hub for a practice’s value proposition and incorporate the mission statement and associated messaging. This will set the tone about what patients can expect from the practice during treatment. A website with a modern design and robust information can help highlight characteristics that, according to Xcenda market research, patients find most important in a practice. These include specializations within oncology, clinical trial experience, and outcomes data—how successful is this oncologist at treating their type of cancer?
The practice website is only one online channel oncologists should use.
Two-Way Communication Key to Web Marketing
Social media is increasingly a resource for patients looking for information about a practice. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and similar venues can be used to educate and engage with patients. In fact, social media can even be used to promote word-of-mouth referrals and add credibility to the practice.Marketing online should be coupled with in-person interactions. A practice that is an active community partner will have the opportunity to improve its credibility in an authentic manner not found through online channels. Simple tactics to become an active community partner—such as sponsoring events, supporting health initiatives, or offering educational health programs—can also help increase awareness of a community practice. Serving on a board with other influential community members offers another avenue for practitioners to make connections. Over time, the reputation of the community practice will be tied not only to the quality medical care provided but also to regional events and programs that advance health and wellness in the general population.
Tracking referrals and increases in traffic will reveal how effectively these initiatives are working and shed light on where to invest marketing and awareness resources in the future. Technology solutions like InfoDive, a business intelligence solution that analyzes internal data and benchmarks against peers, can provide visibility into referral patterns. InfoDive provides practices with “heat maps” and demographic information to give practice managers and clinicians a deeper look into who they are reaching with their marketing efforts and from where patients are referred.
As more patients enter the practice from increased referrals and better marketing, physicians and practice managers must remain diligent in providing an optimal patient experience while continuing to maintain high-quality, cost-effective care. The ideal approach to creating efficiency is for physicians and practice managers to use data to identify areas for opportunity and/or improvement. If feasible, a great approach is to work with partners who blend oncology expertise with business intelligence tools and resources in order to identify tactics and resources that will help improve operations and ensure regular, reliable reimbursement.
There are a few key questions to ask when evaluating financial efficiencies: how quickly are claims sent to the payer? How quickly does the payer make payment? How often are claims denied? The answers to these questions may identify revenue cycle inefficiencies that take valuable time out of the clinician’s schedule. For each area of friction, practice managers or business coaches should start solving for trends rather than solving for each individual issue.
Reimbursement, however, is a two-way street. Keep in mind that patients are also affected by the changing reimbursement landscape and often are not aware of programs that can offer financial support. Practices can engage reimbursement counselors to work directly with patients and physicians to help find appropriate access and financial support. Manufacturer support programs can be found through several outlets, including foundations and directly from specialty pharmacies where patients may receive their treatment. Providing tailored resources for patients to afford the costs associated with treatment can lower financial stress, remove the cost barrier, and maintain practice health by ensuring appropriate payment.
The road ahead for community practices requires both the personalized care physicians are known for, and business know-how. There are resources to help practices raise awareness of the value of community oncology, negotiate fair reimbursement, and capture more revenue. Recently, a network of oncologists came together to share these types of resources under the name Innovation Cancer. Practices that join Innovation Cancer have access to business coaches, technology to support changes, and marketing resources to build a practice’s reputation. The business coaches can evaluate a practice’s financial health, identify problem areas, and help the practice implement a process to better support outstanding accounts receivable issues. The end benefit can be increased strength to secure patients and put more resources toward optimal care.
Vicki Albrecht, PhD, is senior vice president and general manager of ION Solutions, an AmerisourceBergen business unit.
Innovation Cancer and InfoDive are products offered by ION Solutions, a part of AmerisourceBergen.