IPAs: How To Build A Strong Brand And Maintain Your Independence
Independent Physician Associations (IPAs) attract many independent physicians who recognize the advantages of being part of a larger organization. The benefits of IPAs include negotiating favorable contracts, leveraging shared data, implementing administrative efficiencies, and benefiting from economies of scale. The IPA Association of America (TIPAAA) reports that it currently represents more than 300,000 physicians associated with IPAs.
That said, the sustainability of your “independence” may be threatened as the healthcare marketplace continues its shift toward consolidation. IPAs are not only facing fierce competition from hospitals and health systems, but also from nontraditional industry participants like insurance/health plans, private equity firms, and large employers, including Amazon and Apple, who have begun investing in physician practices. A recent analysis from the Physicians Advocacy Institute reported that nearly seven in 10 doctors are either employed by a hospital or a corporation. And these organizations are likely to have higher brand awareness compared to your IPA.
You started your practice with a mission to be independent. And if you want to stay independent, you need to develop a strong brand that stands out in this ever-evolving, competitive marketplace. Branding is much more than a nifty logo or a catchy slogan — it’s a long-term marketing strategy that demonstrates your value to the patients you serve.
Here are a few tips on building a strong brand to differentiate your IPA from the competition:
Conduct Market Research.
It’s crucial that you have a solid understanding of how current and prospective patients and referrers view your organization. Determining the awareness levels of your organization and the reputation you have in the communities you serve will help you understand how the market perceives you, both your strengths and perhaps any weaknesses. Market research can identify any misperceptions and challenges you may need to overcome.
Consider Hiring An Experienced Healthcare Marketing Agency.
While you may be an expert in the medical field, effective marketing takes a completely different set of skills. Do not rely solely on your in-house creative resources to build your brand. Your in-house creative team will have a solid understanding of your beliefs and priorities, but they probably lack the creative thinking and broader experience of an outside agency. Creative campaigns that are executed solely in house run the risk of “tunnel vision” thinking, which ultimately is detrimental to your brand.
Professional healthcare marketing agencies have the processes and resources to bring forth the best qualities and assets of your organization. They employ skilled professionals who understand branding, the competitive landscape, and how to effectively create authentic messaging that will resonate with your intended audience using the most appropriate media channels. Using an agency will let you focus on what’s most important — patient care.
Keep An Open Mind… Dare To Be Different.
The healthcare marketplace is oversaturated with “me-too” advertising. Don’t fall into this trap. Belonging to an IPA is a different approach; it’s unique. The accelerating consolidation of medical care will continue to limit patient choices while putting patients at the mercy of larger organizations oftentimes more focused on profit than the quality of care. You are not beholden to large corporations! Your independent status allows you to pursue the art of medicine, not the business of medicine. Speak to that advantage. It’s what will set you apart.
Invest In Advertising And Execute An Integrated Media Campaign
Deciding to invest in advertising may be nerve wracking, especially when balancing other needs of the practice. But it’s necessary in today’s healthcare arena, especially when you consider that your competitors are throwing substantial resources into marketing efforts.
Healthcare consumers are more empowered today than they have ever been. Consumers continue to take a more active role in their healthcare choices, including selecting physicians and which practices to use. Investing in advertising will increase your visibility and help you gain the attention of potential patients.
Committing to an integrated advertising strategy will garner the best results in today’s complex marketing world. By using both traditional advertising methods (television, out-of-home billboards and direct marketing) and digital mediums (paid search, paid social, video), you will not only reach and influence prospective patients, but also key influencers such as friends, family members and caretakers.
As the marketplace continues to shift toward consolidation, competition will keep growing, with the potential of siphoning off patients and undermining your success. Creating a strong brand and increasing your visibility will become your strongest business assets. Give it the attention it deserves, and your practice will continue to thrive.