Get Your Competitor’s Patients This Ethical Way

By Jeffrey J. Denning

Technically, only pediatricians have new patients. For other physicians, patients new to a practice were probably patients of a colleague previously. Most physicians are squeamish about ‘raiding’ a colleague’s practice, and rightly so. But there’s one common situation where taking another physician’s patients is not only proper, it’s to the competitor’s benefit, and the patient’s as well.

Of course, we’re talking about the common practice of purchasing a practice from a doctor who is retiring or moving. It can often be a smart way to enhance or refine a going concern, but if you buy a practice, you should make sure you get what you pay for. The passive approach – buying the practice, then waiting for the patients to call – can be improved upon.

Instead, market yourself to these new– but still potential–patients. First, taking over a doctor’s charts implies some responsibility to let the patients know where the charts are. Many buyers leave it to the seller to do that, though. If the seller does, it may just be a tiny ad in the public notices section of a newspaper’s classified ad pages. When is the last time you read those? No, if you’re inclined actually to benefit from this transaction, I recommend taking the initiative by sending patients of record in the acquired practice at least two letters. And more are better.

Letter 1 properly comes from the seller (or surviving spouse), telling the patients of the change in practice status and puffing up the buyer. The buyer should prepare and mail the letters, but the seller should sign them. Yes, sign them all. And the more letters, the better. So be sure this is part of the agreement.

Another letter follows the first by a couple of weeks. It’s from the buyer, and introduces the new practice. Mark all your outgoing mail “Address correction and forwarding requested.” Between the two, you’ll receive plenty of 50¢ notifications of new addresses from the post office. Make sure someone enters the new addresses in the data base for the people still in your area. If they’ve moved away, they can be deleted, although you should keep the medical record available in case it’s needed.

Finally, for primary care physicians, a letter from the seller to his referring physicians announcing the transaction is a smart move. Will it work? It can’t hurt and will probably help. The easiest way to do all of these mailings is to have a service bureau create a data base file of names, addresses and phone numbers from the medical staff directory, the patients’ charts or the seller’s billing system. Then your staff can merge-print them to standard letters with your word processor and mail them in windowed envelopes. If you don’t want to bother, a mailing house can print, fold and stuff letters for pennies each.

As my daddy says, the more you send, the more you get. He’s right. Sending something to these potential patients two or three times a year–a newsy-type letter, an article, a reprint–is a great way to coax them into your practice. And these techniques work with your existing patients, too. Don’t neglect your “A” list in the process of trying to attract “new” patients. But don’t just hope your custody of these “used” charts will bring you good fortune. You need to seize the initiative to get ahead in this world.

Jeffrey J. Denning, a practice management consultant in Long Beach, Calif., edits Uncommon Sense, a monthly newsletter for physicians.

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