Physician-patient gatherings helps hospital market to patients and docs

A Dallas-area hospital's "Doc Shop," a variation on speed dating in which doctors and potential patients pair up for short meet and greets, helps the hospital market itself not just to health consumers, but to physician recruits as well.

In fact, even if a Doc Shop participant chooses one of the physicians at the event, there's no guarantee of direct hospital business. But when hospitals help doctors build their practice, the business often trickles back over time in "downstream revenue" with referrals for surgeries, tests and other procedures, says Travis Singleton, a senior vice president at physician placement firm Merritt Hawkins.

Dr. Rebecca Guinn, a young OB-GYN who began practicing last August, has attended three Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford Doc Shops so far and says she's gotten at least 10 new patients through the events. "It's a great service the hospital is providing," says Guinn, who delivers her patients at Texas Health HEB.

Despite some industry argument over the ethics of hospital marketing in general, hospital president Debbie Paganelli says the Dallas-Fort Worth area is "highly competitive" for hospitals, with several major health systems in a relatively small area, and that reaching out to consumers is essential in a difficult economy as more people lose employer-based insurance and consider skipping elective procedures.

And the Doc Shop--of which the hospital has held five so far--is one way to engage the right people for the right price. By advertising for free on Facebook, Twitter and email, a typical Doc Shop costs the hospital about $600, says Texas Health HEB marketing specialist Mandy Forbus. Social media also allows her to target a specific population of privately insured patients.

To learn more:
- read this NPR/Kaiser Health News piece