When you were nearing the end of residency and were thinking about starting your own practice, you were probably only concerned with raising the money to get off the ground and helping patients. The truth is that starting or building a practice today involves much more than that. Whether you are trying to choose a location, engage in successful marketing, or form referral relationships with other physicians, you must first identify your competition.
The bad news is identifying your business competition isn't something you learned in medical school. The good news is that it isn't as difficult as you might think.
What It Means to Identify Your Competition
Identifying your competition actually comes in two parts. First, you literally have to determine who you will be competing with for patients. This is especially important when you are trying to find a location for your practice. If you'll be going up against a large number of competitors, then you may want to choose a different location. We'll discuss this in more detail later.
The second part of identifying your competition is learning about them. It's not enough to know that you'll be competing with a family practice. You also have to know how many patients that practice is seeing, for example. You also need to know how you could differentiate your practice from theirs. This is information you can't find just by browsing through your city's Yellow Pages; this will take some work.
The focus of this article is on helping you effectively identify your competition so your practice will be better able to compete.
Where Are Your Competitors?
Before you can answer this question, you must have an idea of where your patients will be coming from. Unlike restaurants and shops which usually attract customers only from a narrow area, your medical practice probably has the potential to work with patients from a variety of different zip codes. Identifying those areas is your first step in finding your competition.
If you are affiliated with certain health insurance programs, then this should be the first place to look. Identify employers in your area who provide that insurance program to their employees. These employees could be your clients. Keep in mind that a factory 50 miles from your practice will have employees located throughout that 50 miles who may need a doctor. Therefore, they have the potential to provide you with patients.
Another method for determining the location of your patients is to contact your local hospital. Hospitals can often give you an idea of where their patients come from and that should give you a good idea of where your patients will also be coming from.
If you are already forming relationships with other physicians in the area (a good idea if you want referrals from them), then ask them how far patients typically travel for treatment. They should be able to give you a good idea. Keep in mind, however, that patients are likely to travel further for specialists than for physicians practicing general medicine.
Once you have a pretty good idea of where your patients may be coming from you can begin searching for your competition. Of course, the next question is what constitutes a competitor?
A competitor of your practice is going to be anyone who offers a similar type of medical treatment to similar types of patients. For example, if you specialized in pediatric cardiology, then your competition would not be pediatricians but other cardiologists, particularly those who work regularly with children and adolescents.
There are three easy ways to find these competitors. First, you can use the phone book(s) for all of the areas where you may find patients. In the Yellow Pages, you're likely to find a breakdown of physicians by specialty. This may be a good starting point. A second method is the Internet. Doing a web search for your specialty plus your city (gynecologist + Cleveland) should provide you with lists of possible competitors and maybe even some of their professional web sites.