If your clinic is feeling unloved… it’s time to lie back and think of Tesco

I’ve attended a number of provider events lately that gave me the opportunity to talk to clinic owners about how they are coping in this cold economic climate. Some buck the trend but most report a decrease in patient numbers.  Along with the demise of commercial intermediary work some blame the large number of physiotherapy graduates setting up in private practice as a result of a lack of opportunities elsewhere.

Physiotherapists often complain of being less business savvy than, for example, Chiropractors who have a marketing module within their course. An NHS career that often precedes private practice tends to blunt the nose of a would be hard nosed business person and doesn’t lay the best foundations for entrepreneurial and creative thinking. I recently attended my regional CSP meeting and it was agreed that we would all benefit from the CSP Marketing team paying us a visit to discuss how we can best market our services. This is of course extremely helpful but for me the first thing is ensuring that the product/service is the best in show.

I don’t feel that service improvement and redesign is so complicated. We’re not reinventing the wheel.  Everywhere we look there are clues of how to run a successful organisation. Tesco is a good example. It didn’t become the top retailer by chance… you’d have to go back a couple of decades at least to when it used to be a poor second to Sainsbury in the High Street. Tesco raised it’s game and kept introducing new ideas, innovations and choice and whilst it’s competitors have had to imitate; they continue to play catch up.

The most important message is that these retailers operate in a highly competitive market where all their energy is placed on delivering a service that the CUSTOMER wants.  Free parking and highly accessible opening hours. Friendly and knowledgeable staff (okay go with me on that one) at all levels of the service chain. They have created a one stop shop… there is no need to travel elsewhere for what you want. They provide quality and choice. They have invested in service redesign (I’m thinking of self serve tills here) so that some customers can be served faster than others, making the queues move faster elsewhere. They engage their customer base to create loyalty with Clubcard points, money back promos on your next visit etc. They take their reach from outside their base to position themselves within the heart of a community… whether it be for local projects or computer tokens for schools; they get into the consciousness of the public they serve.  They do not accept the present will be the future so continually strive to spot trends and meet expectation through market research and ‘You said- We did’ campaigns.  They remain paranoid, not just price matching but also keeping an eye on what their competition is doing…to be complacent is to potentially give up market share.  It is this that creates a successful organisation… the branding and marketing that follows is simply about telling people about it… BUT get the product/service right first.

So for those clinics that are struggling or for those NHS MSK Managers who feel they are looking down the barrel of an AQP gun, I would suggest that you take cues from the models of successful organisations around you and apply them to your own service. Most of all, ensure that the patient is King and the entire service revolves around their needs.

With the new NHS reforms I am expecting to read of closures of many health providers.  For those that fail, I anticipate fingers will point at government policy.  There will be claims that the AQP game is unfair as it doesn’t guarantee patient referral numbers or cries of too much competition. For me the success or failure of organisations will not depend on external variables but will depend on the ability to provide the best, dynamic and truly patient focused service in the area.  Ultimately it will be down to you…

Is your service managing to buck the trend?  What makes a great clinic? What initiatives have you used to create a buzz about your service? What barriers do you face to service improvement?

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