17 October 2016

The non-competitive GP’s guide to competitive analysis

General practice KnowCents

 

Just as Hermann Goering reached for his revolver when he heard the word “culture”, most GPs reach for their earplugs when they hear the word “competition”.

I know, I know, you’re focused on patient care, or how to control your costs in a tightly regulated market. You may be in the position where the problem isn’t how to win new patients but how to service your existing patient load. With so much on your plate and a distaste for marketing stuff, why bother thinking about your competition?

Here’s why: if you are engaged in best-practice medicine and want to offer your patients the best available care, it’s very useful to know what else your patients might be engaging in, whether it’s something offered by the GP down the road, the local physiotherapist or even chiropractor.

Understanding the framework they are operating in will be helpful for both you and your patient.

It’s not about making more money; it’s about offering your patients the best service you can. And you don’t need to spend lots of money or time doing it; just focus on the following information.

Here are eight questions to ask that can help build a picture of your competition:

1. Who are your competitors?

This question isn’t as straightforward as it seems. The obvious answer is other GP surgeries in your community, or in communities where your patients either live or work. But if you think about your patient’s healthcare needs in a broader sense, even if you just limit your scope to  those in your community, the list could include a number of indirect competitors:

• Pharmacists

• Local hospitals

• Other allied healthcare professionals (physiotherapists, chiropractors, dieticians, etc.)

• CAM practitioners

• Gyms/personal trainers

• Health food shops

• Psychologists

• Non-GP doctors

By joining community-based websites like Nabo, you can see what their problems are and how they’re going to solve them.

I know what you’re thinking: how on earth will I find time to dig up information on all these potential competitors and still get my job done? Well, you don’t have to look at all of them; apply the 80/20 rule. Chances are, 80% of the competition is provided by 20% of your competitors, so just concentrate on the top 20% on your list.

2. What can you find out about their operations (quickly and simply)?

These days there’s so much information online that chances are, all of your competitors, even back-room naturopaths, have information about them available via search engines. Just type in their name and see what turns up – you might be surprised by the depth of information available.

If they have a website, check it out. Take note of how they describe their service, what hours they’re open, etc.

Follow them on social media (and decide whether YOU should be on social media) and/or sign up for their newsletter/blog.

A non-digital option when your competitors are local is to get up and go for a walk. Simply stroll past them and check out their servicescape – where they’re located, what their shop front looks like, what their waiting room looks like.

Another useful and easy way to find information about your competitors is to ask your patients. In a consult, find out what else they’re doing to get their health needs met. You can make it sound like it’s a detailed health assessment, because that’s in fact what it is.

3. What do they do that’s the same as you?

Obviously, other GPs will offer similar services to you, but if you dig a bit deeper with your indirect competitors, you might be surprised how many of their services
cut across your offering, such as non-medical practitioners taking blood pressure, offering health tests, or “prescribing” therapies.

4. What do you admire or want to emulate?

It may be the atmosphere of their practice, using design, music or colour that puts patients at ease. Or it may be the way they interact with their clients, making them feel comfortable and important. Or a type of regular clinic you’d like to implement.

5. What do you do better or differently?

The aim of a competitive analysis is not just to make you panic about what your competitors are doing better than you.

You can also reflect on what it is that makes you successful, and reinforce
some of the choices you have been making about how to run your practice. This also helps you to define your USP – your unique selling proposition.

6. What’s your ‘co-opetition’ status with competitors?

Would it benefit you or your patients to work more closely with local practitioners, such as local pharmacists on health initiatives, or psychologists on mental health issues, benefiting both you and your patients? Are there opportunities you should consider in this area?

7. How are they differentiating their product?

What features and benefits do they highlight the most in their promotional copy? What do they claim makes their product or service unique? Does it revolve around technology? Process? Service? Attitude? You may be able to pick up some things you can add to the way you work.

8. What are customers really buying from your competitors?

This is related to the previous question. Some of your patients will pay hundreds of dollars to have a non-tertiary trained person peer into their eyes and talk to them about chakras and sell them expensive mixtures. What need is being met by these practitioners that drives patients to do that?

If you can understand that, you might be able to work out how you can address some of those needs through your practice.

Your competitive position

So what do you do with this information? Once you’ve gathered data that answers these questions, you can:

• Identify your own strengths and weaknesses compared to your competitors

• Identify what you might choose to do differently to better meet your patients’ needs

• Put plans in place to make those changes

Most importantly, undertaking a competitive analysis should help you to better understand what makes your patients tick.

A more complete picture of their health activities should result in healthier, happier patients.