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Finding A New Doctor? Specialists Pitch Their Services Through Salespeople

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Medical specialist are turning to marketing firms to promote themselves to family doctors.
Medical specialist are turning to marketing firms to promote themselves to family doctors.

Medical specialists are tearing a page out of a playbook created by drug and medical device companies by hiring marketers to pitch their services to family physicians. While it may help doctors connect with new patients, the practice raises questions about whether patients are best served by such marketing efforts.

Companies such as AdvisorsMD and the Referral Specialists charge specialists $3,000 to $10,000 a month to promote their practices to primary-care physicians in hopes of gaining more referrals at a time when the health care system is undergoing major changes, SmartMoney reports. The trend is rooted in the specialists' need to drum up new business and general practitioners' need to find other doctors to treat their patients' medical problems, according to the magazine.

Drug companies and medical-device manufacturers have long employed armies of salespeople to "detail" doctors' offices and hospitals and encourage them to use their products. Although these industries have been shedding salespeople in recent years, the practices employed by physician marketers mirror the approach that worked well for medical-product companies: establishing a rapport with a family physician through face-to-face meetings, gifts, and free meals.

These kinds of inducements risk conflicts of interest among doctors who make referrals based on their relationships with marketers rather than their judgement of which specialist is best. One dental practice bragged about receiving free ribs and Jack Daniel's whiskey, SmartMoney reports.

And AdvisorsMD doesn't even provide family doctors with information about the quality of care provided by the specialists it's promoting, according to SmartMoney. "There is no discussion about the physicians' credentials or experience" and the quality of their medical care is "assumed," the magazine reports. A saleswoman visiting one primary-care doctor "doesn't describe the nonsurgical treatments the bladder guy offers, nor how the orthopedists handle pain management," the article says.

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