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To reach male patients, market to their loved ones

A column about keeping your practice in good health

By Victoria Stagg Elliottis a longtime staff member. She covered practice management issues and wrote the "Practice Management" column from 2009 to 2013. She also covered public health and science from 2000 to 2009. Posted Nov. 22, 2010.

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Marketing a practice directly to men may not be the way to get them to come into your office. Rather, experts say, men's health concerns can be marketed to other people in their lives -- who will urge men to come to you.

"The women in their lives will get men to the doctor. There's no point in denying that," said David Dodson, MD, an internist at Samsum Clinic in Santa Barbara, Calif. His practice focuses on men's health.

Studies have found that men visit doctors less than women do, and they pay for it with unaddressed health concerns and shorter life spans. With that in mind, some practices market services to the male patient population.

"Most men are the last ones to say, 'I have an issue. There's a problem,' " said Drew Stevens, PhD, president of Stevens Consulting Group in St. Louis. "Most men wait until the last moment until something dire is required."

Those trying to attract men to their practices find that direct and scary messages about morbidity and mortality tend to turn men off.

"I'm not a big advocate of the shock treatment," Stevens said.

Instead, the messages that cause men to make appointments draw a parallel between caring for oneself and the way a man would care for a car or other prized item, so it can be there for the long haul.

Experts say that strategy is most likely to work if the message that maintaining one's health is important is passed on by wives, children, significant others and parents. Linking specific procedures to large events also may draw in more men.

For example, most of the marketing campaigns by MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island, Ill., focus on health concerns affecting both genders, but one directed to men -- Tune-up Time for Dads -- was held in September. The hospital ran a contest for local schoolchildren to write essays encouraging their fathers to have regular physicals.

In addition, men who made appointments with affiliated family physicians received a gift certificate for a local gourmet popcorn shop, along with a screening checklist and a folder for organizing their medical history. At least 30 men made appointments with primary care physicians.

"It's an extremely difficult population to target, and I think it was a good start," said Lisa Stafford, a marketing consultant for MetroSouth.

Other strategies include marketing procedures during certain times of the year. For instance, urologists have marketed vasectomies to coincide with the NCAA basketball tournament in March. The marketing strategy tries to persuade men to get a procedure requiring a few days of rest at a time when there is something appealing on television. The efforts also may help connect men to a urology practice for other health needs. To avoid legal issues, marketing and advertising materials should not use any trademarked phrases or logo.

Experts advise that office décor should appeal to both sexes. For example, Scott Testa, PhD, professor of business administration at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pa., worked with a plastic surgery practice looking to attract more male patients. The practice had to respond to complaints that the office was too feminine, and the color scheme was redone to become more gender-neutral. More magazines with a male readership were brought into the reception area.

Some practices have hosted seminars focused on men's health topics but have found them more successful at reaching the intended audience if women are approached initially.

At the plastic surgery practice Testa worked with, women receive the vast majority of aesthetic procedures. So advertising asked female patients to bring the men in their lives to various seminars, and numerous couples showed up.

"You have to try to influence the people around them, and usually it's women," Testa said.

Victoria Stagg Elliott is a longtime staff member. She covered practice management issues and wrote the "Practice Management" column from 2009 to 2013. She also covered public health and science from 2000 to 2009.

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