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Money May Be Talking When Your Doc Recommends a Specialist

By S.Z. Berg

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- When your doctor recommends a specialist, you probably think that he does so because he personally knows that she's competent. The same goes for recommending a hospital or other medical facility. While that may be the case, it isn't always.

Pharmaceutical sales tactics have moved into the doctor recommendation arena.

Specialists, such as gastroenterologists, are using marketers to achieve the same interpersonal influence that pharmaceutical sales reps and sales reps for medical device makers have used for years to sell their wares.

Companies, such as AdvisorsMD, Gold Medical Marketing, Healthcare Success Strategies, and The Referral Specialists are penetrating the medical marketplace, representing specialists' practices to referring primary care physicians.

Whether they are sparing doctors the embarrassment of advertising their services or simply expanding their advertising campaign options, this behind-the-scenes marketing strategy may make it appear to patients that these doctors are being recommended in the traditional way - personal knowledge of the doctor's background capabilities.

Doctors have a long history of getting to know each other during medical conferences and on the golf course. However, with the pressure to increase the number of patients they see to make up income for the decrease in what insurance companies pay for their services, the time for getting to know specialists personally has dwindled.

This hits especially hard on doctors who want to expand their practices but who are not well-networked.

"Physicians often become complacent in their referral patterns and do not open themselves to new referral sources," says Daniel Goldberg, CEO and creative director of Gold Medical Marketing, who says that referral bonds are hard to break. "There may be a physician who is accomplishing incredible things with newer procedures and technologies but may not get a fair shot because the referring doctors do not expand their referral sources. This is why direct-to-patient marketing has become so important."

But too often doctors have been too easily sold by sales pitches from drug and medical equipment manufacturers when they should be the guards that stand between patients and aggressive drug and device advertising campaigns. To be sure, medicine plays an important role in treating sickness and disease, if not the most critical one. However, unnecessary drugs, or the wrong ones, can be a prescription for disaster when the risks outweigh benefits. The same may be true of specialist referrals. It's too early in the game to tell.