Many organizations are attracted to sports medicine because of the benefits it provides: a mix of young and commercially insured patients, high volumes, and projected growth. But that also means that the sports medicine marketplace is highly competitive, with many providers vying for the same patient population.
As a result, organizations often seek to create differentiated programs. For example, some organizations focus on specific demographic groups, like adolescents or women; athletes in specific sports, like runners or swimmers; or on filling the gap between on-field care and surgical care.
Organizations typically hope to achieve three goals when differentiating their sports medicine program:
Of those three goals, however, only one provides a clear path to growth: disrupting competitor referral chains. Advisory Board research has found that a differentiated sports medicine program provides an avenue to reach orthopedic consumers directly at the point where they need care, enabling growth even when PCP referral patterns won't budge.
The other two goals, conversely, seem appealing logically, but have seen limited success. Specifically, gaining family loyalty through youth sports or athletic trainer coverage often fails to convert into long-term loyalty or other family member visits. Similarly, ongoing management of patients with sports medicine injuries does not seem to inflect future surgical utilization.
For providers looking to disrupt competitor referral chains using sports medicine, there are two key tactics.
1. Offer specialized, accessible services
A full third of sports medicine surgery patients self-referred for care, according to an Advisory Board survey of 406 patients.
Speed and specialization topped priorities for patients shopping for care. Being seen within a week of scheduling an initial consultation was among the top 15 most important attributes for choosing a sports medicine physician, while 382 respondents in a different survey said having a physician who is known for a specific area of expertise was the second-most important factor influencing their physician selection.
One health system we spoke to perceived a gap in the market for a fast, accessible, non-operative sports medicine care option, and created a program to serve as a bridge between primary care and typical sports medicine. The health system was able to capture patients before they went to a competitor by marketing their sports medicine fellowship-trained primary care providers who were able to provide a suite of conservative treatments like therapeutic join injections and injury prevention care, as well as lower wait times than for those who would otherwise see a surgeon.
2. Create a clear pathway to orthopedic surgery
Getting a patient in the door doesn't necessarily mean they'll stay with your health system for surgery, even if they enjoy your service.
Therefore, in order to retain sports medicine patients, programs should ensure receiving ongoing care or getting surgery at your health system is the easiest option for patients.
NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute in Illinois has done this effectively. The hospital has incorporated a musculoskeletal continuity clinic into their orthopedic immediate access model to retain patients through either surgery or ongoing conservative care. At NorthShore, patients with sports-related injuries begin in an orthopedic immediate access clinic where they're treated by a sports medicine primary care provider. Then, if needed, they are transitioned to a musculoskeletal continuity clinic to receive ongoing, non-operative care. Visits to the clinic—and surgeries, if required—are all coordinated by NorthShore.
In part because of their strategy to retain patients, NorthShore was able to increase surgical volumes by 42% over five years.
Want to learn more about how to develop your sports medicine program? Download our report on When and How to Differentiate Your Sports Medicine Program.
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