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Marketing Membership Medicine: Selling the Ghost
Tommy McElroy, MD
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Topher Morrison, Managing Director of Key Person of Influence-USA. Among the things we discussed was the difference between selling products and services. As a concierge medicine physician, Topher pointed out, I'm 'selling a ghost.' That is, nobody walks out of my office with a basket of goods (unless they bought some vitamins or fitness equipment). So why is that important?

Membership medicine is already out of the ordinary in terms of what Americans are used to buying.
When the average patient goes to the doctor they expect a very typical scenario. Go to office, sign-in at the window, sit down, get called up, give current insurance info, sit back down, get called up, pay the copay, get called back, wait some more, see the doctor, get a script or referral, then out the door. Sometimes they get exactly what they need from a medical standpoint, sometimes not. In a membership medicine practice just about all of the steps that are not 'see the doctor' are eliminated. That is the 'ghost.'

Both insurance-based doctors and membership medicine doctors provide medical services, but for a concierge medicine physician like myself, the key point is the intangible benefit of membership. The ghost is convenience. Never wait. The ghost is assurance. Never worry that the doctor won't return your call. The ghost is personalized care and ease of access. I'll spend 2 hours with you for a physical if needed and then ask you to call me on my cell 24/7 if you need me.

So if membership medicine is selling a ghost, how do you find the customers that want to buy it? One way I find the right patient is to downplay the importance of 'unlimited visits.' That's one of the benefits of non-insurance based membership medicine practices, members get unlimited medical care as part of their membership fee. The immediate comeback to that is, 'Well I only see the doctor once a year.' That's why I tell prospective members:

You may or may not get your membership fee's worth of medical service in one year. Some patients see me once a week, some once a year. Some text me a lot, some never do. What I can tell you is that as long as you are a member of my practice, you will always have my undivided attention and my pledge to do everything that I can to help you achieve optimal health. You are not paying for medical care necessarily, but what you are paying for is the assurance that no matter what, you won't have to worry about not having your phone calls returned, waiting to see the doctor, or dealing with rude staff.

Membership medicine is a new and emerging style of medicine that removes barriers to the doctor-patient relationship by realigning the payment to being between producer and consumer, that is the doctor and patient. Increasingly both doctors and patients are embracing this return to 'old fashioned medicine' but it remains a somewhat misunderstood, many times misrepresented, style of medicine that is riding the wave of technology and access that have removed barriers to high quality programing, transportation, commerce, and entertainment. If you're a membership medicine provider, remember to sell the ghost effectively, because as of now you are in the minority and your services are in many ways revolutionary, which of course is always an irritation to the establishment.

Dr. Tommy McElroy is a concierge medicine physician in Wesley Chapel, Florida. He is the founder of Echelon-Health.

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