Small business spotlight: The new age word-of-mouth marketing

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Word-of-mouth can still be the most effective marketing for businesses.

Long Island Spine Specialists, P.C. discovered this when they were forced to find new patients on their own. The rapid consolidation of hospitals and physicians in recent years have left non-affiliated practices to develop their own marketing.

"Our referral patterns dried up in terms of private practice doctors," said Dr.
Thomas Dowling, founding partner of Long Island Spine Specialists. "I'd say less than 50 percent now of physicians are in private practice where the rest are employed and there's some financial reward or incentive to stay in a system rather than refer outside a system."

He told Joe Connolly on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, that, like many businesses today, the practice uses reviews and client testimonials on its website to find new patients.

"What our practice has now noted is that word-of-mouth and your reputation now is more of how we get patients than actual physician referral; although, those are still out there as well," said Dr. Dowling.

Long Island Spine Specialists keeps its servers in-house and has a full-time IT staff to manage its website security.

Dr. Dowling has been in practice for more than 30 years. Since then, the health care industry and his field of medicine has changed drastically.

"When I started, there was very little technology available in terms of instrumentation," he said, noting there were few advancements between the 1960s and 1980s when he earned his certifications.

The hallmark of any entrepreneur, Dr. Dowling saw an opportunity to help people where there was a void for both surgical and non-surgical solutions.

"There's some modifications but very few back then and there was a lot of opportunity to develop better techniques for surgery," he said.

Robotics and stem cell procedures are used more commonly to treat herniated discs with a shorter recovery time, according to the surgeon.

"The navigation, basically, like your car or GPS, (is) a guided way to enter the spine as we've gone from open surgery where we actually see the anatomy to going through minimally invasive through smaller incisions or percutaneously, meaning not even making a real incision, we need special interoperative guidance to help us make sure that we're in the right spot," said Dr.
Dowling.

The spinal surgery industry today is booming. It's valued at $9.35 billion, and by some economic forecasts, the industry will reach $13.8 billion by 2025.

Long Island Spine Specialists has a small piece of the pie with four locations across Nassau and Suffolk Counties. The practice is made up of a team of board-certified orthopedic surgeons who have sub-specialties in spine surgery.
Dr. Dowling told WCBS 880, though, most of their patients can avoid surgery.

"We have a lot of patients who present with neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain, hip pain, and sometimes, they're doubly blessed. They have a shoulder problem then a neck problem, they have a back problem or hip problem, or really, their hip pain manifests itself as back pain and vice versa," he said, continuing, "So, there are people I've seen who had hip replacements wondering why they never got better; it was really their back."

Dr. Dowling said the field has grown as people incur back problems from poor posture and long hours hunched over a computer.

"The most common reason people go to the doctor is for a cold," he said.
"The second most common reason is for back pain."

See more on marketing and running a medical practice on the Small Business Spotlight video above.