In the new era of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), medical homes and pay for performance, the primary care physician (PCP) is fast becoming the gatekeeper for admissions, referrals and treatment. According to a survey conducted by the physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins, for the first time, primary care physicians are driving more hospital revenue on a per-doctor basis than specialists. The study revealed that in 2013, median revenue per primary care physician is nearly $1.6 million, while specialists account for $1.4 million per physician.

Merritt Hawkins makes reference to major shifts in healthcare that have emerged since 2010. The ACA is of course a major factor, assigning more responsibility to PCPs to cut costs and keep patients healthier. As a result of these increasing pressures and challenging new revenue models, more physicians are seeking hospital employment instead of owning their own practices. According to an Accenture analysis, 36% of practicing physicians now hold an ownership stake in their practice, down from 57% in 2000. As a result, hospitals are capturing more direct primary care revenue as opposed to just referral revenue.

These trends reflect the growing role of primary care and consequently, the need to focus on improving the way in which these practices are marketed. Add to this the fact that millions of newly insured individuals will be entering the market via healthcare exchanges on January 1st and they will be looking for PCPs. Building a differentiated market presence for primary care and an orchestrated approach to acquiring covered lives is now more important than ever.

Understanding how consumers make their decision regarding who to use for primary care is the first important step toward building an effective healthcare marketing campaign. People learn of potential providers through a variety of means: personal referrals, advertising, online directories and information hotlines. So the healthcare marketing strategy must start by building communication tactics that will connect with likely targets at these touch points, create brand awareness and put your providers into consideration.

With your healthcare marketing strategy engaged and your providers on the “shopping list” of a growing number of healthcare consumers, decision making moves to other stages of consideration, not unlike any other typical buying process. These include the evaluation of the alignment of the provider with personal needs and wants, the comparison of features and benefits and the analysis of value. During this process, healthcare consumers make assessments based on the same new market drivers in play for all types of medical care in our evolving consumer-centric market: 1) outcomes (quality), 2) patient engagement (experience) and 3) price (value). Then for primary care, we add a fourth important factor: 4) location (convenience).

With competition as fierce as ever and the stakes so high, being passive and conservative is not an option for hospital marketers. The good news is that there are opportunities to gain market share for those who understand their markets and how they respond to messaging and initiatives.