Independent primary care and specialty practices alike worry about increasing competition from hospitals and integrated systems. It’s not uncommon to see hyped-up headlines pronouncing independent practices “doomed” and the consolidation trend “inevitable.” But the naysayers always conveniently overlook a big advantage independent practices have versus larger organizations: the personal touch.

In consumer settings, small players often find ways to compete against giants – and win. Maybe your town has an auto mechanic who outshines the dealer shops, thanks to better prices and more convenient hours. Perhaps your neighborhood has a family hardware store that’s going strong in the shadow of a big-box store, thanks to expert staff and a unique range of products. Or, if your area’s like mine, maybe you’ve got weekend farmer’s markets selling fresh vegetables by the truckload, despite the supermarkets down the street.

Of course, these are just a few examples – but you get the idea. “Little guys” can flourish – if they find ways to serve their customers their super-sized competition can’t easily match.

Competing against bigger, deeper-pocketed opponents can be scary. But it’s easy to forget those competitors have weaknesses as well as strengths. In medicine, it’s hard for a large, bureaucratic organization to provide the personalized experience a smaller practice can. And in what setting could a personal touch be more valued than in healthcare?

If you’re worried about a big player setting up camp in your backyard, start thinking about how you can attract and retain patients with better patient service. Take a seat in your own reception area – and think about how it can be upgraded. Start looking at metrics like wait times and overall visit length, and consider how you can improve them. Check online reviews for comments you can learn from, and do your own confidential surveys to give patients a chance to tell you what they value – and what needs work. You just might find that you practice won’t just survive – it will thrive.

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