Taking the guesswork out of practice site selection

When physician practices need to open a new office, they often pick a location based on gut instinct. They could get better results with new technology that helps ensure that the site selected is the ideal spot for increasing revenue and market share.

In site selection, there’s a vast amount of information to analyze — and most of it comes in the form of spreadsheets that don’t offer much clarity in the decision-making process. But when all that data gets integrated into Geographic Information System (GIS) software, you can “see” the data in a variety of ways to make smarter choices.

GIS mapping makes it easy to visualize anticipated population growth by zip code, census tracts and even block groups.

Here’s a breakdown of key data visualization tool capabilities.

Leveraging existing data
Physician practices have big advantages over retail businesses like Starbucks when it comes to choosing new locations. How so? For starters, your practice’s existing records provide a wealth of information.

If your practice has ties to a local hospital, for example, you can gather data from inpatient, outpatient and emergency department records. Combining this with demographic information and state databases on hospital discharges gives you a detailed picture of your service area. A surprising amount of demographic data is available free of charge from the U.S. Census database.

It’s also important to get a profile of the providers already serving a geographic location. The National Plan and Provider Enumeration (NPPE) database can be downloaded free from CMS. This database contains provider name, specialty, address and more.

Using practice-specific criteria
Once the data has been gathered, you need to identify the criteria most important to your practice. The list can include statistics such as population growth rate, median age in the service area and traffic volume. For most practices, population growth rate and market share potential are usually more important criteria than median household income.

Sometimes an attractive zip code can get ruled out because of the high number of existing primary care practices in the location. That’s where data analysis and common sense can guide your decision. Walmart’s rapid growth has been based in part on finding smart new locations near their existing stores. That’s a lesson for any physician practice scouting for an expansion site. It’s sometimes tempting to jump outside your service area to open a new office in an affluent (but distant) location. However, the results are usually disappointing.

Mapping provides greater clarity
Heat-mapping is a graphical representation of data where individual values are displayed as colors. Here’s an example of how heat-mapping makes it easy to compare current population to the projected population over the next five years. Trying to analyze this information using spreadsheets alone would be incredibly frustrating and time-consuming.

Practices looking for new locations generally either shoot from the hip or get buried in too much raw data. But mapping tools can help any practice find the ideal location — without the guesswork or spreadsheet fatigue.

Lee Ann Lambdin is vice president of strategic resources at Stratasan in Nashville, Tenn.