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Today's Practice | Jun 2009

Corporate Social Responsibility

Making better community part of your practice.

For many years now, I have believed that physicians in private practice have to pay attention to two primary objectives: (1) doing what's good for their patients (better medicine) and (2) doing what's good for their practice (better business). After several excellent conversations with Mark Kontos, MD, of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and Tyrie Jenkins, MD, of Honolulu, I've come to see that there is a third and highly compelling leg that needs to be added to this proverbial stool: doing what's good for the world around me (better community). It's high time that doctors in general and refractive surgeons specifically embrace and create their own version of doing good while doing well.

In the business world, the mantra du jour is corporate social responsibility, a term that has companies scrambling to figure out how they can become more accountable in their pursuit of profit. This means taking into account the impact of corporate actions on employees and the community at large as well as assessing the environmental impact on our planet. The rise of corporate social responsibility is not coincidental, as the Internet has given tremendous voice to consumers and the power to both reward and punish companies, organizations, and even political candidates. It's a new day in the media world, where everyday consumers can use blogs and tweets (terms none of us knew just a short while ago) to influence consumer behavior. Just witness what happened to cable provider Comcast (Philadelphia, PA) when one frustrated customer started the blog "Comcast Must Die" in response to a very poor customer service encounter (www.comcastmustdie.blogspot.com). "Big Brother" is no longer an Orwellian nightmare; it is a situation that can be instigated by anyone with access to the Internet.

The medical environment is no different when it comes to being a good corporate citizen. This is especially true for the refractive practice, where the self-pay elective nature of the offering puts it at the mercy of consumers and their purchasing decision. Because consumers are now rating their trips to the doctor's office in the same manner as their dining and vacation experiences, (courtesy of zagat.com and a host of other Web sites), doing nothing is no longer an option.

The key question that each practitioner needs to ask him or herself is, "What do I want to accomplish?" The power of this question is that it forces you to think beyond patient care and practice profits. Consumers are seeking a higher degree of authenticity in their purchasing experiences. Patients want something more, and part of that "more" is an understanding of how your practice helps make this world a better place. Consumers are increasingly seeking transactions that validate their own set of values (eg, www.vocationvacations.com). As put forth by Pine and Gilmore in their new book Authenticity,1 we are increasingly making decisions based on how authentic we perceive the offering to be. This new consumer sensibility helps explain the rise of Whole Foods Market (Austin, TX) through its appeal to natural authenticity by offering a wide range of organic foods. Similarly, the enduring popularity of Harley Davidson motorcycles (Milwaukee, WI) can be attributed to its appeal to original authenticity, as thousands of its customers willingly tattoo the Harley Davidson logo on their bodies and join local HOG (Harley Owners Group) chapters.

What does authenticity mean for your practice, particularly in relation to corporate social responsibility? Ideally, it means that "doing something more" becomes embedded in the corporate culture of your practice. Simply practicing good medicine is no longer a differentiator in the eyes of the medical services consumer (formerly known only as a patient). Going forward, if you want to be remembered as a great surgeon, you also have to stage a great experience. Part of that experience should include appealing to the greater good.

Incorporating corporate social responsibility into your practice does not have to be difficult, but it should involve everybody on the staff rather than just one person (eg, the surgeon going on a medical mission). For example, I recently heard a refractive administrator describe how her practice gave up its traditional holiday party for a day devoted to building a house for Habitat for Humanity (Americus, GA). It was simultaneously less expensive and more valued as an event that brought the staff closer together while helping others in need. Here are several more ideas to consider:

  • Adopt a charity. Much like those highway road signs, your practice could adopt a charity and make a donation for every patient visit that occurs during a specific timeframe
  • Host an event. Plan a charitable fundraiser that takes place right in your office or center and invite all your patients to participate
  • Replace T-shirts and mugs with charitable gift cards. Take that $25 post-LASIK thank you gift budget and offer your patient a gift certificate to use at one of the numerous charitable Web sites such as www.kiva.org and www.modestneeds.org (see Opportunity International)
  • Go green. Closely examine what precious resources (paper, water, electricity) can be reduced, eliminated, or recycled in your practice without compromising the quality of care. Involve your patients in this process.


What is most important is that you empower your staff; you will be surprised how well most team members will respond to such an effort. In the long run, you will increase your appeal to patients and staff, all of whom likely aspire to be a part of something greater than them. To borrow from successful boutique hotelier Chip Conley and his book Peak,2 efforts such as those outlined herein will allow your employees to view their roles more as a calling than a job and will permit your patients to fulfill needs they didn't even recognize they had until you brought them to their attention!

Shareef Mahdavi is the president of SM2 Strategic and a certified expert in the Experience Economy. He recently launched The Premium Experience Network to help surgeons and practices do a better job of preserving value for their services. He acknowledged no financial interest in any of the products or companies mentioned herein. Mr. Mahdavi may be reached at (925) 425-9900; shareef@sm2strategic.com

  1. Pine J, Gilmore, J. Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press; 2007
  2. Conley C. Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2007.
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