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Then she participated in a marketing event that is becoming increasingly popular nationwide: Most events feature five or six physicians and a few dozen prospective patients moving from table to table every five minutes in response to the motion of a wand, the sound of a bell or another signal.

The events are a starting point for a physician-patient relationship. She said many institutions decided to try it after a story in American Medical News link was picked up by other media outlets. It was great to be able to share what we have done here," she said. Guirao participated in Greenville S. She took a seat at a table, and potential patients sat across from her.

Hospital Attracts Patients With Doctor 'Speed Dating'

What were her hours? How long would it take to get an appointment? Did she have experience treating their medical conditions?

She gave them her phone number before a bell rang, and as the patient moved on to another doctor, a new potential patient sat down. The event has its roots in speed dating for those looking for love, although the concept has been used for people seeking to network professionally and small-businesses owners who want to discuss loans with several bankers.

The exact number of institutions across the country holding these events as part of their marketing programs is unknown, though observers say dozens are trying or considering them. Forbus' hospital has expanded its events, which are held in two minute sessions during a single lunch hour.

A Constant Challenge

They started with obstetrician-gynecologists and now include pediatricians and other primary care specialists. Hallmark Health System in the Boston area held a "Match. The aim was to attract young professionals. They're more relaxed and ready to talk.

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Unlike retail, she explains, health care is episodic. A clothing shop, for example, can advertise a sale on dresses, but "I can't very well do a sale and say, 'We have a sale on appendectomies today,' " she says. Nonetheless, there are a number of strategies to help consumers think of the hospital if a medical need arises.

Wilson On Speed - House M.D.

Sometimes, a hospital might advertise an elective procedure, such as a gastric bypass, but generally, hospitals work to build up their brand over time. A hospital might advertise an expensive new piece of technology or robotic surgery, for example.

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Even if the people who see that ad never need a procedure that requires the equipment, it "gives them the sense of confidence that this place has the latest and greatest," she says. James Unland, editor of the Journal of Health Care Finance , says many hospitals overreach with their marketing, too often targeting audiences that are outside their geographic area and failing to take into account that doctors generally determine where a patient is hospitalized.

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  5. But he says concentrated efforts, especially those aimed at educating patients -- such as virtual tours of facilities -- can be helpful and cost effective. For patients, living in a competitive hospital marketing environment can mean access to perks like newly renovated hospitals, free lecture series and magazines -- and for those in Bedford, Texas, help choosing a new physician.

    Slideshow: Speed Dating For Doctors

    Kim Gage says the speed dating event was a success: It helped her find Dr. Wheeler, the pediatrician she's been searching for.

    Hospital marketing strategy builds physician-patient relationships

    There's nothing bad about it. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care policy research organization. At a recent February lunch hour, 18 women came to a Bedford, Texas, hospital for a series of three-minute, face-to-face meetings with eight different doctors. It was helpful to go through all that in one sitting, and it was free. Knowing she would need an operation soon, she wanted to find an OB-GYN with whom she was more comfortable. The idea for a doctor-patient match event using the speed-dating format came from Mandy Forbus, a marketing specialist with Texas Health Harris hospital.

    Doc Shop , which has been held four times during a lunch hour, gave patients five-minute meetings with OB-GYNs with private practices who were affiliated with the hospital and accepted the invitation to participate.

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    At the most recent event, the time was cut down to three minutes, which, Forbus said, left the doctors and prospective patients with too little time. Doctors were not paid for the event but it enabled them to get new patients, both by meeting them and through referrals.

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    Manisha Parikh said she has participated in three of the four events, missing the other because of an emergency surgery, and picked up six patients directly from them and another six through referrals. Another benefit is that patients who look at names in an insurance book might question her English fluency because of her name.

    Meeting them in person overcomes that, she said. While all the events so far have been for women to match with OB-GYNs, the next meeting will be for parents and prospective pediatricians, the hospital's Forbus said. They are also working on primary care physicians for a future event because of patient demand.