In today’s competitive health care industry, marketing and public relations are more important than ever. But finding the time for such efforts can seem like a luxury for physicians given the increasing complexities required to run a successful practice.
In addition to doctors’ core mission of providing quality care to patients, they also are facing lower reimbursements, competitive referral patterns, HIPAA regulations and increasing challenges with insurance companies — on top of maintaining and growing their patient base.
“All of these challenges underscore the need for marketing and public relations,” said Michele Krohn, president and founder of Full Circle PR, a national medical marketing firm. “It’s important for physicians to differentiate their practices from the competition and to develop fruitful relationships with other medical professionals and the community to grow their businesses. That requires outreach that is consistent, persistent, and carefully targeted.”
Krohn started her marketing career working for BayCare Health Systems in Clearwater. She soon noticed that physicians were desperately seeking ways to grow their practices. She knew she could help.
She started Full Circle PR out of her home in 2007. Since then the agency has grown to assist nearly 300 physicians across 17 states. Based in Tampa, Krohn’s unique approach to medical marketing employs traditional marketing and public relations professionals, as well as physician liaisons who develop and establish relationships as the face of the clients with referring physician offices and other community networks to increase patient volume.
The agency represents solo practitioners, new and established, and large national health care systems. Services range from generating media exposure for the client and managing online physician reputations to creating patient brochures and colleague-focused case studies to generate referrals.
The Hillsborough County Medical Association has used Full Circle PR since 2009.
“Michele and her team have revamped our brochures twice, recommended modifications for our website, and introduced us to more professionally electronic communication methods – providing fresh and more appealing marketing tools for the association,” said Debbie Zorian, the association’s executive director.
Effective marketing and public relations can help so many physicians, but are often overlooked by small- to medium-sized groups, Zorian said.
Often, practices feel like they don’t have the money for marketing.
“The best investment you can make to care for more patients is to partner with experts to market your practice,” said Michael Krohn, Full Circle’s vice president and general counsel.
A well-established Tampa Bay area cardiology practice saw a 17 percent increase in new patients after working with Full Circle. Over a three-year period, Full Circle also generated media exposure for the practice that was equivalent to $825,000 in ad space.
Krohn agreed to share some basic tenants of medical marketing with Doctor’s Life physicians and practice administrators looking to grow.
Know Your Numbers
Analytics are key to growing a practice. Doctors need to understand their current base patient base to determine how to expand it. Where are patients hearing about the practice? Have you identified your top referral sources? Find out where patients are coming from, and thank the sender. If patients have great personal stories, ask if they’d be willing to write an online review or be featured in a news release. Did patients find your contact number from your website directly? Or from another online listing or social media account? The answers to these questions can help reveal areas that need improvement. Have you Googled yourself lately? Your online reputation can be the first thing potential patients see.
Doctors can lose potential patients over something as simple as a bad review or comment.
Once a baseline is established, develop a growth plan. Which patients do you want more of? Is there more of a specific private payer or more of a higher reimbursed procedure you would like more of? Achieving this can be as simple as thanking referring physicians who send you those types of patients or procedures, and making time each week or month to reach out to new potential referral sources. At Full Circle PR, physician liaisons not only educate and build relationships while conducting in-person office visits, they also help plan open house and thank you events to cement new and existing relationships.
For example, Full Circle planned a movie night for a group of cardiothoracic surgeons in Venice, Fla., to help the practice develop new relationships and maintain current referral relationships. The feedback made it clear that the event helped generate goodwill for the practice within the medical community, and the CEO of the sponsoring hospital asked that the event be repeated.
“Full Circle has played a key role in generating new patient referrals for us,” said Dr. Debra Freeman of CyberKnife Centers of Tampa Bay. “They have been our ‘face’ out in the community, making connections between our practices and both patients and physicians.”
Freeman said topic-focused luncheons, community presentations, media promotions and patient and physician appreciation events helped increase the numbers of radiation therapy patients they were receiving.
It’s not enough to simply reach out to potential referral sources. Doctors need to have materials and messages that explain their experience and expertise.
They need to convey why they are better than their competition, their areas of specialty, their training and experience, and also include practical information like office locations and insurances accepted.
21st Century Oncology, the largest global, physician-led provider of integrated cancer care services, has contracted with Full Circle for several years. The Fort Myers-based company operates 182 treatment centers, including 147 centers located in 17 states and 35 centers located in six countries in Latin America.
“We love the team’s energy, focus, creativity, and dedication to our business,” said Julie Boynton, the company’s corporate brand manager.
“Full Circle PR is more than a public relations agency; they are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, no matter what curve balls you throw at them,” she said. “Knowing you have that kind of dependability on your team is an invaluable asset.”
Be a Data Disciple
Practices that stop at outreach are missing a crucial element required for expansion. Tracking results is imperative to ensuring continued growth and focusing your marketing budget to maximize the return on investment. What strategies are working the best? Which ones aren’t? Did the event bring in new patients? What are the latest trends in referrals? It is important to have a system in place that tracks referral and patient patterns.
At Full Circle, numbers are everything. It allows the agency to be able to report, for instance, that after a year of handling marketing for a radiation oncology group in the Tampa Bay area, the office saw a 21 percent increase in patient volume. Of the 96 new physicians that referred patients to the office that year, 50 percent had been visited by a Full Circle physician liaison.
A Tampa Bay area dermatology practice reported a 137 percent return on investment from Full Circle’s efforts. The practice, which has two locations, saw 147 new patients attributed to Full Circle’s marketing efforts over 10 months, and 30 new referring physicians.
Tampa Bay E.N.T, which has six convenient locations in Hillsborough County, recently hired Full Circle.
“We partner with Full Circle PR to manage our social media, customer satisfaction and referring sources in the Tampa Bay area,” said Carlos Vargas, practice administrator for Tampa Bay E.N.T. “They provide a new spectrum in networking that fosters business relationships and profitability.”