It is no secret that the face of healthcare is changing. Insurance policies and reimbursements continue to morph while patients are being more selective about their care due to rising premiums. All of this coupled with the ever-changing nature of the industry creates a unique landscape for marketing where traditional strategies aren’t cutting it for the modern physician. In order to compete, practices need to adapt and evolve. In doing so, it is more important than ever to have a coherent marketing strategy in place to sustain a competitive advantage and attract new patients while still retaining current patients.
Much like there is no “magic pill” to cure all patients, there is no “magic plan” to help grow all practices as each practice has different objectives and obstacles. However, a comprehensive marketing plan will ensure you are increasing your patient volume from all potential referral sources, including other physicians, word-of-mouth and online.
You need to know what results you want from your marketing efforts with realistic expectations. For example, is there a certain insurance you want more patients from, is there a certain procedure that you enjoy more or pays more, is there a new physician in the practice whose schedule needs to be filled?
“The days of patients going to the nearest doctor to their home are gone. Patients are much more educated now, and they’re willing to go the extra mile for an expert in his or her field of medicine,” says Michele Krohn, the Founder and President of Full Circle PR, a medical practice marketing and public relations agency in Tampa, Florida. “Patients are looking for solutions to their problems; it is up to you to market the key benefits of your practice and procedures.”
Krohn’s firm uses a multitier approach to diversifying your public relations and marketing strategies reaching the following:
- Your current patient base
- Potential new patients in the community
- Your current referral sources
- Potential referral sources
How to Start
“First and foremost, focus on your brand,” says Krohn. “Having a solid, up-to-date brand is essential these days. Develop a logo and color scheme that relates to the image you’re aiming to convey, and use it in all your materials: letterhead, website, brochures and signage. Repeating your logo and color scheme is the shortest path to memorability.”
If you are okay with being in front of a TV camera or talking to a newspaper reporter, media relations should be part of your public relations and marketing strategy.
“There is no better way to reach a large audience and be viewed as an expert then being featured on the news,” says Krohn. “Reporters want to hear about new, innovative procedures and heart warming patient stories, and they need you to tell those stories.”
Communicating with Current Patients
Do your current patients know all the services you have to offer? You should be reaching out to your current patient base via e-newsletters on a regular basis, and inviting them to follow you on social media. Sending patients an e-newsletter is a great way to keep top of mind awareness and communicate any news in the office. Tips pertaining to your specialty are always well received by patients. For example, if you are an E.N.T., “How to Combat Allergies” will get a high open rate.
How to Find Patients
To reach out to potential new patients in the community, Full Circle PR recommends starting by thinking about the demographic of your ideal patient and then finding where you would have them as an audience. For example, if you are a pediatrician, you want to look for any child-focused community events, such as a children’s parade. For orthopedics, look for sporting events like 5Ks and other weekend warrior events around your practice. Contact the organizer and ask how you can get involved. Having a booth at an event, with great promotional items and literature about how your practice can help a patient is a sure way to gain new patients to your practice.
Physician Referral Sources
Do you know where exactly are your patients coming from?
“In a perfect world, there would be two questions pertaining to marketing on the patient’s intake form, ‘where did you hear about us?’ and ‘where did you get our contact information?’” Krohn said.
“We often find that our clients have a real discrepancy between the physician’s perception of where their patients are coming from and the raw data. They may think that another doctor is sending them several patients a week, when it’s really only one or two a month when you pull the actual reports.”
That’s why it’s crucial for a physician’s staff to accurately report where each patient who walks in the door is coming from, as it lays the foundation for which marketing resources are effectively allocated.
If you are a specialist, the largest source of referrals should be from your colleagues. Physicians should make it a priority to reach out to their colleagues, even if it is a simple phone call to say hello. Thank you cards go along way, especially when a new referral source sends you a patient for the first time. Saying thank you in a template report is generic an insincere. Is that how you want to be thought of?
Another successful way to reach out to both current referring physicians and potential referring physicians is with e-newsletters and case studies. The case studies are like mini white papers, either based on a procedure you would like to highlight or a great patient outcome. Even sending journal articles that would interest referring physicians is a great touch point. It differentiates you from your competition and shows you were thinking of them.
“Just last week, we had a family practice physician reply back to our orthopedic client’s e-newsletter containing a case study, thanking them for sending such interesting articles,” Krohn said.
Other Referral Sources
Is “word of mouth” in the top three highest referral sources for your practice? If not, it should be and you should survey your patients to see if something is happening that you are unaware of. These analytics can help your practice become more successful in the long run.
Have you Googled yourself lately? What types of reviews do you have? Have you responded within HIPAA guidelines to your reviewers? Even if a patient is putting your name into Google Maps, your reviews are right there. If you have no or a low number of stars, they may think twice about coming to you. Put yourself in their shoes, you and your spouse are going to dinner and you type the restaurant’s name into Google Maps for directions and it has bad reviews. Would you still go? Your online presence needs to be constantly monitored by yourself or someone within your practice.
Remember, building a practice and gaining more patients takes time. The key to any successful marketing plan is being persistent and consistent.