Administrators and managing physicians often view marketing solely as advertising to attract new patients.
Some of them even consider it unethical to the scientific nature of their profession.
Marketing is stereotyped as newspaper ads, billboards and direct mail campaigns.
Marketing is in fact, however, any activity that moves your practice in a desired direction.
Directions might include increasing income through expansion of client base, deterring new competitors, retaining market share, shifting payer patterns, introducing new services, recruiting new providers, entering new services and marketplaces or combating negative publicity.
There are many activities that might be considered "good practice" or "good management" that fit under the broad definition of marketing.
These included strategic planning, patient relations, insurance plan contracting, compliance monitoring systems, practice hours, practice acquisition, office location and ancillary products and services.
A comprehensive guide on marketing your practice would fill a book, but here are a few refresher pointers on the basics as it applies today.
Tip #1 - Create a Written One-Year and Five-Year Marketing Plan
Practices with a plan typically out-perform practices without a plan.
The first and most important part of a marketing plan is the goal, as it is a foundation for all the other decisions.
First, develop your five-year goal(s), since your one-year goal(s) should fit within the context of your five-year plan. A five-year goal is more broad in scope and strategic.
After each year, you should evaluate and amend next year's goal(s) based upon whether or not you achieved this year's goal(s).
Concentrate on developing strong, well-crafted goals. In order to accomplish this, limit your goals to no more than five.
The components of a properly crafted goal are that the goal is:
- Challenging yet attainable
- Clear and specific
- Written and measurable
Different practices have different business plans and as-such should have different marketing goals.
A new practice in an urban area will obviously have different goals than a mature practice in a rural setting.
An example of a properly crafted goal for a new ophthalmologist might be: "Achieve a consistent monthly surgical caseload of 10 cataract surgeries and 10 LASIK surgeries within one year and a combined consistent monthly caseload of 30 procedures within five years."
The rest of the steps in the marketing plan are factors that may impact the outcome of your goal:
1. Define your target (age, gender, location, diagnosis, language, insurance coverage, etc.)
2. Define target desires (availability, affability, ability, etc.)
3. Self-assessment (availability, affability, ability, location, capacity, experience, reputation, etc.)
4. Competition-assessment (as in 3. above)
5. Market-assessment (demand, payers, economy, demographics, geographic-shift, changes, etc.)
6. Budget (3 percent to 8 percent typical, 10 percent or more to enter a market or for elective services)
7. Decide strategies (internal/external, conservative/assertive, hundreds of choices)
8. Create a calendar of implementation (production lead-time, seasonality, pacing, etc.)
9. Execute (engage support services, involve staff, implement the plan)
10. Review and adjustment (track and review results monthly, adjust plan as needed, experiment)
Tip #2 - Activate Your Monitoring & Compliance System
Many patients are not being monitored properly after a procedure or do not follow the proper therapy due to scheduling problems and weak compliance systems.
Call and attempt to schedule all patients that are out of compliance.
Tip #3 - Demonstrate Availability, Affability and Ability
That old cliché about what makes a successful practice still holds true today, perhaps even more-so in our "go-go" society.
Your patients are busy and require convenience.
Scheduling is still the most important function in your office after the initial physician-patient contact, for patient-retention and new referrals.
- See new patients and referrals as soon as possible, preferably within the same week of the call.
- See patients on time. We all prefer to interact with people we like, so make sure everyone who interacts with your patients is friendly and pleasant.
- Address the patient by name.
- Make an effort to engage the patient in light and pleasant conversation.
- Ask patients about their kids, work/school or the weather.
Patients often perceive higher ability in physicians who have affiliations with academic centers or who publish articles in peer-reviewed journals.
If you participate in either of these, post it to the practice Web site, practice brochure and in patient communication materials.
Tip #4 - Get Out in Public Again
One of the first, basic and most successful marketing techniques oftentimes ignored by maturing practices.
Seek to meet and network with others.
Even though it is psychologically easier to just keep seeing referrers you already know and depend on, rather than meeting strangers and facing rejection, try to meet three new potential referrers per week.
Pharmacists, nurses, primary care physicians, medical assistants, hospital physician-referral-line staff, health-food-store owners and other relative to your practice professionals (e.g. insurance brokers, bankers etc), all know people whom need a physician of your practice.
People refer first to people they know. Just remember, compensating others for referrals is usually illegal.
Tip #5 - Keep Your Name in Front of your Target Market
It is estimated that it takes five or more encounters with your practice's name for it to be recognized.
Your name should appear anywhere potential patients would look.
That means at least the minimal listing information in all the appropriate categories of various publications, including the local phone book, your practice directories, physician-listing services and perhaps the local paper.
Appropriate office signs, in the front of the building and elsewhere in the area, are one of the most effective marketing investments.
Twice-yearly mailings to patients and local residents can also be effective.
Your practice's name, address, phone number Web address and e-mail should also appear on every single piece of paper that leaves your office.
This includes all those patient-education pamphlets, which would otherwise be generic pieces of information doing nothing to promote your office in the case where a patient passes them on to friends.
Every patient should leave your office with a piece of literature at every visit.
Quality pamphlets, like those offered by the Academy, better reflect a quality image than most freebies available from vendors.
Consider using name-stickers with black ink on a clear background, rather than ink-stamps that may smear.
Put the name-stickers on the front of the pamphlet to increase your exposure, and place the pamphlets face-up at a clearly visible place in your waiting area.
Tip #6 - Have an Appropriate Web Page
Here again is a marketing strategy that depends on your goals and plan.
Most physicians serve a local community and would waste marketing dollars trying to build a Web page that directly attracts new patients searching the Web for a local physician.
You don't usually need patients outside of your community to view your Web page.
A better strategy is to build a Web site that reflects the office brochure and patient-education materials, so that it serves as a destination-point for local patients in the process of making a choice among physicians.
Make sure these potential-patients find your Web address on all your print, ad and media materials.
It is a good idea to provide patients with a method to communicate with your office, but make sure you are using a secure messaging service, not regular e-mail, so that your office continues to meet compliance regulations.
Subspecialty practices that serve broader regions may consider Web sites set up to draw patients directly to your practice, increase your visibility among specialty physicians researching information or to stimulate referral requests.
In either case, a "bells-and-whistles" Web site is not necessary, just a clean, fast-loading, attractive image with quality-content.
Nothing turns-off a patient more than a slow-loading web page.
You should usually leave its development and maintenance to a technical specialist.
It's a profitable investment.
Tip #7 - Maintain a Commitment to Quality
Focus on providing extraordinary service to patients to increase patient retention and patient referrals.
By doing so, you should reduce the need for further marketing cash-expenditures.
Think about examples of extraordinary service you have experienced at other businesses and how those behaviors might be applied to your office.
Particularly pay attention to how problems and disputes were resolved to your satisfaction.
Examples might include resolving billing disputes or handling appointment tardiness that was not the patient's fault.
Tip #8 - Change Your Sign
Whether you have a free-standing sign in front of your practice or an outdoors neon sign, make sure it is attractive and clearly visible.
Using LED-type neon signs, you can frequently change your message and get new walk-in patients that will notice your sign.
If you are in a medical office building with shared signage, external signage is probably prohibited.
In that case, your lease might not prohibit a neon sign lit at night on an interior wall of an office, but visible from the street or parking lot through an outside window.
Tip #9 - Drop Your Worst Insurance Plans
If you are usually booked more than two weeks in advance - and you don't want to expand - consider shrinking your patient panel by dropping poor-paying insurance reimbursement contracts.
By limiting your practice to better-paying private insurance contracts, you don't need to see as many patients for the same income and you can spend more time per patient while reducing waiting times.
Drop one insurance plan at a time until a desirable balance of patient-load, wait-time and income is achieved.
Business Development Consultant