Marketing is Important Now
The incomes of many medical practices have been impacted by COVID-19 and will continue to be impacted as the healthcare industry continues to go through its own changes and new payment patterns begin to evolve. The result could be that in the future there is stagnation or decline in the revenue streams of some practice units. Therefore, maintaining and growing revenues will most assuredly become a priority for many medical offices. How a practice markets itself will depend on whether it is a primary-care practice or a referral-based practice. Regardless of the specific type of practice, some marketing efforts are common to all medical practices. Here are a few strategies to help you market your practice during COVID-19.
Internal Marketing Strategies
Most internal marketing strategies that a medical practice can adopt are common sense, but sometimes their importance is understated. The internal decor, behavior of the staff members, and policies of the practice must create a friendly and professional impression in the minds of its patients and referring physicians.
As a bare minimum, the following questions should be answered during analysis of the internal office environment:
- Is the reception area comfortable for the patients? or do the patients feel like they are sitting in a morgue?
- Are patients provided with activities, such as a television or magazines, while they wait for their appointments?
- Do the patients have to wait a long time in the reception area for their appointments?
- Is the front-desk staff courteous and willing to help the patients and the offices of the referring physicians?
- How do the nurses and other clinical staff treat and interact with patients? Do they go out of their way to help patients? Are they friendly and composed? How helpful are they over the telephone?
- Are the office’s policies and procedures creating bad impressions?
- Are thank-you cards for new patient referrals; both to physicians and patients; routinely and consistently mailed out?
- Does the physician spend adequate time with the patients in the exam rooms?
- Does the office have a recall system? Many primary-care practices lose revenue simply because they do not have a system in place that will prompt patients to come back to the office for visits.
External Marketing Strategies
Following are some external marketing strategies that the office manager and physician should consider using.
This is a priority. Consumers (patients) are increasingly spending more time online, searching the Internet for answers to their questions. Many (between 50 and 90 million) surfers are researching health-related questions. They get their answers from internet resources. Ultimately, some will seek to establish a patient-physician relationship for specific medical advice and treatment. Although traditional means of finding a physician are still popular (i.e. word-of-mouth, insurance directories), it is becoming more common for patients to choose or evaluate their physicians from their selection of choices on the Internet. This is especially true for prospective patients who have recently relocated to a new area.
Having a medical practice website that is attractive, interesting, concise, well organized, and easy to navigate, can reap many benefits for a practice, including:
- Increased marketability to new patients,
- Increased efficiency, i.e. reducing staff time on telephone for commonly asked questions
- Communication of the practice’s mission, message, location, and medical services to new patients
- Enhanced patient services with downloadable patient forms, and easy directions to the practice
- Providing accurate, clinically appropriate informational resources for current and prospective patients
- Enhanced practice image by implying that if it is current enough to have a modern website, then it is more likely to use the latest medical technologies & methodologies
- Enhanced professional image among colleagues, an important referral base, and potential new physician partners
- Adding the website’s address to marketing materials, business cards, and other office letterhead will increase awareness
A newsletter from the practice can be sent out by both a primary-care practice and a referral-based medical specialty practice. Usually created and electronically mailed on a quarterly basis, the newsletter informs patients and referring physicians about clinical issues and the office.
Do not forget the year-end thank-you letters to all patients and referring physicians. The letters are final notes of appreciation to patients for their patronage and to both patients and physicians for their referrals. The thank-you letters also serve as reminders that the practice is growing and would like to receive additional referrals.
The success of advertising will usually depend on the medical specialty; it works for some medical offices and not for others. If an office is receiving almost all of its new patient referrals from other physicians, it may not make sense to spend money on advertising. If, however, a practice does not receive much revenue from referrals, it should investigate developing an advertising program in local publications.
Relationships with other physicians or physicians’ offices
For a practice that is based on referrals, the best marketing strategy is for the practice’s physician to go out of his or her way to meet potential referring physicians. Developing relationships is the key to generating patient referrals. To be successful, the physician should eat in the physicians’ lounge or nearby hangouts where the other physicians regularly eat. The practice’s physician should take referring physicians to dinner at regular intervals or go to the offices of potential referring physicians to discuss the possibility of developing cross-referral relationships. Make sure the practice’s brochure is mailed to all potential referring physicians.
When physicians sign with managed-care plans, they often feel that no further marketing efforts directed toward managed-care enrollees are necessary. Usually, when a managed-care plan enrollee gets ill, he or she chooses a physician by looking in the physician roster book or asking a fellow employee to give a referral.
The goal of marketing in a managed-care atmosphere is to eliminate both of these customs. A managed-care enrollee should have the practice in mind and call it directly when he or she needs medical attention. To achieve this, the practice must concentrate on marketing efforts that increase its visibility. The physicians could call the human resources directors at the companies that pay premiums to the managed-care plan and inquire about presenting a seminar to the employees. If the employer or managed-care plan has a newsletter, perhaps the physicians can submit articles. Finally, the practice can offer free or reduced-rate services to the employees of the companies. Examples include cholesterol testing and blood pressure screening. These kinds of activities will bring much needed visibility to the practice and generate patients’ visits to the office.
A referral-based practice in the managed-care setting should review the providers on the plan. If no referral relationship is in place, the practice should attempt to establish a relationship so it can expand its list of potential referring physicians.