Price, value, quality, perception, and many other factors may enter into the decision process of a consumer purchasing a product or a service. Typically, the business selling the goods or services will market directly to the customer that pays for the product or service. However, in healthcare this wasn’t always the case. Rather, patients had “rich” employee benefits that would cover most, if not all, of the cost. And if the third-party insurance didn’t pay for all of the cost, the medical or dental practice may have accepted the insurance company’s payment and granted a discount of sorts to the patient. Many of you might regard this scenario as the “good ole days”! With the introduction of high deductible plans, health saving accounts and the reduction of fully paid employee benefits your patient is increasingly becoming the actual payor of your services. This is being compounded by the fact that healthcare offices are also offering more services that are simply not covered by the insurance policy in which the patient is covered. This creates more of a need for your practice to be conscious of the patient’s purchasing decisions.
John Jantch, small business marketing expert and author of Duct Tape Marketing, suggests the following seven steps to create the Ultimate Marketing System. I took his steps and adjusted them to be used by a medical or dental practice wishing to market their services to the new “informed patient”.
- Narrow Your Focus – Don’t try to be all things to all patients. After all, that is why we have various specialties, right? Even within a specific specialty take time to identify your ideal patient. Write out the characteristics and types of patient you desire as though you were literally meeting with the patient, which will help in your planning process.
- Find and Communicate a Core Difference – How will patients differentiate your practice from your competition? When the patient picks up the phone and calls your office for the first time, will they hear the difference? Will they experience it when they arrive to the first appointment or when they meet with you? Stress the differences with your staff so that they are aware of the message you wish your ideal patient to hear.
- Package Your Business – It’s the old saying, “image is everything” that counts here. The images and the colors you use within your patient information booklet or website can say a lot about you. The name of your practice or a particular service provided could help package your services. Put yourself in the place of your patient – what would cause you to feel good about going to the doctor’s office?
- Create Materials that Educate – In your patient information brochure or other communications, don’t use the bulk of your print talking about technical aspects of your specialty or how long you have been in practice. Rather, dedicate a good portion of the piece communicating the benefits the patient will gain by coming to your office. I suspect that some patients are telling you why they chose your office – use their actual words or examples. Use stories, which are great ways to relate to others, educate, and build trust.
- Establish your Lead Generation Trio – The three components are advertising, a referral system and public relations. Your advertising efforts should focus on getting the patient to allow you to educate them about your services. This might be an initial appointment with a staff member or an initial service that allows the patient to be educated on how they will benefit from your services. It could also be something as simple as providing them with something like “Ten things you must know before you select a doctor”. Create a system to regularly communicate with your referral sources. Be sure to thank them regularly and educate them about your practice as well. Keep in mind that your staff will be able to assist you with this process. Most everyone is interested in how to live healthy, so identify ways in which you can be a resource to the general public. This might involve being available for an interview that will air on a local radio station, or that will assist a reporter inform the general public on healthcare matters. Working with schools might be another way to provide resources to the general public. Availing your expertise to a broad audience will help build recognition and trust with the patient you ultimately want to see.
- Automate and Dominate – Learn to use technology to your advantage. Writing letters to referrals, providing resources, or getting the word out about your services may seem to be daunting tasks, but with the use of computers and your staff the process is achievable. During a recent meeting with one of my clients, a physician demonstrated to me how he used the Auto Text feature in a Word document to quickly send out a consult report. I’m certain your practice management or EMR systems have powerful tools that can be used to shorten the time it takes to communicate or gather information – empower your staff to learn how to use these functions. The use of a Web site will also help you in getting the word out to your patients. Keep in mind that patients today are using the Internet to search for and learn more about their healthcare providers.
- Live by the Calendar – Being able to attend to the care of your patients is most likely why you went into practice – this is where I find most clients find their joy. However, marketing your practice is an extremely important aspect of maintaining your independence in private practice. So, rather than trying to do everything at once, schedule an appointment in your scheduling calendar on a regular basis over the next year to work on steps of your overall plan. Use a marketing calendar to list out the tactics you wish to take and when during the year they will be done.
In his book, Raving Fans, Ken Blanchard writes the following in the Foreword – “Successful organizations have one common central focus: customers. It doesn’t matter if it’s a business, a professional practice, a hospital, or a government agency, success comes to those, and only those, who are obsessed with the looking after customers.” Whether it is assisting you with your marketing efforts, coaching you in other aspects of your business, or simply presenting the financial picture of where you are; It is our sincere desire to look after you, help you meet your goals and to improve the bottom line of your business. Thank you for your trust in us.