Although the word “marketing” may evoke visions of print ads and television spots, when it comes to growing your practice don’t forget your most powerful resource of all current patients (i.e. walking and talking billboards). The goal of external marketing (such as advertising) is to get patients to your door, however it’s internal marketing that not only pulls them through the door but keeps them knocking time and again.
Internal marketing is a strategy that focuses on maximizing patient retention through consistent communication and of course, good patient care. Tools such as social media and online review sites make it easier than ever for practices to reap the rewards of investing in internal marketing in order to earn the illustrious patient-to-patient referral.
Most business owners, whether they run a restaurant or a clothing boutique, will agree that it’s more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain current ones. The same goes for patients. Make no mistake, your practice is a business and that means treating your patients as valuable customers. Here are three key components of implementing a successful internal marketing strategy for your practice:
1. Stay Top of Mind: You’ve probably heard the saying “out of sight, out of mind”. Staying top of mind with patients is the best way to keep them (1) thinking about you so there’s a greater chance they’ll come in for more than the once a year visit, and/or (2) talking about you so they’re more likely to make a referral. For good or for bad, we’ve entered a new age in medicine where patients will Google just about anything. In fact, 59 percent of U.S. adults searched online for health information in the past year according to a 2012 study by Pew Research Center. Because patients are so digitally savvy (also known as e-patients), this presents a unique opportunity for doctors to now communicate with patients in a way that’s convenient, cost-effective, and timely.
Social media is one example of how practices can take advantage of this e-patient revolution. Start simple by just trying one platform at a time such as Facebook. Doctors are often intimidated by concerns of HIPAA and other legalities but with thousands of practices now using social media to communicate with patients, there are plenty of resources out there to help minimize such risks. Use social media to stay top of mind with patients by posting links to educational articles, helpful health tips and practice news.
E-newsletters can be used in the same way. Now with either free or extremely inexpensive e-newsletter programs like Mail Chimp, Constant Contact and iContact, it makes it easy for practices to send out monthly or quarterly communications to patients. Just be sure to get permission to use patient emails first. For those practices with a patient portal, you can also use the messaging feature to blast out announcements.
In order to reach patients who aren’t so digitally connected, try ideas like mailing a postcard that contains a magnet for the refrigerator or a letter wishing them a New Year and reminding them of annual health checks. The options are endless but the point is to find ways to keep your patients connected beyond the waiting room.
2. Give Patients a Reason to Come Back: Communication tools like social media and e-newsletters are also a great way to spread the word about new or existing services within your practice. When it comes to marketing, if you’re not saying it then you’re not doing it. That means if you aren’t telling patients about your other services then they probably don’t know they even exist. Sometimes patients need a service but don’t realize your practice performs it (such as mole removals at a family practice), and sometimes you offer a service that patients don’t know they need (such as NovaSure at an OB/GYN practice). This is when you have to put on your marketing hat and take the opportunity to upsell patients on other services you offer.
I see many medical practices investing in ancillary services in order to increase revenue (from weight loss to in-office x-ray), but I’m surprised how few actually market these services. If you take the mentality of âif you build it, they will come, you may be waiting a very long time. Healthcare has become increasingly competitive and the days of simply hanging a sign over your door are long gone.
You already have a captive audience in your current patients so take the opportunity to better communicate your services. Don’t make the mistake of sharing your message only once though. Sometimes doctors think if they told their patients once then they already know. If that were the case, then we wouldn’t see the same commercials play on TV over and over. Patients need to hear a message several times before they commit it to memory. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself.
3. Make it a Positive Experience: Ok, so you probably knew this one was coming¦ the patient experience. It’s a waste of time and funds to implement an internal marketing plan if you have no hope of retaining patients because their experience at your office was negative. From the way your staff answers the phone to color of your walls, it’s all part of the patient experience. Your staff needs to understand that they are not just part of the administrative or clinical departments but that they are a part of marketing as well. Whether your staff is checking a patient out or drawing their blood, every interaction shapes the patient experience. And with the internet, every experience is up for scrutiny.
I’ve seen far too many great doctors lose patients due to bad staffing. Invest in customer training for your staff, don’t put up with negative attitudes, and you may even want to consider an incentive plan. I’ve seen plenty of practices incentivize their staff for scoring certain levels on patient satisfaction surveys and even for upselling services to patients.
Finally, listen to your patients. Your patients can be the best source of ideas to make your practice better. Whether the ideas come from patient surveys, your social media page or even online review sites, take the feedback to heart and be open to change.
Customer service is the new public relations. That means that by responding to complaints online with practical solutions, patients will be far more impressed that you took action than the fact that the complaint happened in the first place.
A good marketing strategy starts from the inside out. By staying top of mind with patients, giving them a reason to come back for other services, and making their experience positive, you’ll create an effective internal marketing strategy that will enhance the ROI on your external marketing campaigns, and thus make the most impact on the growth of your practice.
About Amanda Kanaan:
Amanda Kanaan is the Founder and President of WhiteCoat â a medical marketing agency providing doctors with online marketing services as medical website design, search engine optimization (SEO), social media management, e-newsletters, blog writing, graphic design, referring physician outreach and more. To contact Amanda or to learn more about WhiteCoat, visit www.whitecoatmedicalmarketing.com.