The growing number of consolidations and acquisitions have put pressure on orthopedic and other specialty practices to bring in new patients while maintaining lasting relationships with current and previous patients.
Attracting new patients, however, may seem daunting for smaller practices as larger healthcare players continue to become more common households' names. In the past, surgeons and practices relied on referrals as well as family and friend recommendations to bring in new patients. While referrals and recommendations can still be helpful, technology offers new opportunities for appealing to patients.
In a July 18 webinar sponsored by Scorpion Healthcare, a provider of digital marketing solutions for healthcare teams, and hosted by Becker's Spine Review, Rod Thomas, regional sales director for Scorpion Healthcare, offered insights into how practices can retain and gain new customers through digital media strategies.
In the eyes of the patient
When a patient walks into a practice, they see the exam room, waiting area and other features on a surface level. A patient does not understand the operations of a hospital or outpatient center. Therefore, emotion typically drives a patient's healthcare decision. This means a patient needs to trust the practice and the surgeon. A practice can establish trust through updated equipment, electronics and exam rooms. Updated facilities suggest to the patient that your practice is advanced and innovative. If one device or waiting room appliance is outdated, a patient may assume everything in the center is outdated.
Patients also develop perceptions when assessing a practice's online presence, everything from websites to bad information to social media. If used correctly, social media allows a practice or surgeon to both interact with current patients and reach new patients. Having a positive online presence can also make an impact when patients are researching recommended providers. A Google and Lieberman Research Worldwide 2018 study found 71 percent of patients and caregivers do online research after receiving a recommendation or referral from a physician.
"To reach new patients on Facebook and other social media, you have to invest in boosting messages and advertisement," Mr. Thomas said. "There is a huge audience on Facebook, but you have to invest in advertising to reach that audience."
Maintaining an active online presence and utilizing digital marketing to attract new patients may seem like a sunk cost. To assess the value of digital marketing, Scorpion Healthcare conducted a case study in a 25-physician, multi-specialty practice. The practice had a strong desire to remain independent; however, had limited resources for digital promotion. After implementing a plan to expand their digital presence through marketing, the practice experienced a 71 percent new visitor rate, taking in 93 new patients in May alone. The practice saw a 460 percent return on investment.
3 steps to get started
1. Modernize your website: The first thing an independent surgeon or practice should do to better attract patients online is ensure their website is modernized. The website format should be up to par with the last standards and trends while also being patient-centric. Additionally, the website should be welcoming and trusting with a clear call to action. Aside from having a flowing design and easy to use functionality, the website must not have any lag time to load features. Mr. Thomas noted after three seconds a patient's attention is lost, and if the information they need is not there, the patient will leave the website.
2. Establish goals: Practices and surgeons also need to establish goals and objectives. Some practices may be looking to add new patients while others may be looking to perform specific procedures. By creating a detailed map of objectives, practices and surgeons can determine achievable and measurable goals. It is then important to strategize how to reach patients. First, practices and surgeons must determine the average patient revenue to decide how much they are willing to spend on digital outreach. When looking to bring in new business, it is imperative to keep patient demographics in mind to determine the best digital channel.
3. Measure results: After implementing strategies and action plans, surgeons and practices must also measure the results and track progress. This is crucial to understanding the effects of a digital marketing strategy. By collecting and analyzing data on patient impressions, revenue as well as the number of patients retained and gained, among other measures, practices can create optimized online outreach plans.
Connect with the market
Mr. Thomas said the practices with the best online marketing strategies do not necessarily have the best physicians, technology, clinical outcomes or customer service, but know how to best connect with the market. Mr. Thomas said a practice should invest in strategies to inform potential patients about its physicians and "what its best technology can do to improve [patients'] lives."