Healthcare marketing is more involved than simply hiring someone to write an ad or create a brochure for you. (After all, your practice is not a simple box of detergent or a used car lot.)
To be successful, you will need a well-considered marketing plan and budget, complete with ethical, appropriate and proven strategies.
While we don't have room to cover every possible scenario, here is a taste of some of the strategies which could be a part of your plan. (Some ideas may be more suitable for elective care options, and some not be a fit for you, but each is worth an initial consideration.)
Even in the most HMO-dense cities, many employers offer at least one higher-end insurance option. If that's true for you, it just might be a huge opportunity.
For instance, let's say you enjoy treating teachers and nurses, and they generally have good insurance. You can consider a variety of affordable and imaginative tactics to win the lion's share of their business.
Or, perhaps you have specialized expertise that would make you extra valuable to local businesses, law firms or government agencies. For example, you may be able to help local companies with pre-employment physicals, ergonomic evaluations, injury prevention programs, expert witness engagements and even executive wellness.
You could also target specific industries with a common health problem. For example, an ENT could market to employees and retirees from certain industries where employees are highly likely to suffer hearing loss.
Healthcare marketing can help you and your partners can take full advantage of the time, energy and money you've invested in your subspecialty training and/or area(s) of special interest.
There are hundreds of strategies that can help you attract the cases you want most. You might consolidate the best of these into a handful of ongoing marketing systems, so that exactly the most appropriate patients will raise their hands for your care. Better still, these systems can be designed to work whether or not a given diagnosis is common.
That's a win-win situation. You'll receive the patients and cases you want, and your patients will receive the best possible care.
The Internet is perhaps the most misunderstood promotional vehicle.
For specialties where the stakes are high, prospective patients will in fact beat paths to provider web sites, but only to those sites which are engaging and aggressively and effectively promoted, both online and off.
Furthermore, patients often use the web for due diligence and to compare doctors prior to committing to an appointment.
Having a truly effective Internet strategy is not about just presenting your services and credentials on a web site. It's not about expensive graphics or a "flash" entry page.
Rather, it is about creating a site and an online strategy that attracts and motivates patients who are seeking your services online.
Upscale baby boomer patients (and younger ones too) view themselves as smart, informed, empowered and responsible for their own lives.
Many of these upscale patients have dropped HMOs in favor of more expensive PPOs (or even traditional indemnity plans) so that they can choose their own practitioners.
"I'm taking charge of my own healthcare now, thank you very much."
These consumers have come to expect - make that demand - top notch service from everyone they deal with. Thus if you are targeting upscale patients, your acquisition and retention strategies should be clear. Offer a Starbucks™ experience and you'll win the day. If you don't, you just might get killed.
Elective care is an area that is certainly of interest to many practitioners, though relatively few get beyond the dabbling stage to create significant profits from their efforts.
The problem is rarely the additional training or equipment required.
Instead, the bigger issue is almost always the inability to attract elective or cash patients, especially for lucrative (and consequently) competitive services. These same practitioners soon realize that getting patients to open up their own wallets - without reimbursement - requires an entirely new skill set.
Still, elective care can be extremely lucrative - when you appropriately target and attract patients willing and able to pay cash.
While specialists live and die by professional referrals, few take active steps to create, maintain and improve their referral relationships. They say, "I am too busy to schmooze," or, "I do good work and that should be enough."
On a deeper level, however, most doctors are rightly concerned about looking needy or greedy, and would die of embarrassment at the thought of "looking like a salesman" to referring doctors.
The good news is that it is definitely possible to purposefully create powerful, ongoing referral systems to attract and keep the lion's share of referrals in your marketplace. Done correctly, even elementary tactics can yield a solid return on your investment.
What's more, it's important to create ongoing systems that build lasting relationships and are a dependable (and continuing) referral stream.
There are many ethical and powerful ways to target specific patient niches, diagnoses or modalities.
For example, a doctor who offers aesthetic care can target upscale women, 40-55, who live in neighborhoods that are statistically highly likely to purchase aesthetic services. A general surgeon can promote a hernia center. An orthopedic surgeon can target weekend warriors for sports injuries. A gastroenterologist can promote for heartburn cases. A urologist can target older men for prostate health and younger men for infertility. An ophthalmologist can target people who are known to wear corrective glasses to find LASIK or CK cases.
Your most valuable - and usually untapped - asset is your patient base. Yet, if you were to quiz your patients, you'd be shocked at how little most of them know about your scope of services (those little pamphlets do virtually nothing).
For example, a gallbladder patient will typically have no idea that she can refer her husband to her (now favorite) general surgeon for his hernia operation.
The good news is, you can build systems to get the word out within your patient base. Best of all, most cost little or nothing. AND, you can implement these systems almost immediately.
Most practice owners like the idea of becoming more visible in the media (TV, newspapers, radio, etc.). After all, what's not to like - it's publicity, and it's free.
However, getting news coverage is typically a lot harder than you might imagine. Moreover, you need to be aware of what to do in case the reporter turns out to be hostile. Finally, unless you really plan your message and strategy, any press you get can easily fail to generate any new patients.
Still, a properly conducted publicity campaign can help you build your reputation, create a "Center of Excellence" and grow the caseload you are looking for, at no or low cost to you.
While marketing was deemed legal nearly 30 years ago (1977, Bates V. State Bar of Arizona), many doctors still feel uncomfortable about the idea of advertising.
There are many situations where advertising can be applied powerfully and ethically to not only attract patients, but enhance your professional reputation and encourage better healthcare for the entire community.
For example, we've used advertising successfully to promote breast cancer screenings, prostate cancer awareness, hypertension screenings, LASIK, arthroscopic surgery, endoscopies, cataract screenings, sinus surgeries, colonoscopies, pregnancy screenings and many, many others.
If you are serious about attracting better cases and growing your practice profits, connect with us. Now it is time for you to take action.
Marketing a healthcare organization can be challenging - even painful if you don't approach it with the right knowledge, tools, and guidance. By reading about mistakes and lessons others have learned the hard way, you can boost your marketing effectiveness and take a shortcut to success. Discover how to avoid these "Seven Deadly Sins". Plus, join over 30,000 of your fellow healthcare providers with a free subscription to our Insight Newsletter.