By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Ophthalmology specialists have long been aware of the need for marketing in their practice business plan. But as Yogi Berra might shrewdly warn, “the future is not what it used to be.”
Under the general umbrella of “vision care services,” individual practice structures will vary in size, structure and operational emphasis. But ophthalmic practitioners and practices are increasingly challenged to attract a reliable stream of cataract and refractive surgery cases (including LASIK, PRK and others), as well as introcular and oculoplastic surgery.
The task of attracting new patients and cases has become increasingly difficult. And the need to aggressively market your ophthalmology practice has moved from a routine function to a full-throttle business imperative.
What’s different today? Why has the need for marketing and advertising moved from low gear to turbo overdrive? Chief among the change agents for ophthalmologists are these significant dynamics:
The patient is an empowered consumer. On one hand, the universally available Internet provides the prospective patient/customer with more information, alternatives and provider options. Further, with a more significant stake in personal healthcare decisions—and with family finances increasingly stretched—some individuals are delaying or avoiding vision care expenses.
Professional referral sources are no longer “locked in.” Once upon a time, a relatively steady stream of referrals from optometrist, family physicians and other professionals provided an equally steady revenue stream. But as healthcare reshaped that landscape—with practice mergers, hospitals acquiring once-private practices—the flow of cataract, glaucoma and macular degeneration patients has been diverted or redirected to a less predictable course.
Your competition is smart, aggressive and professional grade. The demand for vision surgery and related services are growing in older populations sectors, representing a large and attractive business target for hospitals, pharmaceutical and device manufacturers and ophthalmology group practices. Savvy and successful vision care practices and hospitals are winning patients with aggressive, and well-funded, ophthalmology marketing and advertising campaigns.
LASIK surgery has matured, while patients are increasingly price-sensitive. This formula makes ophthalmology marketing far more challenging, and the cost for an ophthalmologist to acquire each new LASIK patient soars dramatically. Without a smart, creative and well-considered ophthalmology marketing plan every practice looks like every other practice in the view of the consumer. And without strong points of differentiation, every customer becomes a “price shopper.”
Convenience and retail erosion is devouring your market share. No, the likes of CVS, RiteAid, Walmart and scores of other big-box retailers do not offer ocular surgery. But the consumer is increasingly drawn to the convenience of the retail world, such as pharmacies and grocery stores, for many vision-related products and services that were once exclusive to doctors’ offices. Practices that employ (or have a close relationship with) optometrists and opticians feel that pinch.
Reputations either standout online or don’t exist. The Internet has become the informed and empowered consumer’s window on—and the front door of—every ophthalmology practice. What the patient/customer finds (or doesn’t find) online is the foundation of an individual doctor’s professional reputation. This provides practitioners with a powerful opportunity to build public awareness and to extend and protect their reputation.
These and other dynamics require experienced help to create an integrated and effective ophthalmology marketing plan. Connect with us today for marketing resources and ethical strategies and tactics that stand up to the competition and grow your bottom line.