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Email: A Stand-out Marketing Opportunity

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

The "@" symbol forming a "$" shadowHealthcare practices and hospitals have been slow to adopt email as a standard communications tool with patients-most of whom would welcome the connectivity. Bringing email into the mainstream of your office, even for non-clinical matters, is a powerful way to differentiate your business from the competition, increase satisfaction and patient retention...and boost office efficiency.

Recently, a professional colleague told us a story about how a vending machine at his supermarket was doing a better job at "customer service," in his opinion, than his dentist.

His overly-dramatic marketing assessment was purely tongue-in-cheek, but the story revealed a marketing opportunity for a lot of providers. Here's the tale:

It seems our friend used a machine that rents and dispenses movies on DVD at the grocery store. And by the time he reached home, his new good friend (the vending machine) had already delivered a personalized email note of thanks for the rental. What's more, when he returned the rental to the machine, another email acknowledged its receipt, tabulated the charges, and thanked him again for his patronage.

This brief man/machine interaction won him over as a regular customer. In contrast, the movie vending machine was doing a better job than his family dentist. In each and every visit to the dentist in the past year, he and his family were routinely invited to provide an email address (which they did).

Like most of us, email is a familiar tool for business and personal communications. But in the past year, this family has not received one email message from his dentist, his physician or even his veterinarian. Cyber-silence.

Where doctor and patient preferences diverge.

Several surveys in recent years show that healthcare professionals are slow to adopt the use of email. This research is almost exclusively related to the reluctance of doctors to digitally correspond with patients about clinical matters, but less than half–by some estimates perhaps as few as 20%–of doctors use email for patient-physician communications.

Patients, on the other hand, are accustomed to receiving email and text messages from many other professions and businesses virtually daily...including teachers, package delivery systems, and even movie rental machines. While most people are familiar with and welcome the obvious convenience of email, one online survey of adults indicated that only 8% had received email from their doctors.

The marketing opportunity: doing what others don't.

The provider that can incorporate regular, convenient and desired communications is a stand-out in brand differentiation–as well as office and staff efficiency, increased patient satisfaction and retention.

Both providers and patients appreciate benefits such as improved administrative processes; reducing "phone tag" for office reminders, scheduling changes and confirmation, prescription refills, and other routine and non-clinical purposes.

The challenges can be complex, and legitimate concerns about patient privacy and confidentiality–including HIPAA regulations and AMA guidelines–are at the top of the list. But even if your policy is to exclude clinical subjects, there's a large segment of the population–between 60% and 80%–which would appreciate and prefer email interaction with practitioner offices.

Simple, convenient and inexpensive.

Doctors in the 1800s didn't want to use of the telephone in their office, according to an Associated Press article. But the presence of computers in the office makes early adoption and use of new-form connectivity fairly easy–for those organizations ready to grab this opportunity.

Medical office systems and administrative software easily connect with communications support packages. Affordable programs and service bureaus provide personalized messages via email, automated phone calls and even text messages. Some programs are free or low cost. Secure programs that are being used in hospitals and major insurance programs are also available.

Early adopters are clearly different from the competition.

'With the continued increased usage of computers and the Internet by individuals, email can be a valid, simple, convenient, and inexpensive mechanism for communication', according to the AMA1 –and we agree.

For any healthcare provider, the regular use of email is a significant point of differentiation and an opportunity to enhance and cement patient relationships. As a bonus, there are practical operating efficiencies for the office that save time and money.

1 Guidelines for Physician-Patient Electronic Communications, American Medical Association;

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