Estimated reading time: 49 minutes
Medical Marketing – Basics
How can you get more patients?
Take a moment to think this through. You get patients from
- B2B (business to business) marketing – aka marketing to other physicians and businesses (whether you are scoping out physician referrals or marketing with payers or doing direct deals with employers etc)
- B2C (business to consumer) marketing – aka marketing to prospective patients directly (whether you are doing digital marketing, print and media advertising, workshops, community outreach events etc)
Medical marketing to businesses
Healthcare, in many ways, is like a retail business. Unless you have ventured into telemedicine or started using telehealth as a potential patient acquisition strategy, your patients are local to you most of the time.
So, what kind of businesses can you market to?
- Other physician practices
- Businesses around your medical practice location(s)
- Senior living centers
- Home healthcare agencies
- Many more…
Medical marketing to “people”
Regardless of whether you are marketing to other businesses or not, you need to establish a direct marketing channel to draw patients to your practice. You could be doing very well based on other physician referrals, but please do not ignore this direct-to-patients marketing channel.
There are several ways you can market directly to patients
- Digital marketing
- Print and advertising
- Community outreach
- Joint marketing campaigns with payers, other providers promoting health
- Health awareness seminars held at your office or other locations
- Many more…
How do you create your medical marketing plan?
This is where most folks get stuck. They either get overwhelmed by the entire marketing process, read up too much information or attempt to do too much at one time.
We have also encountered practice leaders that set out in a year deciding to “market the practice” without having a marketing plan.. Nor do they set up marketing goals. This inevitably sets them up for disappointment and thereby leads them to drop the marketing plan altogether.
A marketing plan doesn’t have to be an extensive document or a powerpoint presentation at all. It simply has to be written down and referred to throughout the year. That’s it. Commit to doing just that.
Take a simple approach. First figure out what you want to achieve and make sure that it is achievable. It’s perfectly OK to aim for something specific (examples below):
- I want to add 20% more NEW patients per month OR
- I want to add one new referring physician partner per month
- I want to add 20% NEW patients from google – that makes it even more specific
- I want to add 50 new patient reviews each month
- I want to add 50 new patient reviews each month on google reviews
- I want to add 50 new patient reviews each month on Facebook reviews..
Do you see the point here?
- You are being very Specific about your goal
- You are setting a goal that is Measurable
- Once you write it down on paper, you are setting something that is Attainable
- Your goal is now Realistic
- Your goal is time bound (each month, each week etc)
And that’s it.. You have now set up S.M.A.R.T goals.
Now, for the plan.. Here’s an example of how you can achieve your SMART goal “I want to add 20% more patients per month from google”.
Let’s break this down. How would you achieve that?
First and foremost, you would need to show up in google local search results when patients are searching for a practice like yours. You need to show up in the first page itself or, preferably, in the google local pack results (that small set of 3-4 search results that google shows at the top of the page).
Once you do show up in google local search results, your practice needs to show up as being more “trustworthy” than your competitors that are also showing up in those search results. This necessarily means that you have as many positive reviews as possible and have a higher review rating than your competitors
After prospective patients deem you as more trustworthy than your competitors in google search results, they need to be able to book an appointment with you ASAP. Whether they “text” your business for an appointment or call you from your google search result listing or click on BOOK NOW button or go to your website and request an appointment.. Whatever that method might be… they need to be able to do so IMMEDIATELY.
So, your high level plan would be to
- Show up on google search results via paid ads or SEO
- Show up as more trustworthy to patients by getting patient reviews
- Leveraging various technologies / software to enable near instant bookings from patients.
Implement your patient acquisition ideas
How do you take your high level marketing plan and create actionable steps out of it?
You will have your own set of goals, plans and accompanying steps to take. Let’s walk through the example shared before. Follow this example as a framework to set up your own marketing goals, plans, actionable steps yourself (as a team).
Here’s what we had before
- Show up on google search results via paid ads or SEO
- Show up as more trustworthy to patients by getting patient reviews
- Leveraging various technologies / software to enable near instant bookings from patients.
How can your medical practice show up on google search results?
You have two options to show up when people search for doctors.
- Paid ads on google / PPC (pay per click)
- Search engine optimization/SEO
A quick primer on PPC
PPC is expensive, is getting more expensive and competitive by the day. However, done properly, they give you instant results. The day you stop spending on PPC ads, your results stop. This doesn’t mean that you just put up an ad on google and you’ll start showing up on the first 3-4 ad results. You have to work hard to show up on the top paid ad results. If your ad doesn’t get clicked on, google will slowly stop showing your ads.
SEO does not give you instant results but it does give you long lasting results. It takes dedication and daily/weekly work to show up for google search results (especially on the first page). However, as you keep working on it, the results are longer lasting. This does not mean that once you show up / rank higher on google search results, you’re forever going to be there. You still have to keep working on SEO to stay on the first page of search results.
Either way, it’s a lot of work and you need to put in the work needed. This is where most medical practices fail. They don’t realize that they need to work really hard towards achieving their goals, continue working on it even after they’re beginning to see results. They give up too easily.
No one said marketing is easy or a one time effort.
Paid ads / PPC on google
DO keep in mind that in many markets you’re going to be competing with ZocDoc’s ads. They spend quite a bit on paid ads, so make sure you understand that.
However, they won’t show just your medical practice’s name when they show their ads. They place ads to show up for term searches – eg “eye doctor Bronx” or “eye doctors near me”. Their ad will show up and if a patient clicks on their ad, they will be shown ALL eye doctors – not just you.
If you do want to attempt to have your own PPC ads, make sure you understand PPC well. You can easily spend a lot of money on PPC ads. Make sure you work with people that know how to utilize your ad budget properly. Either hire your own ppc expert in house or hire an agency or freelancer that has rock solid experience in running medical campaigns.
Levers to pull in paid advertising
There are small levers in PPC that can make or break your budget and campaign success. Make sure you hire folks that understand those levers.
As an example, if you’re located in Jackson heights / queens, you know that there’s no point showing ads to folks in Brooklyn or Bronx. Patients are not going to travel that far. That means, your PPC campaign has to be leveraging geotargeting / geofencing to avoid wasting money on ads shown to the wrong people. Make sure that whoever you hire, knows small things like these.
Another example is where you can use retargeting ads (RLSA) on people that have already visited your web page or website. Many digital marketers forget that. Retargeting ads are dirt cheap compared to ads for broader search terms and gives you a very easy way to brand yourself plus stay on top of your patient’s mind.
Keep one thing in mind – the biggest challenge you’re facing is that your prospective patient doesn’t even know that you exist. If they did, they’d book you directly.
Also, understand that your patient isn’t googling your services for fun everyday. By the time they have started to google, they’re ready to book you (or your competitors).
When your patient is on google, your competitors stand a chance to win your business (you have the same benefit as well).
Your goal is for the patient to think of your medical practice’s name when they need your services.. and not go to google.
In other words, you need to be “known” to the patient long before they actually need your medical services. Keep this in mind (aka branding) to decide your budget on getting your name out there as well.
So, divide your paid ads budget into
- Competing for patients ready to book now
At a minimum, these should be the ones you consider from the get go.
Facebook paid ads
Think of Facebook paid ads a bit differently from the way you’d think of google paid ads. On Facebook, patients are not actively searching for doctors or your medical practice per se.
Facebook is unique in the sense that it does give you much deeper insights into their users’ likes, dislikes, interests etc. You can very well use this information available to you via Facebook ads and target these users for your goals.
Targeting Facebook users for branding works well. What you’re really trying to do is to get your name out there and get people to click through and come to your website.
Once someone has visited your website, you can pretty much follow them around the Internet and retargeting ads work extremely well for these purposes.
You could also allow people to book appointments using your Facebook page “book now” button as well. However, always keep in mind that patients are not really actively searching for your medical services on Facebook.
One thing that works very well on Facebook is to get reviews from existing patients. Facebook allows you to upload your customer list (you can provide as little information as needed, to avoid violating PHI related concerns) and create a custom audience out of your customer list.
Once you have this custom list, you can boost (pay) your ads to get reviews from your existing patients. Keep in mind that google shows Facebook reviews when they show your practice search results on the right hand side of google search results.
So, as a recap, if you want quick results, start paying for Google and Facebook ads to get immediate results with calls from patients.
A quick primer on SEO
Most medical practices (even larger groups) are told that you need a website, a blog, multiple social media channels etc etc.
We’re not contesting that you should, someday, have all those. But, here’s the reality – any online presence that you have, you need to put in a lot of work for it to generate any return on investment (ROI) for you.
What does this translate to?
Let’s say that you don’t have a website and a medical marketing agency or even your in-house marketing hire tells you that you need a website… they’re only partially correct.
Just having a website does NOTHING towards marketing your medical practice. The day you purchase the domain name and create a website – it’s just that. Only google knows about it.. because your team submitted the site map to google for indexing.
That’s about it. You are just one tiny sapling in an Amazonian jungle. Even your next door neighbor wouldn’t be able to find you on google unless they specifically type your business name and your business domain name on the browser.
Don’t get your hopes up nor skew your expectations just based on the fact that you now have a website.
You could have the most beautiful website or you could have the ugliest website.. it doesn’t matter to google unless it finds your website trustworthy enough to show your website pages in search results.
That’s the part most doctors don’t understand, nor do marketing agencies tell you.
So, would you not have a website?
That’s not what we’re recommending. Our point is that if you have a website of even one page, that’s better than not having one at all. But, what’s more important is that you have something to say, a point to make, something to give to your patients… without that, you’ll only be found when someone searches for your doctor’s names, or searches for your practice by name…
That’s really just branded searches 🙂 you aren’t being discovered by someone that doesn’t know about you at all.
Ok, so this does sound like a lot of work. Is there no way to even hope to win this game?
There certainly is!!! And the best part is that the bar is set really low in healthcare. You only have to do a tiny bit better than the next guy to win this game over them.
So, what are the immediate steps to take?
Definitely have a website created. You don’t have to spend a fortune on custom design for the website unless you really want to have your brand look and feel a certain way.
Create complete profiles for each provider in your practice. In the beginning, most of the google searches will be for provider names as they have “some” brand name with patients. Start being found for those doctor name searches.
Create location pages on your website plus have the google map of that location on the web page itself. This will help you being found for queries like “near me” for whatever specialty you’re in.
Have your business listed in relevant directories. Complete your profile on those business directories (listed below)
What to write on the website?
Here’s the tricky part. Most hospitals completely miss this. They are sitting on a goldmine of patient queries and patients’ chief complaints. They are sitting on a treasure trove of patient stories. They are sitting on a gold mine of patient (user) generated content.
Use those. Create patient stories with consent from patients. Create video testimonials/interviews.
Patients find you after having gone through a process of self education about their own disease. Find their journey, write about their journey, about their cure, about their experience with you, about their experience after they were cured by your providers.
You are sitting on the best content generating machine in the world and you don’t even use it!!
Next we can look at how a medical practice can show up as more trustworthy to patients by getting patient reviews
Business directories that helps medical marketing / SEO
Here are some directories to keep in mind and get listed on
Claiming a listing online verifies that you’re the owner of a valid business (your practice) and are authorized to maintain its presence on the web. Each online local business index has its own claiming process with unique steps to verify your listing.
Moz has a great step by step process and dos and don’ts in detail (read here)
By doing these things, at least you’re on the map.. These also help you to be found in local google searches. That’s critical.
How a medical practice can show up as more trustworthy to patients by getting patient reviews
One of the biggest contributors to being found near the top of search results, in google search results “local pack “ and also to compete effectively with the several other choices that patients have – PATIENT REVIEWS.
You can, of course, choose to have reviews on various websites like zocdoc, ratemds, healthgrades, caredash , Yelp etc, but in our opinion, nothing trumps google reviews and Facebook reviews. That’s our opinion.
Most doctors do believe that they are providing great, quality patient care. We don’t doubt that. If you are very sure about this, go right ahead and implement the ideas we share below to start collecting patient reviews.
If you have any doubts about how your medical practice is viewed by patients, take some time to go through patient satisfaction surveys. Even if you are doing extremely well on patient reviews, you should, from time to time, engage in patient satisfaction surveys – just so you are in touch with reality and can identify issues that might have come up in your practice without you being aware of the same.
Getting patient reviews is so, so easy – JUST ASK !!
Few steps you can take today to get patient reviews
At the end of each patient visit (yes, we said EACH patient visit), ask them if they are happy and ask them to leave a review for you. It’s as simple as asking “If you get some time, would you please leave us a review on Google or facebook? We would greatly appreciate your feedback”. SIMPLE. That’s it – and it takes 30 seconds. Granted, most patients will forget it as soon as they leave your practice, but at least you will get SOME reviews.. That’s more than what you currently have ! And it is worth it.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking for patient reviews, you can very easily hand the patient a “Thank you for visiting” card which also has your practice’s google or facebook details. On the back of this card, you can very easily ask “Please leave us a review. We would greatly appreciate your feedback”.
If you do not want to spend money on postcards (yes, the costs do add up), then you can very easily email patients each day. You could have your staff set aside 30 mins at the end of the day to send our emails to all the patients of the day with something as simple as “How did we do today? Please leave us your feedback on Google or Facebook . We would appreciate your feedback”. This does require your front desk to collect patient emails diligently.
If your front desk staff is not good at collecting patient emails, you could very easily send patients SMS asking for reviews. A simple SMS like “Hi Sally, Could you please give us your feedback on Google or Facebook ? We really appreciate it!”
Trust us – you will start seeing results and you will eventually want to automate collecting patient reviews by leveraging technology (here are some key features to look for). Here are some tips and tricks on how to get more patient reviews.
Now that your patient is finding you online, do not lose their attention. This is your moment to shine. Make it SUPER easy for them to book an appointment with your providers. PLEASE, Oh please do not make them jump through hoops to get an appointment.
Improve patient access with near instant online appointments
Patients have changed the way they shop for healthcare. They have changed the way they look for doctors. Patients have very little patience these days.
When a patient is looking for a doctor and your business listing does show up, you need to allow your patient to request an appointment online – while they are searching.
Trust us – after requesting an appointment with your practice, these patients are moving on to your competitor’s listing and requesting an appointment online with them.
That’s how fickle patients are – they have very little patience for waiting.
Let’s talk about two of them here
- Google book now
- Facebook book now
You can enable Google book now by following these steps here and here. Keep in mind that it does ask you to sign up with one of their approved scheduling partners. If you don’t have an account with one of the partners, you should sign up. There aren’t many partners that actually support HIPAA compliance, so be careful about the ones you choose.
You can also use our free booking tool that works with Google Book Now button as well.
Another way to enable booking is via Google messaging. Read more about it here. Do keep in mind that to enable this, you have to turn on Google messaging. Here’s how you do it (read this link) and keep in mind that you do need to respond within 24 hours of receiving a message from a customer (or potential patient).
There is no risk to enabling the book now button nor any risk in enabling google messaging. Just because a patient asked for a specific appointment date/time doesn’t force you to agree to that date/time. You can always call the patient and reschedule based on an available appointment date/time. It’s that simple.
Facebook is not far away in this game either. You can enable Facebook book now button quite easily – all you have to do is to set up your availability, list the “services” that you cater to (e.g. retinal surgery, glaucoma, Primary Vision Care, Allergy Eye Care, Cancer Care, Cataract Surgery, Corneal Surgery etc) and just set up the patient reminders..
Facebook also allows you various options with the Book Now button. You can direct patients to your website, use one of their scheduling partners or set up (as mentioned above) your schedule on Facebook itself.
Facebook has messaging features similar to what Google has as well. Your patients can send you facebook messages via the Facebook messenger. This does not necessarily mean that you or your staff have to sit around with the facebook messenger tool open all day long. Unlike Google Messaging which has not opened its messaging API yet, Facebook integrates via tools like zapier to email or SMS you those messages. This makes it really useful because Facebook messages can be integrated directly into your daily workflow.
Medical Marketing – Patient Retention
You do that by improving patient satisfaction and ensuring that the patient experience is absolutely top notch.
No two ways around it. Note – we are talking about patient experience and not patient engagement. However, you and your staff can be a part of all of this. Trust us. Your patients can benefit from it and so can your healthcare business. Let us show you how.
Patient engagement journey and ways to improve it, be part of it.
Patient engagement refers to an ideal healthcare situation in which patients are well informed about and motivated to be involved in their own medical care. It begins right from early education and awareness stage, moves to physician interaction and finally to appointment follow ups.
Depending on the patient population that your practice location(s) sees, this may or may not be the case. As an example, an ophthalmology group that we work with, has diabetic patients that despite all their efforts, simply do NOT engage in taking care of their health.
Patient engagement consists of 6 stages :
- Research – In this stage a patient performs self-assessment of conditions and symptoms, leading to online research and education, posting questions etc. You can be part of this stage with the SEO tips we shared above. This is where you and your brand are on top of patient’s mind.
- Appointment – First point of contact for help. This includes a patient’s initial contact with the health system via call center, email, mobile, etc. (i.e., Whom shall I contact? Where can I find it? How can I ask a proper question?). You can very much be a top contender here. Follow the best practices we have shared before about making it super easy to be in touch with you and your business.
- Diagnosis: Assessment of Health Condition. This is where a patient visits a medical facility to assess his health condition (physician’s office, hospital, etc.). This is very much in the hands of your providers and their bedside manners. This is also VERY much dependent on your staff. Be careful and train your staff (frontdesk and technicians).
- Treatment: This includes on-site and follow-up care (medications, physical therapy, etc.). This is very much in the hands of your providers
- Behavioral / Lifestyle Change: This refers to lifestyle change incorporated by the patient to reduce readmissions and promote proactive health. Patients take account of their own health such as dietary changes, exercise, taking medicines on time. This is very much in your hands and you can be part of this journey by simply staying in touch with the patient – there are many technological advancements that can help you do this at scale.
- Ongoing Care / Proactive Health: This refers to ongoing care management between patient visits, fostering engagement between the patient & physician and enabling the patient to better manage his/her own care. Again this is very much in your hands as well and you can be part of your patient’s journey with the help of technology.
We are not going to refer to acquiring patients in their research stage just yet – let’s look at how you can engage with patients in the rest of the steps (2-6). Below are some of the effective ways you can consider to improve patient engagement journey:
Using patient education to retain patients
A lot of issues associated with patient adherence to treatment plans stem from the lack of patient education. Patient education is the practice of informing patients about their health, wellness, treatment plans, potential outcomes, and other information critical to the patient experience.
Invest some time, effort and money into patient education. This also has added side benefits of patients being more involved in their own care.. Thereby adding to additional preventive appointments your existing patients make with your practice.
Patient education can be done by following ways – and none of them are very difficult to do. The best part is that whatever content you do end up creating for this exercise, can be reused on your practice’s website as well – thereby contributing to your practice growth even more.
Start by preparing free teaching tools organized by each clinical topic and upload either to the patient portal or on your website.
Next step is to provide access to patients to help find the best possible treatment and gain real knowledge.
If you do not have time to create patient education materials, you can leverage online libraries such as ‘iHealthSpot’, ‘Krames online’, that include a library of award-winning patient education related to your specialty. You can license the library for a small setup fee or monthly licensing fee and make it available on your websites. If you end up licensing the content, be aware of the distribution fees / agreement from these content providers as well.
You can very easily use tools such as informational brochures or other printed materials, Podcasts, YouTube videos, Videos or DVDs, PowerPoint presentations, Posters or charts, models or props, group classes, trained peer educators to achieve the same results as well. The HUGE benefit of doing these is that not only do they help with patient education, but they directly contribute to your practice’s reputation and credibility as well. This in turn, markets your practice beyond what you can personally do, plus generates new patient appointments from your existing patients (or patients they refer to your practice).
You can also send regular newsletters via the patient portal for the patient to stay up to date with their healthcare.
Patient Treatment / adherence for patient loyalty
Most patients experience “episodic care” and think of their relationship with you as “transactional”.. Because that’s exactly how you treat them. You see the patient, tell them what medication they need to take, send them their own way.
The trick is to stay in touch with your patients without adding a huge burden to your providers.
Medication / treatment plan adherence is painfully low. According to research “Typically, adherence rates of 80% or more are needed for optimal therapeutic efficacy. However, it is estimated that adherence to chronic medications is around 50%.3 Adherence rates can go down as time passes after the initial prescription is written, or as barriers emerge or multiply.”
You can affect this change in your patients and improve your own practice’s efficacy (and therefore, patient satisfaction) via use of medication-management apps. There are so many options available (including our free treatment plan management app).
Use one of these apps by integrating it with your EMR.
Give your patients the power to control their health through a mobile app. Help them and their family keep a track record of their health summary, their test results by using the existing free medical-management apps or use those available in their EMR/EPM.
Ongoing, proactive treatment and staying in touch with the patient
This is a secret weapon that most providers do not use because it requires investment of time in patient follow ups.
The best way to not lose your patients to your competitor is to stay in touch with them.
Patients have questions about their health – it’s not every day, but ever so often they do have questions about their health or about the medications they are taking. They have questions that require a simple (even a single sentence) answer from providers or healthcare technicians.
The easiest way to stay on top of existing patients’ minds is to allow them to get in touch with you securely. You can use the patient portal of your EMR to do so OR you can get one of the patient messaging apps as well.
There are several options in the market – including free software from us as well.
- Patient management app
Patient management app(s)
The concept is very simple. No patient really expects their doctors to be online all day. Patients just want to be able to get answers for their questions within a reasonable period of time (clinical and non-clinical). Staying in touch with them is as simple as how payers stay in touch with their members via a member management mobile app.
Our advice is to invest in patient management apps that allow you to stay in direct touch with patients on demand while not having to disclose your online status nor having to disclose your mobile phone number.
Most providers think of telemedicine as a tool to potentially use for patient visits and billing. Telemedicine and billing codes are tied to geography/ zip codes, areas that need care etc. There are laws per state (e.g. for NYC see here).
However, we think of telehealth as another medical marketing opportunity. Let’s walk through an example of how we helped an Ergonomist and Occupational Therapist working in the field of injury prevention for hi-tech, insurance and healthcare enterprises.
The basic idea was to do the following:
- Acquire – Generate more leads with a “foot in the door” offer, at a low cost of acquisition
- Convert – Provide tangible value to these new customers with this low priced offer. This is serviced with minimal effort from our client’s side.
- Nurture – Be in regular contact with these new customers, provide tangible value and aim for the larger business – being introduced to the companies these customers work for.
- Up-sell – Present these initial customers with a slightly higher priced service offering that isn’t a big ask from these new leads. For this, only two pictures were required from the customer to get a “paid consultation”. Again, this was also serviced with minimal effort from our client’s team.
This practice used a simple mobile app that allows their providers to achieve all of the above (it doesn’t necessarily need to be a mobile app)
The mobile app presents 4 paths to help someone with aches/pains (patient)
- Self assessment – the patient is asked a series of questions to help them with their aches and pains
- Solutions for body discomfort – wherein the patient can click on various body parts to identify self care and ergonomic tips.
- Help videos – helps the patient make immediate changes to their posture with self help videos
- Ergonomic equipment recommendation – helps the patient choose from various products to ease their aches and pains.
The app was then distributed to their patients.. Our findings showed that:
- Approximately 80% of people that downloaded the app used both the self assessments.
- Approximately 20% of these users also used the various solutions / suggestions that the app provides for body discomfort.
- About 35% of these users that downloaded the app also signed up to hear more directly from the practice
- About 20% of the users that answered various assessment questions, also signed up as a “lead” to hear more from the practice
To service this “foot in the door” offer, the practice owner and their team didn’t have to spend a single minute. These assessment questions and the solutions for various body discomfort were all canned responses.
In other words, the initial “foot in the door” offer was a raging success !
Everything after that was pretty simple and can be automated by leveraging technology.
People that signed up to hear more were sent personalized emails and were constantly nurtured with help videos.
When a patient is seen using the app within the past hour (i.e. they are actually active), a push notification is sent to remind the patient to take a 2 min break and stretch every 30 mins of sitting at their desk. This has a dual purpose. First, for people that are really using the app, it keeps them engaged and helps them achieve their goals. On the other hand, if someone hasn’t opened the app in the last hour, it doesn’t bother them at all. This helped keep the patients engaged with the app and therefore, with the practitioners daily.
Once we saw that people were interacting with the app and using the various self help and self assessment areas of the app, it was now time to up-sell these patients to a personalized recommendation / consultation. We called this “Ask an expert”. Of course, for their regular practice, this required an in-person visit from the patient or if this was being done at a contracted enterprise, the team would have to make in person visits to their offices. The patient could simply connect with the provider group and make an appointment.
At the same time, there was another option that patients could choose for – instead of coming in for an in-office visit. The patient was asked for a single side view picture – of them sitting at their desk (capturing the computer, keyboard and their feet). This allowed the practitioner to “virtually” see the patient and immediately recommend posture changes, recommend any changes to various equipment in use in addition to recommending any alternate desk/chair options. This was a very easy up-sell as the patient had just undergone self diagnosis, already obtained a lot of tangible value from the get-go.
This is just the start of the journey. There is so much more you can do with very little overhead.
Showcase & democratize your knowledge to folks that could be your future patients
Much like every other professional services firm, most patients reach out to you (providers) after they have researched you and are comfortable with your expertise. Most of this research happens without you even knowing it. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to share your knowledge. Does this mean that your patients would just solve their problems without consulting you? That couldn’t be further away from the truth. If that were the case, you wouldn’t have a business due to WebMD or google. Rather, patients would be connected ever closer to you and your business. When the time is right and when they feel comfortable with your expertise, you’d have a customer that already knows you and trusts you. This increases your visibility and increases your branding..
Patient Experience – Ways to improve and the value it brings to your medical practice
Across the globe, there are many patients who still continue to have a negative healthcare experiences. As per a recent research by Accenture on 10,000 patients in 5 countries US, UK, France, Germany and Brazil, patients are still looking for quality services throughout the patient engagement journey.
Below are the key findings from the research:
- 65% of all patients surveyed said that pretreatment is the most frustrating period for them.
- Less than one in five patients are aware of services available to them
- 58 % of patients use services when they are aware of them
- 79% of the respondents said that the services they used were “very” or “extremely” valuable
- 85% of patients wanted their healthcare professionals to be the point of contact for providing services to manage their condition
Do not confuse patient engagement with patient experience.
Patient engagement is a gauge of how engaged a patient is with their own healthcare. Population demographics typically play a big role into how engaged (or disengaged) a patient is or will be with their own care.
Patient engagement is not something that you can really force on a patient. You can certainly aim to utilize all available tools for your patients to be more engaged with their own health.. However, you cannot govern how your patient’s engagement in their own care is going to end up being.
Patient experience on the other hand is almost entirely in your hands. It starts from the moment the patient first comes in contact with your brand. This is not when the patient decides to make contact with your medical practice or health system. It begins when they first see your ad or business listing or brand post or ad..
Your patient experience (brand experience) starts way back then.
Think of the ads you see for Sloan Kettering. Do you currently have cancer? Hopefully not. But you have already started experiencing the brand of Sloan Kettering.
It behooves you to carefully design the patient experience of your brand. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself or your leadership team:
- What do you want your patients to experience before they even contact you?
- What do you want your patients to perceive of your medical practice or brand before they decide to make the first call / click on the first book now button / first “request an appointment” form submission?
- Think about how you want the patient to experience your call center or your front desk when they call to make an appointment
- What about the patient experience when they submit a “Request an appointment” on your website?
- What do you want them to experience when they do land on your website?
- What should your patients experience when they click on a “Book now” button on facebook or google?
- What should the patients experience after they book an appointment? Should they be asked to fill out their demographics information before they come into the practice? Should they fill that out in the waiting room?
- What would you like the patients to experience when they want to reschedule their appointment? Or cancel their appointment?
- What happens when your insurance eligibility team figures out that their insurance is not eligible on the date of visit? Do they cancel it or do they give the patients a heads up or do they work with the patient towards a middle ground or payment plan?
- How should the patient be treated / greeted when they come into your practice?
- How does the patient check in? Do they do it digitally or do they wait for the endless line at the front desk?
- What is to happen if the wait times are extending longer and the patient has another prior commitment?
- What happens when the patient does go into the work up room? Do they go through the techs asking them for all their medications history or can the patient update this information while they are at home, before coming into the practice?
- How long of a wait time should patients be asked to bear after they have been “worked up” by your tech?
- How much time should your providers spend with your patients? Should they be spending time looking at the EMR or should a scribe help them do so?
- How do the patients get an estimated cost of care so they can make decisions?
- How do the patients pay their copays? Do they pay cash or via credit card or can they avail care credit or other options?
- What happens to patients and what do they experience when there are patient bumps due to inevitable provider emergencies?
- Do patients get a satisfaction survey at the end of their appointment? Or are they asked to leave a review? How do they provide feedback to your practice?
- Do your patients automatically get a no show reminder to reschedule if they forgot to show up for their appointment? Do they have to pay if they cancel within 24 hours of the appointment?
- Do they get automatic recall SMS if they have not come in for a preventive check up for 6 months?
- Do they get a patient balance reminder if they have an outstanding balance due at your practice? Do they get a statement from you?
- How do they pay their balances? Do they pay via check or cash or credit card? Do they have to come in to the practice to pay or can they do so from their homes?
These are the things you need to think through when you are designing your patient’s experience with your brand and throughout their patient engagement journey with you and your practice.
When a patient is delivered an exceptional experience, they are more prone to:
- Stay engaged with your practice
- Stay engaged in their own healthcare decisions and make more preventive appointments
- Stay loyal to your practice
- Show up for their appointments
- Refer more patients to you
- Leave positive reviews about you online that would lead to your brand reputation and your getting more patient bookings
Do not confuse patient experience with patient engagement. As you can see above, they are two different things.
The VERY first thing you might want to look at is to improve patient access to appointments.
How to improve patient access to appointments
Make appointment scheduling easily accessible. This has been the biggest pain point for most patients, for a long time now. The sections above discuss this to some extent and we cannot stress this enough. Making an appointment with your medical practice shouldn’t be like pulling teeth.
You can use free online scheduling software and apps that will empower patients to book and reschedule appointments. If you take one step further, you should use a digital patient intake software to achieve these.
You can have a dedicated person / team (on shore or offshore) that takes care of this function for you. Net-net, patients should be able to call, text, submit an appointment request form on your website and be able to make an appointment within 5 mins. It shouldn’t be a crazy long process – just to get an appointment.
It doesn’t stop here. Patients are busy – much like you are.
Each patient has a hectic schedule – just like you do. Respect that.
- Make it easy for patients to add their appointments to their calendars.
- Make it easy for patients to get appointment reminders (see SMS texting here).
- Make it easy for patients to be able to reschedule or cancel their appointments.
- Make it easy for patients to communicate with your practice
- Make it easy for patients to recall themselves (i.e. set up the next appointment once they get a reminder contact from you)
- Make it easy for patients to update their demographics information and their insurances by using digital patient intake software technologies
- Make it easy for patients to pay their copays, balance dues etc
You don’t have to do these things manually. Make good use of your EMR’s patient portal to help you achieve the same results. A patient portal is simply a website that is connected to your EMR/EHR and is focused on patient access to health data. These tools will help give patients full access to their own data – including lab results, physician notes, their health hist, discharge summaries, and immunizations.
Most of your EMRs/EPMs already include a patient portal.
Use them..Patient portals typically include functionalities such as :
- Appointment Scheduling
- Viewing health information
- Bill pay/view
- Prescription follow-up
- Filling out pre-visit forms
- Medical history update
- Communicating securely with the provider / your office staff
- Digital patient intake
Why not use something that you are already paying for and at the same time reduce the communications overhead for your practice?
Patient Satisfaction – Do not confuse patient experience
Patient experience is something that you deliver to patients. Patient satisfaction, on the other hand, is entirely on the patient’s experience and their expectations.
You cannot diagnose potential issues with your practice, staff, reputation, providers unless you actively participate in soliciting responses from patients.
Patient satisfaction surveys help you do just that.
If you are starting out with all these initiatives, it behooves you to first begin with surveying your patients. It allows you to find out more about your own medical practice and about yourself. What’s working, what is not working, what the patients see as issues (some that you are aware of and some that you might not be aware of) etc.
Running patient satisfaction surveys are not very difficult to do. There are many software that are commercially available and help you run satisfaction surveys.
You can also use our free patient satisfaction survey tool as well.
If you do not want to use any survey tools, you can very easily run surveys all by yourself, with your team as well.
Importance of patient satisfaction surveys, questions to ask, and available free tools
Conducting patient satisfaction surveys can truly serve as a diagnostic tool for your practice and can help identify opportunities for improvement in care, reduce costs, monitor performance of health plans and provide a comparison across healthcare institutions. The goal of patient satisfaction survey is to assess your patient’s perception of the practice.
So why is it important?
By conducting patient satisfaction surveys, first and foremost you will be letting your patients know that their opinion is very important and their feedback will help you provide quality services.
It will help you provide better care and also ensure that the time your patients spend with you is as pleasant as possible
Next, it will help you compete with other healthcare providers and set your standards
It will help measure the overall rating of your medical practice and responsiveness of your staff. It will also help provide rewards and recognition to the staff at practice who are performing well, which in turn will increase the quality of care
It will improve quality of communication of doctors with patients which is a key to patient satisfaction
Gauging patient satisfaction and using the feedback to implement or build on quality improvement initiatives will help demonstrate a commitment to patient-centered care and improve overall medical service experience.
How to create and run patient satisfaction surveys
Step 1: Identify what you want to know
Before you begin creating your patient satisfaction survey, bring your team together and identify potential problem areas in your practice. Are patient wait times too long? Are patients getting enough time with the doctor? Can patients access their health information and get through to the office when they have questions or requests? This is a great opportunity to collaborate with staff members and share insights on how the practice could improve.
The goal of this first step is to make sure your survey is asking relevant questions that are solvable. Asking broadly about satisfaction (“How satisfied are you with our practice?”) doesn’t give you actionable information. Instead, try asking about specific elements of the patient experience, like “How satisfied are you with the length of time you spend waiting to see a doctor?”
Next, you must focus on whether you want to create a generalized survey or single experience survey. A generalized survey will cover all areas such as feedback on office premises, doctor’s visit and will give you a broader perspective, whereas single experience survey will only focus on the specific experience immediately after the patient visit to a doctor
Step 2: Create your survey
- Focus on common areas related to patient satisfaction
- Identify common questions related to patient satisfaction, for eg. Ease of making an appointment, waiting time, physician and staff interaction etc.
- Start creating the survey based on this approach and it will help you give a good foundation to your survey.
- Avoid Binary questions
- Avoid using ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions, as these don’t give you an exact result for your question. Instead, consider using multiple options such as “Extremely happy” “Neutral” “Needs Improvement” such options to help you better understand.
- Keep it short and simple – Too many questions and options may lead to no responses at all !
Step 3: Choose a platform to launch your survey
- Software based survey tools – There are several free and paid options for hosting surveys, such as SurveyMonkey, Jotform, and Snap Surveys. Some even offer built-in promotion tools and real-time result charts. Keep in mind that online surveys may be less ideal if your patients don’t have easy access to a computer or a smartphone with internet access.
- Telephonic Surveys – Since mobile phone penetration is around 81% and landline is around 53%, in the USA, phone surveys are a great way to get patients’ feedback. You can conduct them in-house with a staff member or by hiring a research firm to make the calls and run the data for you.
- Email Surveys – whatever you can do via software, you can do via email as well. You or your staff can quite easily email patients with a short list of questions to answer. As the responses do start coming in via email, your staff can collect/gather these information and assign scoring to the questions being asked to all patients.
- Mailed surveys may seem a little old-fashioned, but they’re estimated to be 50% – 150 % cheaper than telephonic surveys.
- Office Premises – Asking patients to fill out a survey at the end of their visit is a great way to get immediate feedback. You can have staff members hand patients the survey form when they’re checking out or place the forms and a collection box in your waiting room.
- Survey Kiosks – Patient satisfaction surveys can be conducted via patient intake kiosks that as well. These digital patient intake kiosks must be located in the main reception area of the practice and should let patients provide feedback using a touchscreen. The kiosk provides a convenient, quick and easy method for patients to give their feedback on service offered by the medical practice.
Step 4: Evaluate the results
If one uses an online option to create surveys, then it is easier to draw results and create charts. In case of telephonic, office or email surveys you have to manually note the results in a spreadsheet and then evaluate the results. It will help you know the areas your practice needs improvement, which in turn will result in providing better quality care to your patients.
Step 5: Make Changes
Next step is to work on the points of improvement. Plan and work on the changes suggested by your patients. Observe for a few months and again conduct a survey. If the outcomes of the service offered, shows positive alignment with patients’ happiness, you are on the right track.
Patient satisfaction surveys – Questions to ask
Here is the list of potential areas that must be considered in your survey:
- How easy was it for you to schedule an appointment with our facility?
- How convenient was it for you to reach our premises?
- How long did you have to wait before being affected by the doctor, post schedule?
- How satisfied are you with the cleanliness and appearance of our facility?
- Are you satisfied with the care you received?
- Was the staff courteous and information was clearly presented?
- Did the practice give you a brief guided tour of your paperwork and point out relevant lab results?
- Did the practice encourage you to teach back your lab results and your treatment details back to them?
- Did the doctor encourage the family members to know about your problem, home remedies?
- Were you comfortable throughout the visit?
- What could we have done better?
- Would you recommend the doctor to a family member or a friend?
- How would you rate the overall care you received from the doctor?
- Anything you would like to tell us about?
Available Free Tools to create Patient Satisfaction Surveys
- SoGo Software – SogoSurvey is a web-based application that makes it easy to create, distribute, analyze beautiful multilingual surveys, forms, and assessment within no time. It allows you to start from scratch, or choose a template from a survey bank. It also allows you to customize your survey appearance as per your branding. It allows you to create and store contact lists and then choose right distribution methods such as unique invitations, links from the website or social media, plus helps track participation instantly and send reminders to those who haven’t replied. Its powerful reporting capability allows you to run and customize reports as per your need.
- Survey Monkey – Survey Monkey allows you to design different types of surveys such as Customer Satisfaction surveys, Employee satisfaction survey, health care surveys, nonprofit surveys. It also allows to create custom themes, add logos, select fonts and build custom thank you pages
- QuickTab Survey – QuickTab Survey allows you to create, test, and publish your survey. Also allows you to collect and view responses.
- Typeform Survey – It is an online survey creator that is fast, free and fully customizable. It helps you conduct research, boost your brand and know your audience.
- Survio.com – It’s a powerful free survey tool that helps you create online health surveys. You can choose from 100+ templates and 70+ designs. Helps you create surveys that are easily adapted to any mobile device, allows you to view your result in real time. It provides automatically generated, easily understandable PDF reports in just one click. It also allows results to be downloaded as raw data in XLS, CSV, XML and HTML file formats.
- JotForm Survey
Some of these are free and some require you to purchase plans. Of course, you always have the option to use our survey tool as well.
As you can tell, all this leads up to really managing patient relationships well, in healthcare. The days of “doctor say, patient do” are gone. Over. Finished.
Healthcare consumerism is in. You need to be prepared and armed.
The case for Patient Relationship Management In Healthcare
Almost all of this really ends up pointing us in the direction of patient relationship management. While it sounds like a new buzzword that is used to generate revenue for consultants, product developers, and speakers – and for some, that may be the case; however, for a medical practice endeavoring to stand out from the competition – i.e., to attract the patients the practice owners want and to retain existing patients – patient relationship management is necessary.
It is certainly true – due to the nature of healthcare – that there is something unique about the provider-patient relationship; nevertheless, patients are – in the end – consumers that are looking for value when spending their healthcare dollars.
In the era of high-deductible health plans, increased cost sharing, and increased interest in concierge medicine it is more often the patient’s – not their employer’s – money that is being spent on healthcare. Despite the intimacy of the patient-provider relationship, patients do switch providers, and their propensity to do so is underestimated by providers.
There is a significant disconnect, according to the Altarum Institute’s study (cited above).
For example, nearly sixty percent of patients that responded stated that they would switch providers for quality or service reasons; whereas fewer than one-quarter of the doctor’s that responded felt that a patient would switch providers for those reasons.
The study’s results also showed that there was a disconnect between how satisfied that providers thought their patients were – they estimated that roughly three-fourths of patients were satisfied; whereas, patients themselves, when asked, stated a satisfaction of roughly forty percent.
The increasing consumerization of healthcare along with the strong disconnect between providers’ perception of a patient’s willingness to switch providers and their overall satisfaction indicates that there is a gap that is currently not being filled with existing patient management tools.
Currently, the primary tools that are used by providers are typically an EMR, a practice management system (often increasingly integrated with the EMR), and a patient portal.
The latter tool was often advertised as the only thing a practice needed to engage and manage patients
That, however, is not the case.
Portals themselves have limited functionality and – with some exceptions – often are only useful for tasks such viewing one’s medical record, sending notes to a practice, and requesting appointments
A notable exception is eClinicalWorks’ Healow product which has telemedicine built into it.
A CRM for Healthcare
To successfully manage a patient population – not merely document care that occurs during a visit – i.e., what occurs within an EMR – a tool analogous to a customer relationship management system – a patient relationship management system is needed.
Such a tool would be centered around the care plan for the patient and facilitate structured, pertinent communication between providers and patients.
It may also help the practice market its services to likely future patients.
It will also, as many portals do, allow patients to request appointments, pharmacy refills, and view their record.
In many respects, this ought to be the next evolution of patient portals – it will be a more interactive tool that does more than a few administrative functions; rather, to fully embrace patient relationship management, tools will be needed to better enable shared decision making which, as studies have shown, increases patient engagement.
Many initiatives such as Patient Centered Medical Homes (PCMH) and value-based payment arrangements have put a strong emphasis on shared decision making.
Logistical and scheduling issues make it difficult to keep having the patient come in for visits; moreover, patients are resistant due to higher cost-sharing and scheduling difficulties – e.g., work, transportation, etc.
A software tool that could engage patients in making collaborative decisions about with their health with their provider would likely increase their satisfaction and, furthermore, such a tool would likely increase the chance that the patient adopts and follows-through with the care recommendations made.
Two companies offer relatively comprehensive patient relationship management systems: HealthLoop and SolutionReach.
- HealthLoop, for example, offers solutions to help remotely monitor patients and to enable more efficient interventions to reduce complications. Their product line has shown effectiveness in numerous cases – especially in targeted scenarios such as orthopedic procedure where intelligent procedures and quick interventions can reduce readmissions and complication rates. As bundled arrangements continue to grow, this will be an increased focus within the patient-provider relationship.
- SolutionReach, however, takes a different focus and offers tools to allow a physician practice to grow their market and more effectively manage patient satisfaction. They have tools that allow for self-scheduling, waitlist notifications, patient-provider texting, appointment reminders, and care adherence – a tool that uses a patient’s preference to reach out to them for care reminders. SolutionReach also offers numerous marketing tools to help identify patients likely to provide positive reviews, e-mail management, and social media management.
Both tools – and there are others out there as well – offer practices with a different take on relationship management; for those that are more ambitious and ready to fully jump into patient relationship management, a tool such as SolutionReach offers a comprehensive suite of products to begin managing the process of retaining patients and acquiring patients that are likely to be satisfied with one’s medical practice.
For those looking more at this from a standpoint of only providing better care and would rather not engage in more marketing, a tool such as HealthLoop might work better.
Patient relationship management – starting small
A practice can start even smaller if they wanted (and it may make more sense to do so while the practice’s staff adapts to the cultural change).
Many practices have access to a significant number of patient e-mail addresses. These were likely collected for portal enrollment and to send reminders.
These addresses can be converted into a patient newsletter that focuses on engaging patients in their care.
For example, articles about the flu vaccine; when to call the on-call, use an urgent care, or go to the Emergency Room; positive reminders to get preventative screenings – e.g., depression, colorectal cancer, cervical cancer, etc… – or to remind patients that you have same day access (if it exists) and on-call availability.
Such reminders – even if the patient were told already – could help increase patient satisfaction and reduce unnecessary Emergency Room utilization which is probably tied to at least one incentive the practice is involved in. Also, existing staff can use simple online newsletter software such as Constant Contact to get started.
Patient Relationship Management is going to become increasingly necessary as patients demand better service from their healthcare providers and continue seek optimal value for their healthcare dollars.
Additionally, many employers and insurance companies are looking at patient satisfaction when determining either who to include in-network or who to incentivize.
It behooves any medical practice looking to succeed in the long term to begin adopting such practices now when it can be done in a deliberate, careful manner.
Finding your niche/specialty to help medical marketing
Marketing a medical practice (or marketing in general) is all about niching down and marketing the heck out of it. Mass marketing and marketing the same material to everyone is a classic way of wasting a LOT of money without much return on that investment.
Are you looking for a way to stand out from the 20 other PCPs within 10 blocks of you? Niche down … on something. Whatever your preferences are – niche down on something.
You’re probably saying that a practice’s niche is its providers’ specialty. That, however, isn’t probably the entire truth. Upon examination and reflection, providers and administrators will probably find that there are certain demographics and diagnoses where a professional aptitude or passion exists.
Some family physicians are interested in weight management, others are interested in diabetes prevention, and others have a passion for women’s health.
Moreover, some providers have an interest in working with senior citizens; whereas, others are passionate about treating whole families.
For a sole provider practice, finding one’s niche is extremely important. This will keep the provider engaged in the care that they are providing, and – equally important – patients will notice that the provider is passionate about the care they are providing and, thus, the patient will be more likely to retain the relationship.
In multi-provider practices, there may be a need – where passions and aptitudes are diverse – to layout the idea niche for each provider.
This individualization may evolve into separate patient acquisition plans for each provider. This can be both beneficial – diversity in the composition of patients/consumers can help offset some risk in over-specializing – and challenging as the practice will need to tailor marketing messages to different demographics.
There are additional benefits to identifying and pursuing a niche.
If, for example, one’s preference is to work with elderly patients, one can then target patient education material to that demographic, assist billing staff in specializing in working with Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans, and focus one’s incentive coordinators on HEDIS measures that those plans incentivize heavily.
On the other hand, if a provider’s preference is to work with families, the educational material would change, and, perhaps, ancillary services would focus on whole family health – e.g., wise food choices, active lifestyles, and more sound family interpersonal dynamics.
In effect, finding a niche isn’t just about marketing in itself; rather, it encompasses everything from back-office staffing specializations to the general ambiance of the practice.
Once a niche has been identified, then the practice must define what differentiates it from competing practices – i.e., it must develop its value proposition. An accurate, concise, and powerful value proposition helps focus the practice team on what their strengths are, who their customers are, and helps to convert potential patients into satisfied patients.
For example, perhaps a practice is an internal medicine group with a focus on diabetic and pre-diabetic patients. The practice may, as a value proposition, perform A1C screenings and micro/microalbumin tests with onsite lab equipment to better convenience patients, and, there may be a registered dietician and care manager on staff that works with at-risk patients to either manage an existing diagnosis or prevent pre-diabetes from becoming diabetes; moreover, financial assistance staff would likely be trained in navigating through patient assistance programs for the major diabetic equipment manufacturers.
The goal is to demonstrate to patients – to retain them – and to potential patients within the practice’s niche that the practice provides optimal value for their current and future health needs and can offer them more value for their healthcare dollars than competing practices.
Don’t believe us? Look at Davita, Sloan Kettering for examples.. And learn from them. They didn’t get to where they are by serving everyone and everything in their specialties.
Wasn’t that easy? Next, let’s look at Medical Marketing via physician referrals.
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