If you want to grow your profits, increase your patient base, build your brand and consolidate your good reputation, Jason Borody says it’s essential to have a solid marketing strategy in place.
Professionals often think of marketing as a sales activity with little additional value, yet nothing could be further from the truth. The persuasive, and sometimes unethical, practices you see in consumer marketing don’t apply to the healthcare arena. Healthcare marketing is simply a way to communicate information about your practice to patients and the community, and generally involves information you would probably tell patients in person during a visit.
Perhaps you offer convenient practice hours to accommodate working adults or specialised clinics for common issues such as sports medicine, diabetes or pre-natal care. Or you may be adding new members to your team or additional services to your practice. Communicating any of this information to your patients and the community is marketing.
Healthcare marketing includes more than information about your practice – it also covers valuable health-related information for the public in general. It’s a fact that our increasingly online society looks for health information on the Internet and your marketing efforts can reduce unnecessary treatment and increase awareness among ‘at-risk’ members of the population. You have a positive impact on the lives of those in your
community when you share the latest health information in a way that empowers them to lead healthier lives.
Being on Message
Studies show patients are increasingly looking for a healthcare advocate – someone to partner with them and advise them as they deal with health related challenges and concerns. In fact, as healthcare shifts from a provider-driven system to one that is more consumer and patient-driven, patients are seeking out providers who are willing to partner with them.
Marketing is a powerful way for you to show your expertise and care for your patients and the community. As you establish yourself as an expert, you build an essential level of
trust between your practice and the patients you serve. You demonstrate your compassion as well as your commitment to serving others.
Many businesses rely heavily on word of mouth, but it’s important to understand that referrals alone are inadequate. While patient referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations still provide a strong marketing foundation, today’s consumers are looking for more. Patient satisfaction is the primary reason patients select a doctor or healthcare provider, making it crucial for you to clearly communicate the services you offer and highlight the positive patient experience you provide.
Today’s patients, especially tech-savvy Generation Yers, demand online services from their healthcare providers. Does your practice offer email access to doctors or online appointment setting? Can your patients view their account electronically and make online payments? Making use of online technology differentiates you from other providers in your area, yet patients won’t take advantage of these functions if they don’t know about them.
A professional and informative website is also essential – it conveys a message about the standards of your practice. Prospective patients will make conclusions about the expertise and professionalism you offer while exploring your website for information. It’s important, therefore, that your site establishes you as an expert in your field and presents information in an attractive and professional way. Online services are not the only way to leverage the power of the Internet to build your practice. Your patients are increasingly looking for medical information online. Using a marketing strategy that includes blogging and social media provides your patients with solid information. It also allows them to engage in a dialogue with your practice and other patients in the area, increasing interest in your practice.
By creating a collaborative culture through the Internet, you will provide an enhanced patient experience and set your practice apart. A strategy that includes a blog, frequently asked questions and important health information presented online will build your reputation and attract patients to your practice.
Strategies for Success
Just like other critical business initiatives, marketing for your practice requires a specific and strategic plan. You want to have the maximum impact possible on your practice and your community while maintaining and building your professional reputation.
A comprehensive marketing plan is the best way to achieve your goals and creating a plan takes thought and careful consideration. There are several things you should be aware of when crafting your plan in order to increase its effectiveness:
• Assess current efforts: How is your practice currently marketing itself in the community? You may not realise that the community organisations or charitable foundations you are involved in are a form of marketing, along with press releases and news articles about your practice. Assess the ways your practice is currently marketing itself and look for opportunities to build on these efforts.
• Assess your practice: What mission and values guide your decisions? What segment of the population do you serve? How is your practice different and unique in your community? Make an assessment of your practice through the eyes of a prospective patient. This information will help you craft a message in keeping with your strengths and identity.
• Establish an integrated plan: To be effective, a marketing plan must be integrated with the business and financial goals and operations of the practice. Avoid establishing a plan that is separate from the rest of your practice.
• Create a clear brand message: Establish a clear brand and keep it consistent within both your practice and the community. Make sure your team understands and identifies with the brand you’ve created. This consistency will ensure patients identify your external marketing with their experience when visiting your office or clinic.
• Rely on research: Avoid the temptation to create a marketing plan based on your intuition or view of what you ought to be accomplishing. Instead, use market research to identify the best way to reach your target patient population. Address their needs and set marketing priorities based on those needs.
• Demonstrate a return on investment: Marketing is a business strategy and, just like every other aspect of your practice, it must pay its own way. Track the results of your marketing efforts and the results you realise. Make sure each portion of your marketing strategy constitutes a worthy investment of your time and money.
• Maintain consistency: Consistent marketing is the most effective. Make sure any messages you send out on the Internet, in the public and through social media line up with your traditional marketing efforts and the communication your patients receive in your office. A strategic marketing plan requires a level of objectivity that can be difficult
to find within your team. Often you are simply too close to the practice to assess it through the eyes of an outsider. If you are relatively new to marketing in general or find it difficult to maintain your objectivity, consider outsourcing the development and implementation of your marketing plan.
Calling on the experts
Outsourcing marketing is an essential aspect of healthcare business strategies. If you are new to the idea of marketing, you may be unfamiliar with the benefits of looking outside of your practice for marketing expertise. Whether you are establishing your practice or are already established in your community, outsourcing marketing functions makes good business sense for a number of reasons.
For a start, outsourcing allows you to focus on your practice and the patient care you provide. Your overall operations take much of your time and energy, leaving little room for effective marketing implementation. Pushing this function on to your staff adds to their burden, often when they are already busy. Outsourcing allows healthcare practitioners to market their expertise and services without extending themselves or their support staff.
Outsourcing also allows you to draw on the education and experience of experts who specialise in healthcare and professional marketing. Just as you would hire an accounting or legal firm to assist with keeping your books or reviewing contracts and legal documents, using a marketing firm to help you develop and implement your plan allows you to gain insight into areas outside of your expertise.
When you outsource your healthcare marketing to Vividus, we work with you to establish a strategic marketing plan that supports your business goals and objectives. We review your practice and those of your competitors and highlight the features and services that set your practice apart.
In our experience, most healthcare clients are looking for advice on marketing strategies and our aim is to provide customised medical marketing services, integrated to present a consistent message. We understand the laws and codes that regulate medical marketing in Australia and develop marketing strategies that are compliant, professional and effective. In short, it is our business to make your business stand out for all the right reasons.
Vividus specialises in healthcare marketing for hospitals, medical centres, GP and specialist practices, and healthcare businesses. The Vividus teamwork to increase community awareness of your practice and help you build your patient list via local-area marketing, a professional website, online marketing, satisfaction surveys, and referral-based marketing. To develop a marketing plan that will attract patients, improve patient experience and build reputation, call Vividus on 07 3282 2233 or visit www.vividus.com.au.
The content in this article was published in The Private Practice Autumn 2013 edition.