A long time ago, patient communication software was born on the vision of a handful of serial entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity in the dental profession. Gathering “guys who can code” around them, they coddled together a product that could remind patients of upcoming appointments via email or text message.
You have to give them credit: They saw a need and offered a simple solution. Patient communication software made the reminder process significantly more efficient while decreasing the number of no show appointments.
When the dental market became saturated with patient communication companies, they invaded other markets, including the medical profession.
And that’s where our story begins.
For small medical practices, with just a handful of physicians, out-of-the-box patient communication software may live up to what it’s painted to be: Cute, cookie-cutter email and text messages that will remind your patients of their appointments.
However, for larger medical practices, out-of-the-box just doesn’t cut it. Look for these five signs that say “Help! We’ve outgrown patient communication software!”
1. You Need a Solution, Not a Tool
The difference between a tool and a solution is subtle, but the outcome is huge. Let’s start with an analogy:
If your car needs a mechanic, a toolbox will not help you repair your car. A mechanic, on the other hand, can repair your car.
The mechanic is a solution; the toolbox is just a tool.
In growth mode, your practice may have reached a point where you or your team do not have the experience, skillset, or time to do more with your patient communication software. While you’re relying entirely upon cookie-cutter messaging via email and text messaging, what you really need is highly targeted, skillfully crafted messaging delivered through a wider array of channels: Google Adwords, social media, organic search, automated phone messaging, and direct mail.
Patient reminder software is not a patient acquisition tool. So, if growing your practice is high on your list, patient communication software won’t help you. Additionally, applying complex patient engagement needs to out-of-the-box software becomes cumbersome, if not entirely impossible.
Back to our analogy: You need a solution, not a tool, to reach the goals you’ve set for your practice. Ask yourself if you have the expertise or the time to successfully market your practice. Perhaps you should put the wrench back in the toolbox and seek expert marketing assistance.
2. Your Patient Communication Software is Struggling in an Enterprise Environment
If you have multiple locations, with physicians and specialists working out of two or more different clinics, your patient communication software will struggle. Let’s look at an example.
Dr. Li is one of 35 doctors working for a clinic with eight locations spread across two counties. Dr. Li practices out of three different locations. Her practice has committed to several quality outcomes. In order to meet those commitments, the practice must reach out to specific patients at specific times to encourage them to schedule time with Dr. Li.
While the communication challenge in this case is high, the example is not unusual, especially for enterprise-level practices. It may be a daily occurrence for your practice. Patient communication software will struggle to separate Dr. Li’s patients by location, which may force you to send a message that is less effective than a message more personalized to the patient’s needs and preferences.
Out-of-the-box marketing software will also struggle to provide clear reporting. You may only see aggregate numbers for Dr. Li’s messaging, rather than numbers by location. As a result, you’ll have to do some additional spreadsheet exercises to get a better picture.
And remember: You’re on the hook for the messaging to fill Dr. Li’s schedule. Using standard template messaging is, at best, just okay. Each quality campaign requires specific messaging in order to be most effective. Patient communication software templates won’t have the expert messaging you need, and chances are you don’t have the copywriting skills either. Sending mediocre messaging to represent Dr. Li and your practice will deliver mediocre results.
Another sore spot: Central management and oversight. At the group practice level, typically one team member is responsible for all patient engagement activities. Your patient communication software may lack centralized reporting; you can report on each location but would then have to consolidate the information manually. You may also lack centralized control; every front desk team at each location could inadvertently make changes to your setup, and you’d never know it.
In short, a growing and progressive practice will quickly discover their patient communication software can’t keep up with their needs.
3. You Don’t Have Access to Marketing Expertise
One of the fundamental facts of out-of-the-box patient communication software is that it was created by software guys. Boiled down, it’s marketing software produced by software guys. Don’t make the assumption that the software guys are marketing experts. Obviously, they are skilled at writing software to provide their users with a tool. But are they medical marketing experts?
They may be accomplished at marketing their own software, but when it comes to marketing a medical practice, do they really have years of experience? Do they have skilled copywriters on staff who can help you with messaging? Do they have graphic designers who can help you generate attention for your messages? Do they have expert digital marketers ready to help you analyze your target market and find opportunities for growth?
The answer to all those questions is “No!”
The patient communication software vendors invested just enough in marketing consulting to write a series of cookie-cutter messaging templates for their software. Everyone who purchases their software is using the same messaging. At best your messaging will be only as good as your competition!
In contrast to the software guys writing marketing software, the better choice for a growing practice is to leverage the experience and knowledge of marketing guys delivering marketing solutions.
4. Appointment Reminder Messages are NOT Patient Engagement Messages
Reminding your patients of an existing appointment is not the same as motivating patients to call and schedule an appointment; this is called patient engagement. A large gap exists between the two degrees of commitment.
The patient that has an existing appointment is fairly committed to making that appointment. Otherwise, the patient most likely would have not agreed to an appointment. In most cases the patient has a reason for seeing your doctors.
On the other hand, the patient that receives an engagement message doesn’t have an existing appointment. You must convince them they need to make an appointment. And that can be difficult if they don’t see a need. That’s when you need expert messaging at your disposal.
“If you don’t sell,” said Estee Lauder, the grand dame of cosmetics, “It’s not the product that’s wrong, it’s you.”
Quality commitments require complex targeting and appropriate messaging for each segment. If you send the same message to each segment you won’t see the results you need. As Ms. Lauder points out, the fact that you didn’t sell—failed to convince the patient to make an appointment—is a reflection of your practice doing something wrong: Messaging.
Turning to experienced medical marketers will boost the response to patient engagement messaging. Here’s how:
- Pinpoint Targeting: Sending the right message to the right person at the right time is critical to success.
- Database Scrubbing: Up to 15% of the patients in your database have moved out of your community or are deceased. Experienced marketers have the tools to exclude these from your messaging, which improves your ROI.
- Skilled Writing: Advertising guru, David Ogilvy, said you insult the reader’s “intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything.” Persuasive writing is a skilled talent. “Vapid adjectives” is what you find in out-of-the-box patient communication software. (“Vapid” is a great word to describe the messaging templates you see in cookie-cutter software: Lacking life, sharpness, and flavor.)
5. Patient Communication Software is Not Priced for Growth
Out-of-the-box, cookie-cutter software was designed for and priced for a small practice. When it comes to larger practices, the pricing strategy makes the software shockingly expensive for what it delivers. Chances are you may be looking at your credit card statement and wondering how your monthly subscription grew so large.
You have two choices:
First, you can go to your software vendor and negotiate a better price. You may actually get a discount, but the price you’re paying for cookie-cutter results is probably on the high end.
Your other choice is to accept the fact that your practice is a professional organization requiring professional marketing technology and solutions developed by marketing guys, not software guys. You’ll receive enterprise pricing that delivers measurable results and a positive ROI.
For small medical practices, out-of-the-box patient communication software will deliver cute, cookie-cutter appointment reminder messages. However, growing medical practices will quickly experience growing pains from software that can’t keep up.