I promise we’ll get to patient engagement soon; just bear with me. In 1849, Georgia assayer, Dr. Matthew Fleming Stephenson shared a meal with the famous American novelist, Mark Twain. Not long after they had taken a table, conversation turned to the gold rush. At the time, local Georgian farmers were abandoning their crops, and risking all they had for the gold fields of California. Dr. Stephenson, who felt the local farmers were foolish to leave what they already had, pointed to the rolling, green hills of Georgia and said, “There’s gold in them thar hills.”
According to TrueWest, a website for all western folklore, Mark Twain twisted and boiled down the evening’s conversation into those six words and included it in his novel, The American Claimant. Dr. Stephenson was right in two different ways: First, factually speaking, there is gold in the Georgian hills, albeit not in the same quantity you might find in California. Second, the farm land was gold the farmers already had, whereas the potential for striking it rich in California was small. Indeed, those who became wealthy from the gold rush were not the miners, but those that sold supplies and services to the miners.
In your practice, there’s plenty of gold to be found in your patient base. A wealth of information is just waiting to be tapped to generate thousands of new appointments and significantly boost new revenues. There’s more gold in your patient base than you realize. To successfully engage your patient base—to get them to schedule an appointment as part of a quality campaign—you should turn to these four patient engagement techniques:
1. Your Patients Prefer to Text
What is the magic that texting has over us? In a BBC article, “Why We Hate Using eMail But Love Sending Texts,” Bryan Lufkin writes that text messaging is, by its very nature, a more personal way of communication. While email is associated with work and considered a chore, texting is the fast, personal, and casual way to communicate. Patients prefer to text over email and, without a doubt, don’t want to talk.
Don’t misunderstand how text messaging works with quality campaigns: It’s much more than a simple text message, or nudge, to solicit an appointment. Texting is about two-way communication. You and your team need to be ready to actually respond to your patients’ messaging. You may start your quality campaign with a simple text message, but you’re inviting your patients to respond to the message they received via text.
Premier Family Medical, a multi-location practice in the west, was surprised by the response they experienced when they first turned on 2-way texting. The number of patients that willingly texted back and the information they provided was a wake up call. Now, Premier Family Medical incorporates texting in all of their patient communication campaigns, whether for patient engagement or patient acquisition purposes.
2. eMail Represents a Familiar Formality, But Must be Mobile Friendly
Once upon a time, we all despised email for the incessant wave of spam it delivered. Sifting the wanted messages from the unwanted messages was nearly impossible. Google and others who develop email applications recognized early on the need to filter out the spam. Today, most email applications do well in placing important messages in your in-box.
To make your email messaging more effective, make sure the email is mobile-friendly. More than half of all email is now opened on a smartphone. If your email is image-heavy, those images may not present well on a small screen.
Moreover, the more images you place in an email message the more likely the email application will flag it as spam (especially if you’re sending an email to a patient for the first time). Obviously, personalization is huge. You should have a personal relationship with your patients, and your message should reflect that.
Your patients will respond to email messages, but on their time. You most likely manage your email like your patients do: You’ll postpone the chore of reading your email until you really have nothing better to do. You’ll wait until you’re on train during your commute, or laying in bed at night.
3. Reach Out and Touch Your Patients With a Phone Call
In 1987, AT&T introduced the “Reach Out and Touch Someone” public relations campaign. The point of the campaign, as near as I can tell, was some things just can’t be clearly communicated by the written word. eMail and text messaging, for all the convenience and familiarity that they bring, are notoriously bad and communicating clearly.
When I was part of the Henry Schein team in the early 2000’s, the president of our division saw wisdom when he said, “Don’t pound out a reply to an email that frustrates you. Pick up the phone and talk!” He shared a great deal of wisdom in those words, and I frequently turn to his advice event today.
Your practice can see amazing results from a phone call that is integrated with an email or direct mail campaign. When you’re certain that your patients have received a message by mail or email, use that message as a reference point in your phone call.
Your patients don’t like recorded messages or robocalls. Artificial intelligence is getting better and better, so don’t count it out quite yet, but nothing beats having a human calling your patients about their health.
4. Direct Mail can be Your Secret Weapon
Direct mail gets a bad rap because so many businesses—and medical practices—have abused it for so long. The key to a successful direct mail campaign is relevance, or sending the right message to the right person at the right time. One of the fathers of advertising, David Ogilvy calls direct mail his secret weapon, allowing him to deliver his message with surgical skill. For patient engagement, direct mail can be powerful.
You have at your fingertips all you need to be relevant. Your patient base holds a treasure trove of highly personal information about your patients, information you must use in order to have a meaningful conversation with them. I’ve said this before: Every day, your patients are waking up to another of life’s many milestones that call for a visit to see one of your doctors. The best time to communicate with them is when they pass these key milestones.
Don’t get cheap when it comes to direct mail. The temptation to use flimsy paper, a small footprint, and a national, bulk printer can be compelling because postage is expensive. I understand how budgets create bookends to what you can and can’t do. If budget allows, spend the dollars for good paper and bigger footprint. The bulk postcard printers fill a need, which I understand; however, the quality is poor. You obviously get what you pay for.
However, there are things you can control other than the budget: The message and the audience. If you connect these two elements you will see a positive response to your marketing.Again, there’s plenty of gold to be found in your patient base, just waiting to be tapped to generate thousands of new appointments and significantly boost new revenues. Use these four patient engagement techniques to guarantee your success.