In medicine, the traditional expectation for doctors, as it relates to getting patients, has been to hang your shingle and fill your schedule (although that expectation is becoming increasingly more difficult to meet as Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens continue to lead with big box medicine). Most physicians don’t worry about acquiring new patients.
But, for specialists, acquiring new patients is a necessary cycle due to the nature of the medicine they practice. For audiologists, optometrists, chiropractors, and plastic surgeons, a steady flow of new patients is critical to the success of their practices.
The challenge for specialists like these, whose attention is focused on patient care, is two-fold: Finding time to focus on finding new patients, and lacking the marketing skills necessary to generate a continuous flow of new patients.
While I can’t help specialists find more time, I can outline five power tools that must be used to generate a continuous stream of new patients.
1. Digital Marketing is a Dream Machine
The first thing I learned in university about marketing is that relevance makes all the difference in how successful your marketing campaign will be. Relevance is a combination of your target market and your message. When you are able to put the right message in front of the right person at the right time—well, that’s the mother lode every marketer pursues.
Digital marketing—the ads you see when you Google some search term—is the stage whereon you can deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. You know how this works as you’ve probably used Google or Bing to search before. Whatever search term you entered will generate advertisements with content and offers relevant to your search.
If you’re a plastic surgeon practicing in Grand Junction, Colorado, whenever a person in that city searches for “tummy tuck” you want a specific ad promoting your services to magically appear, and you want your ad to appear at the top of the search results. If you can do that, then you’ve placed the right message in front of the right person at the right time.
Digital marketing is a dream come true. Ads that appear in search results drive business, unlike any other advertising medium throughout world history. In 2018, businesses of every size and shape—including medical practices like yours—paid Google more than $116 billion. Why? Because digital marketing’s results are easily tracked. In the past, calculating ROI from any advertising campaign was difficult. With digital marketing, you’re able to see, down to the penny, what it will cost you to generate a new patient.
Anybody can create a Google Adwords or Bing account and start advertising in a matter of minutes. And anybody can give Google their credit card number and run up their balance in a matter of days. The trick is understanding which keywords work best for your practice and what price to pay for each click.
If you spend the time learning how to play the digital marketing game, you’ll begin to sharpen your marketing skills and spend your dollars on the right clicks to acquire new patients. And that’s the catch: Time. I suppose if you spent as much time tweaking your digital marketing activities as you do caring for your patients, you’ll see success.
The two points you need to remember about digital marketing is this: 1)Your marketing spend must prioritize digital marketing; and 2)You’ll see better results and acquire more new patients if enlist the help of a digital marketing genius.
2. SEO: Just as Potent as Witch’s Brew
Search Engine Optimization is digital marketing’s younger sibling, the one content to exist in their older sibling’s shadow. While not as in-your-face as digital marketing. SEO is, nonetheless, a key component of a successful patient acquisition strategy.
Using our previous example of a practice in Grand Junction, Colorado, the goal is for your practice to appear in the top three search results. The top three results will receive the lion’s share of clicks.
How much of the share?
One rule of thumb states the number one position will attract about 35% of all clicks. The number two position will take about 10%. The number three position will take just under 10%. You can see how important that number one spot can be to your campaign to get new patients on a regular basis.
How do you claim the number one position?
How well the content on your practice website matches the search term plays a major role in what position your website appears in the search results. In simple terms, if the search term “tummy tuck” is well represented on your website, it will appear higher in the search results.
But don’t jump to the conclusion that you can drown your website with the keywords your patients are searching for. Google and Bing will always be a step ahead of you. Their objective is to deliver results that best serve the searcher, not the advertiser. Google and Bing have become exceptionally adept at spotting those websites that are playing the system; they’ll steer traffic to websites that appear to contain content that organically meets the search terms.
In addition to content relevance, the search engines look at many other factors when delivering results to a search, such as:
- Speed. How fast does your site load? Speedier sites are generally ranked higher than slower sites.
- Mobile Friendliness. How well your site conforms to a smartphone screen or tablet also plays a factor.
- Page Titles and Meta Tags. You want to make sure the title of each page on your website matches the content, is unique, brief, yet descriptive.
- Page Navigation. Sites that are easier to navigate rank higher.
- Simplified URLs. Pages on your site should have simple URLs for easier searching. Avoid cryptic numbers.
- Fresh Content. You want to show the search engines continuous and recent changes to the content. Stagnant sites are generally pushed down in the rankings.
- Outside Links. If respected sites are pointing to your site, you’ll appear higher in the search results. The more outside links you have, the better.
- Use the “Alt” Attribute for Images. Make sure all of your images have a descriptive filename and alt attribution.
Unfortunately, the list can go much longer, but what I have here is a good start. Google recommends that you employ the assistance of an SEO expert to help you. Again, time is a big factor when it comes to optimizing your website and, unfortunately, you may not have time to spare.
3. Use Direct Mail as an Energy Mix-in
Don’t turn your nose at direct mail. The only reason direct mail has a bad rap is because far too many practices have abused it directly, or bought into discount postcard mailers who abuse it prolifically.
I call direct mail an “energy mix-in” for good reason. When you stop at Jamba Juice, Orange Julius, or a Tropical Smoothie Cafe, you can opt to have a mix-in added to your drink, to boost energy or protein or whatever. Direct mail has the same effect on your marketing activities.
Use direct mail to validate your digital marketing spend. Anybody can advertise online. But a practice must be established to be able to enlist the help of direct mail. The premise is this: When your prospective patients receive a note from you in the mail, and then also see your advertisement online, they are much more likely to become a patient. The direct mail validates your online presence.
Direct mail takes skills. Do NOT enlist the help of a discount mailer. And here’s why:
- Lack of Quality. Discount mailers are, by their name, in the business to produce and mail your letter at the lowest price possible. They will skimp on paper, print quality, copywriting and push you to a template that everyone else uses, which saves time. As a result, you’ll look like junk mail.
- Lack of Focus. Discount mailers don’t want to know anything more about your practice than your name, address, and phone number. Your unique selling points—the elements that make you different from your competitors—will not be studied and represented. Economies of scale are paramount to their business.
- Lack of Skill. Let’s be fair: Discount mailers are really good at producing and mailing postcards. From what I have seen, they don’t have exemplary designers, copywriters, and data marketing experts.
Direct mail can be very powerful and complement your practice and brand. But it’s not something you should do if you don’t have the right skills. Sadly, many skip this advice and end up filling your mailbox and my mailbox with junk. Relevance is key to successful marketing, direct mail included.
4. 2-Way Texting Is the Bomb!
Your patients would rather text with your front desk or your doctors than make or take a phone call. Practices that have text-enabled their landlines are significantly increasing the number of new patients with whom they have a meaningful conversation (e.g. setting an appointment) and the number of times they communicate with that patient. In short: Two-way texting greatly improves patient engagement and patient relationships.
Specific to marketing, what I really like about 2-way texting is how easy it is for prospective patients to “speak” to your office and set an appointment. Let’s be honest: Calling any practice to schedule an appointment is an adventure in navigating automated telephone systems. (Dial your own practice number to see what your prospective patients are experiencing.)
With 2-way texting, prospective patients can simply send a text to the number in your advertisement. They could say, “Hi! Can I schedule an appointment for Thursday at noon?” Your front desk team can quickly text back and book an appointment. What’s more, your front desk team is able to “speak” to several prospective patients at the same time, which is much more efficient than taking one call at a time.
Two-way texting requires software to provide a platform from which you can send and receive messages, archive messages, and manage messages. Some systems are better than others; be sure to look at RelevantMD’s messaging system, specifically built for healthcare. You’ll also need to text-enable your landline, which can be done without your IT department.
5. Managing Your Reputation Through Customer Reviews
Acquiring new patients becomes easier when your practice has a good number of positive online reviews. Most consumers are cognizant of what other consumers are saying about a particular product or service. You probably do the same thing.
Your job is two-fold: First, you need to get more of your patients to post more reviews of your practice. Secondly, you need those reviews to be positive, with four or more stars.
How do you get more reviews?
Don’t be afraid to invite your patients to leave a review. I wouldn’t invite every patient; rather, train your administrative and nursing teams to invite patients to leave a review when the appointment has been extraordinary. The most effective way to make the process super simple for the patient is to text or email a link to them. All the patient has to do is click on the link, log into their Google account, and leave a review. The whole process can take less than two or three minutes.
Be careful not to game the review process. You never want to prevent a patient from leaving a review, but you always want to encourage raving fans to share their stories.
The more reviews you’re able to garner, the higher your practice website will appear in related searches. Acquiring new patients is much easier when a prospective patient can see that current patients love you.
Summing it All Up
If your practice puts these four power tools to work you’ll soon have a steady stream of new patients knocking (i.e. texting) on your door. Fortunately for you, RelevantMD is an expert at leveraging all four tools for you. As a true craftsman of the trade, RelevantMD has the experience to build a patient acquisition strategy to fit your needs. With a quick 15-minute phone call you’ll quickly see how we can help.