I don’t like the marketing tools developed by the EHR and other software companies. Why? Because they do the medical practice a huge disservice.
Don’t misunderstand me. The software these companies create are pretty and function as advertised, for the most part. (We must all remember the software companies are experts at developing software rather than marketing experts.) My angst is the software companies have placed practice marketing tools in the hands of healthcare professionals who don’t know how to use them properly.
In an extreme way, giving practice marketing tools to a healthcare administrator or provider is no different than placing a scalpel in my hand. I can watch a hundred YouTube videos of how to remove an appendix and have all the instruments required to complete the procedure, but the probability of being able to remove the appendix with zero complications, let alone any degree of success, is very, very low.
For the same reason you would discourage me from using a medical device to perform a medical procedure, I would discourage a medical practice from using marketing tools to solve a marketing challenge.
I have identified three elemental marketing mistakes nearly every practice makes when they take up the marketing tools provided by the EHR or some other software company.
1. Going Full Throttle
Many years ago, I graduated from elementary school with high honors. In retrospect, I have a feeling all of my classmates graduated with high honors. Regardless, my proud parents took me to the local burger joint to celebrate. My father was an educator and, although we lived comfortably, money was tight. We rarely ate out. But this night was special. My father pointed to the menu board and said, “You order whatever you want. You’ve earned it.”
Of course, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I don’t clearly remember what I ordered but I believe it involved a double cheeseburger, fries, and a conspicuous amount of ice cream, hot fudge, and caramel. By the time we got home, I was sick and paid the price for doing something I did not understand.
Given the capability to message their patients with considerable ease and power, I have seen many practices pull out the stops and push the throttle to max power. Their patients are suddenly inundated with engagement messages. Their community is swamped with acquisition messages.
Burning your marketing fuel at full power leaves turbulence that affects subsequent marketing messages. When flooded with too many messages your patients will not hesitate to unsubscribe from your email messages and put a stop to your text messages.
An experienced marketing team looks at your marketing cadence, the frequency at which you message any given patient, and adjusts accordingly. The analysis needs to be wholistic. Appointment reminders, billing notifications, and even birthday wishes should be factored into understanding what your patients are experiencing.
An experienced marketing team will find the sweet spot: Just enough messaging to effect action with little to no opt-outs. Experience plays a big part in finding the right balance. RelevantMD, as an example, works with many different medical practices and knows from experience what the cadence should be.
2. Feeling Like Alexander the Great
Alexander earned the “Great” suffix because he conquered nearly half of the known world, at that time, using brute force. I believe Alexander would have been more successful and suffered fewer casualties had he been able to use a bit of geomapping technology. He would have been able to see the landscape in realtime and act accordingly.
Today, when practices feel the need to expand their presence, too often there’s a willy nilly approach to choosing a new location. The first step in choosing a new location is knowing where your current patients live. Geomapping is a technology that shows you where patients for any current clinic are located on a map. Each patient is represented by a red dot. That’s the easy part.
RelevantMD, and perhaps other organizations, can augment the view by overlaying another view of all your prospective patients, or competitor locations, or other social-demographic indicators, such as income, home value, or reported crimes. The resulting image usually provides a clearer picture of opportunities for growth.
Tactically, geomapping can be helpful to your patient acquisition efforts. When you can see where your current patients live, it’s not rocket science to also see where you should be marketing. For example, if the bulk of your current patients live east of a natural or man-made border (like a river, lake, or freeway), then it may make sense to make sure your marketing is not being wasted elsewhere.
To be fair, many different variables come into play as to where you should be marketing. I’m hesitant to ever state something as concrete and immovable because marketing success is affected by so many different variables, all of which need to be identified and factored into your marketing strategy. That said, the argument for leveraging marketing experience gains considerably more strength.
3. Missing the Mark
Successful marketing is simply three things: Delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. With your EHR, you may be able to deliver a patient engagement message to the right person at the right time. But did your message resonate with your patient?
Marketing people speak about “crafting” the right message. Why? Because messaging is not something everybody can do. A skilled copywriter is an absolute must. And in today’s digital world, being able to translate the right message into a 144-character text message, or FaceBook post, or Google ad takes even more skill.
Your message must be crafted to appeal to your patients. Too often I see healthcare administrators or doctors write patient messages using terms meaningful to them, but meaningless to their patients.
For example, I was involved in a discussion wherein the practice objected to using the word “doctor” in a direct mail campaign. “What about our PA’s?” they said. “They’ll feel excluded. We should use the word ‘providers’.” From their perspective, I understood their argument. But from the patients’ perspective, ‘providers’ has much less emotional appeal than ‘doctor’. Some may not even understand the term.
I also see less and less differentiation in voice in the healthcare market. Every practice sounds just like every other practice. Much of that is due to the fact that practices are relying upon the messaging templates found in their EHR or third-party patient communication software.
Here’s an example: I had an appointment with my doctor and received an appointment reminder via text. My colleague also had an appointment with his doctor the same week and we compared appointment reminder messages. They were identical! Why would you want to sound just like your competition?
Experienced marketers understand that voice helps differentiate your product or service from the competition. When you can differentiate yourself from the competition, a new mother moving into your community is much more likely to call you for an appointment. Why? Because you stand out.
What do I mean by ‘voice’? How do you want to sound to your patients and prospective patients? If you want to be cold, indifferent, mechanical, then be sure to use the templates that come with your EHR or patient communication system: Those messages were written by software people rather than skilled copywriters who know you and your practice. But, if you want your practice to have a certain appeal, a welcoming, nurturing tone, then you need to enlist the talent of a skilled copywriter.
What to Do Next
If your garage is packed with every automotive tool known to man, that doesn’t make you a mechanic. Just because you may have marketing tools in your possession doesn’t make you a marketer. Your first task is to recognize and understand that fact.
Once that’s done (and I guarantee it will take some people in your organization longer to understand that fact), then entrust your patient acquisition and patient engagement activities to experience, expertise, and excellence.
If I were to spend one day in your shoes attempting to manage the intricacies of a healthcare practice, I would fail. I don’t have the right education. I have no training, certification, or qualifications. I don’t have the experience. Am I right?
Yes, I am. Not anybody can do your job.
If you agree, then you must also agree that you should trust your practice’s marketing to marketing people, rather than your EHR, your patient communication software, or Jane because she writes the newsletter for her church (no disrespect to Jane!). Professional results require professional people.
You can avoid these elemental mistakes by educating your executive management team on how cadence, geography, and messaging can keep the practice vibrant, progressive, and meaningful to your community.