United States: Getting Patients In The Door

In the current competitive medical environment, patients are presented with a range of options for medical care, so attracting them is increasingly challenging for physicians. Choosing the appropriate physician is an important decision people make on an ongoing basis.  One key to getting patients in the door of your medical practice is to create a marketing plan — possibly with the help of a professional marketing firm — that incorporates an understanding of your target demographic and your brand identity, among other factors.

Who are Your Patients?

Knowing and understanding your patients is essential. It is important to evaluate the age range of your patients, where they live and how they found out about you. In theory, if yours is a specialty practice, such as a pediatrics office, an OB/GYN, or a podiatric physician, for example, your patients could be fairly easy to define.

However, an analysis of a practice might actually find, for example, that the pediatrician spends most of his or her time on teenagers, the OB/GYN might have an unusual number of menopausal patients, or the podiatric physician primarily deals with patients who have sports-related issues. Even a family practitioner might find that the practice skews toward a particular subset of patients. Doctors may want to market the areas of practice they spend the most amount of time on as their specialty.

Why? Some of this may be related to insurance, physician preference and reputation, or even geography. Is the practice located in a college town? Near residential areas with a largely aging population? Or in an area where the dominant employer offers specific health insurance options? All of these can affect practice demographics.

What is Your Brand?

Defining what type of practice you have and whom the practice is serving is a way of determining the practice's brand identity. And, of course, clarifying and creating the practice's "brand" helps shape the marketing campaign. Should your marketing aim at an aging population? If so, ads in the local college newspaper are a waste of time and money.

Outlets for marketing are numerous and include a practice website, the Yellow Pages, local or regional newspapers, direct mailings and radio and TV. Other marketing avenues include:

  • Lunches and talks with potential referring physicians;
  • Lunches and talks with local public service organizations such as the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis and others;
  • Writing local newspaper columns;
  • Visiting nursing homes;
  • Holding open houses; and
  • Making presentations and setting up booths at local events.

Determining the kinds of patients you are likely to attract and getting a handle on your brand identity can help with the process of selecting the most appropriate marketing targets and outlets. These processes can assist in attracting and increasing the number of patients you have.

How Much Can You Spend?

Another factor to take into consideration is a marketing budget. Generally speaking, a marketing budget that is about 2% to 4% of projected revenues is considered appropriate.

If your budget, or the amount of time you can spend on marketing efforts, is limited, then an evaluation of return on investment (ROI) is in order. On another note, an evaluation of ROI is always in order. Physicians want to make a conscious effort not to exceed the cost expectations for marketing, but want to perform effective and efficient marketing procedures.

How effective are your marketing efforts at hitting your target audience? Once a Yellow Pages ad was a must-have, but now, thanks to the Internet, many physicians feel these ads are not worth the price, especially when a professional website is relatively inexpensive and can be tied to a patient portal and scheduling system.

Ads on radio and TV can be effective, however, they are expensive and depend on the practice's market area. A major urban market has an enormous reach, but also is enormously expensive. A smaller, rural or suburban market is less expensive, but reaches fewer people. In that case, your advertising could be more targeted.

Why Not Multiply Your Efforts?

It is important to consider that your marketing efforts probably should cross several formats and platforms. Having a website alone is not enough. The same is true for a Yellow Pages ad or a direct mailing. For a physician practice marketing campaign to be effective, it needs to occur on multiple platforms and be geared to your specific target audience. With research and the added support of a marketing professional, your marketing strategy will be successful.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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