by David Schmiege
To market effectively and get maximum return on your marketing dollar, you must first identify your target audience. As a vein practice, are you marketing to consumers? Referral physicians? Both? Start by clarifying your most promising target markets. These are markets that are most likely to have an interest in the clinical services that you provide.
If you are marketing sclerotherapy treatments, your target audience might be best reached with a direct-to-consumer approach. If you are marketing varicose vein treatments, you will target both consumers and existing/potential referral physicians. So ask yourself – who is your primary target audience? Do you have multiple target audiences? In addition, make sure that the marketing message you send specifically addresses each particular target audience and what’s important to them. The same message may not be nearly as appropriate and effective when sent to different audiences.
In a crowded field like venous disease treatment, successful marketing campaigns communicate what you do and deliver convincing arguments that you are the best possible provider to deliver the expected clinical results. What’s important to the caregiver of a prospective patient, the spouse of a potential patient, or the referring physician of a potential patient may be quite different from what’s most important to the patient.
When marketing to existing and potential referral sources, you also have to keep in mind who your target audience is as well; it’s not always the referring physician. It can often be his staff if they serve in a gatekeeper capacity for their practice. The staff that comes into contact with patients in the office directly influence patients and affect their decisions. Staff may include referral coordinators, patient registration personnel, medical assistants, nurses, and physician assistants.
A vein practice typically budgets a significant amount of money annually to get the phone to ring. If you follow the correct clinical and administrative protocols, you should consistently convert initial phone calls into appointments. But when patients visit your office, are you meeting or exceeding their expectations?
Your reception area is an immediate reflection of your practice. Put yourself in the place of a potential new patient and ask yourself: If you were a new patient – stepping into your office for the first time and looking at the reception area while walking up to the reception desk – does your practice meet your own expectations? Is your reception area inviting? When you arrive at the reception desk, does the receptionist greet you warmly? Does it feel like the type of practice that is happy to see you? Or is it a bit on the cold side? Do you have to tap on the counter to get someone to respond? And when someone does respond, do they offer a warm greeting or matter-of-factly say, “Sign in please”?
Make sure that your reception area is consistent with the professional, warm and inviting image that you want to portray to your patients! Look at your reception area as a piece of your marketing puzzle – don’t refer to it as a waiting area or a waiting room; it’s a reception area, people don’t like to wait.
Even when you strive to minimize the amount of time patients need to wait, there will inevitably be times that patients are sitting in your reception area. During these times, you have a captive audience that you can market to in a variety of ways. Not only do you want them to feel as comfortable with you as possible, you want to utilize that time you have their captive attention to your advantage. You want to reinforce in their minds that you are the best vein practice for them. Perhaps, even more importantly, make sure they know all of your practice’s capabilities and all of the treatment options that you provide.
Oftentimes, a patient will not know about all the services that you offer because they came to you for one particular treatment option. Make sure you have marketing tools in place! Begin with what they can see and pick up and read in your reception area. This can be your first step toward making sure your patients know about all of your treatment options.
This opens a world of possibilities, allowing them to take advantage of other treatment options offered and introducing them to clinical services they are not utilizing now and may never have even associated with your practice. It also opens an even larger door of possibility for them to refer others they know when the topic comes up. They may even think of some people they already know who are in the market for some of your services as they become aware of them – their friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors.
These are the first steps to making sure that you give your patients confidence that they have chosen the best vein practice in selecting you. You may not be used to thinking of these steps as ways to strengthen your practice brand. You may not be used to thinking that your practice even has a brand. Yet, if you define your brand as the image and feeling that people form in their minds when they think of your practice, you’ll realize that you do in fact have a brand. It is perceived value in the minds of your patients and it gets passed along by word of mouth.
Let’s say your intent is to portray a professional, stateof- the-art vein practice with leading-edge technology and the latest treatment techniques. When a new or existing patient walks into your reception area and finds you have stained carpet with outdated furniture, that’s not consistent with the image and the brand you’re trying to portray! It’s important to consciously develop a brand that emphasizes your strengths and gives each and every patient a reason why they should choose you for treatment.
These are the media that reach prospective patients that don't know you. Advertising
in newspapers, radio, television, billboards, etc., targets an audience that needs to know that you provide an answer for their vein care needs. There's little margin for error in an external media budget that is expected to produce a measurable return on investment.
Hire a Physician Liaison
Marketing to existing and potential referral physicians is a process that requires patience and tremendous planning. Activity breeds results. It’s not as easy as just taking a primary care provider (PCP) out to lunch and expecting that they will immediately refer all of their patients to you; it simply doesn’t work that way. It’s a process of continually demonstrating your clinical competencies to existing and potential referring practices so they learn to trust you and your practice as the best vein care specialist to treat their patient base.
The main purpose of adding a physician liaison to your practice is to reach out and meet referring practices in your immediate service area. The physician liaison can be a full-time or part-time position. It is critical to the success of this position that the community outreach initiatives remain consistent and provide value so that you separate yourself from other vein practices.
Think strategically about referral patterns. Do you know who refers to your vein practice, who doesn't, and why? Ask your front desk staff to generate a weekly or monthly referring physician report by procedure. Which physicians currently refer and which types of cases do they send? Do the nonreferrers know about all the conditions you treat, or has a patient of theirs experienced a less-thanfavorable visit to your office? Identifying the reasons why these physicians do and do not refer can provide the foundation for improving relationships and referral patterns.
Identify other vein practices courting your referral physicians. Success is not achieved by ignoring your competitors, but rather by anticipating competitive issues and influences so you can always have a proactive plan and strategy for staying ahead of your competition. Referring physicians often report dissatisfaction with specialists who are slow or late in providing consultation reports. Review your internal processes to make sure communication flows back to the referring physician within 48 hours of seeing patients. Before and after pictures will support your clinical skills in the referring physician’s mind and can encourage additional referrals; use case studies to bring attention to additional benefits of vein treatments.
Characteristics of a Successful Physician Liaison
I believe that although clinical knowledge is obviously important to communicate venous disease and available treatment options to PCPs, it’s not as important as interpersonal (i.e., people) skills. In sales, success is predicted based upon a formula of 80 percent people skills and 20 percent product knowledge. If your candidate has a clinical background and the necessary interpersonal skills, you’re off to a good start.
Your physician liaison might be more effective if you find somebody that has very good verbal communication skills which are polished and presentable and they are not apprehensive about talking to doctors and their staff, even if their clinical skills and knowledge might not be as extensive as others.
A successful candidate must have thick skin; rejection will be their new best friend. Many people will not give them the time of day or they won’t have time to talk to them. And that’s ok. This is where persistence and fortitude pays off. Both physician and physician liaison should also understand that marketing to the medical community for referrals is a numbers game. If you target a hundred new practices, you’re not going to get all of them. If fact, you don’t have to. Just getting a few to refer to you consistently may enable you to reach your goals. If your physician liaison is ever asked questions of a clinical nature that they can’t answer, that’s ok. That’s the perfect opportunity to bring you or another provider in, perhaps to do a lunch and learn, to educate the referring doctor and their staff more about the services you provide and what sets you apart from your competition. This also enables you to meet them personally and strengthen the relationship.
From websites and social media tools to patient portals and mobile apps, online marketing is a mainstream channel for marketing, advertising and public relations. Exactly how you use the muscle of the digital freeway can be highly effective and profitable, or a huge waste of time and money. In the United States, Internet users conduct 5 billion searches every month directly on major search sites. A 2011 Harris Interactive Poll reported that more than 80 percent of consumers now research health information online. Imagine how many of those Internet searches are actually prospective patients in your service area looking for vein care treatment options. Obviously, you can't take advantage of any of this traffic if you don't have a well-designed practice website. If that's the case, now would be the time to get one.
Pay-per-click advertising empowers your vein practice to reach potential patients at the exact moment they’re looking for vein care treatment options. While it typically takes months or even years of hard work to be listed anywhere in the top 10 of organic (i.e., free) search results, you can start attracting patients immediately by utilizing pay-perclick ads.
Most search engines have joined major networks headed up by Google, Yahoo! and MSN. In other words, once you contract with each of these providers, you will get immediate access to hundreds of search engines and will be visible to almost all searchers. Each network operates differently, and there are specific strategies that work for each of them. In fact, an entire industry has quietly grown up around pay per click.
- You can target your ads geographically so you'll only pay for clicks from prospective patients in your area.
- Keywords are the name of the game. All the networks have keyword generators, but real success lies in brainstorming every possible phrase searchers might use to find you. At a minimum, you should have 300 keywords but 1,000 or more is much better.
- Ads need to be direct response oriented. Ideally, you should have a powerful
- headline, an offer and call to action.
- Bidding amounts for most private practices will generally range from about ten cents to a couple of dollars per click. When possible, bid more on keywords most relevant to your practice.
- Make sure your visitors are directed to a page on your website where it is obvious that you are local. Web surfers are impatient and will quickly move on if you don't have a local address prominently displayed on your website.
- Tracking is key. You need to track results and continually optimize your campaign.
This is all about standing out from the crowd in a positive way, and it includes virtually everything you do. A powerful, differentiating brand for your healthcare business is part of your reputation. Meaningful and effective branding does not occur without a deliberate effort to shape and express the right message at the right time.
This heading includes, among other things, planning and generating healthcare publicity and free press exposure, such as newspaper articles or broadcast interviews. The end results look easy, and it can be a positive and powerful influence. But "free press" typically results from careful planning, good timing, a clear message and a deliberate effort.
Sponsoring an event is a great way to get your name out into the world and forge bonds of trust to your practice: Most communities have events happening all the time and are in need of sponsors. Read the local newspaper for upcoming events. Alternatively, giving of your time or services to help in your community, even if it is unrelated to your practice, increases your connection to your clients and their faith and loyalty to you.
This is the easiest way to target your existing and potential patients. With assistance, it is easy to create, send, and track email newsletters and surveys. Email marketing helps remind your patients to come back and, even more importantly, encourages potential new patients to contact your office. Email marketing places you in your patient’s inboxes, keeping you in touch with patients who want to hear from you. With tracking software available, you can see who opened your emails, who forwarded them to friends, and even who you need to resend them to.
Sending birthday cards to patients are certainly a strategy that they will appreciate It’s also an opportunity to place your practice in the forefront of their minds for additional services. At the end of each month, identify all the patients whose birthdays are coming up in the next month. Then, execute a direct mail campaign
argeting them with a letter or card and an offer for your services during the month of their birthday.
I suggest getting the birthdays of your top referral sources, especially for your few “A” referral sources that represent most of your referrals. Your physician liaison should be able to get this information from their staff. Remember to acknowledge them on their birthday. If you provide a birthday gift, something personal based on their interests will be better than just a standard gift basket. For example, if you have a referral source that you know is a golfer, get them a gift that’s golf related. Or if you know they enjoy a certain restaurant, giving a gift card from that particular restaurant shows a personal consideration.
Finally, remember that it’s ot only the doctor that can influence and refer the patient; it can also be their staff and midlevel providers such as nurses, MA s, NPs, PAs, and front office staff. Be sure to remember their birthdays as well, and let them know how much you appreciate their trust.
Match Your Media to Your Patients’ Preferences
Media selection has a lot to with the age demographic of your potential patients. Older target audiences get their information differently and from different sources than younger target audiences.
If you’re targeting seniors, you probably shouldn’t use online social media as your major marketing channel. If you’re targeting a much younger patient population, including mothers of patients, then you probably don’t want to spend the bulk of your marketing budget on Yellow Pages. If you break down your target audience(s) demographically by generation, you can get a basic overview that will help you plan effectively.
Today’s seniors tend to get their information from the traditional media they grew up with. They read newspapers, they open their mail (and reply to it), they watch television and listen to the radio.
Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, were the first generation to embrace information technology. Many of them still read newspapers and reply to direct mail, watch television and listen to the radio. Yet in large numbers they also embrace the web, use Google to search for information, and use online social media including Facebook.
Generation X, those born from 1965 to 1980, have shifted even more dramatically to online marketing and more of the newer media than the traditional media.
Generation Y, born 1980 or later and already in their 20s and early 30s, might have families and already are making health care decisions for themselves. They certainly get their information differently than their parents and their grandparents did. Reaching them is not as easy as simply having a website and driving traffic to your website through proper search engine optimization and pay-per-click.
It’s more about interacting with them through social media, which includes Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs. Social media is like word-of-mouth media taken online. Years ago, one of our parents may have been at a party or social gathering and talked to a friend or neighbor who recommended a doctor or a dentist. Social media is really the same conversation, but taken online. Most people trust friends and acquaintances for advice regarding which physicians to go to. Thus, you need more than just a website- -you need a complete online strategy which includes search engine optimization (SEO ) and social media.
It’s important not only to have a presence on the web to reach both generations, but also to have proper SEO strategies and even to use pay-per-click so that these generations will actually get to your website. And once they do, you’re going to need a professional, comprehensive and interactive website that will satisfy their thirst for information.
With this in mind, remember to target the delivery of your message so it’s appropriate for your target audience. And if you have multiple target audiences demographically, don’t have all your eggs in one basket--spread your marketing budget across multiple media to reach multiple generations.