Once you know your return and investment in social media, determining ROI is a simple equation:
The tricky part is measuring the different types of return — as noted above. It is extremely challenging to place a value on enhanced patient education, or enhanced advocacy, or enhanced reputation. It is possible to calculate the value that a new patient brings to your practice.
What data supports this?
While surveys have gathered pieces of data that support our argument for a high ROI, it’s mostly anecdotal. While our surveys are gathering more hard data, early examples suggest extraordinary ROI from digital branding.
Here are just a couple of examples:
Dr. Zaid has made a very conservative ROI calculation. He polls all new patients who arrive at his practice, asking them how they heard of him, how they came to make an appointment at his clinic. Based on the average number of visits per year for each new patient, and based on the average billing level for a visit, he estimates that his “digital footprint” — his online presence — adds $125,000 to his annual practice revenue.
Note that his estimate of his return is conservative, and is an underestimate according to many physicians. Other physicians have calculated multiples of Dr. Zaid’s estimate, by a factor of two or even three. To be fair, Dr. Zaid’s estimate of his investment is also an underestimate. He includes in his estimate only the actual dollar amounts that he spends for the upkeep of his domain names and website; he has not included his time. On the other hand, he invests very little time on a regular basis to maintain his simple website.
Let’s examine a case that I am more familiar with … my own digital footprint.
A little over a year ago I became frustrated by families arriving at my clinic with massive stacks of printouts of healthcare information from the Internet; printouts of inaccurate, misinformation.
These families are proud of the research they have done, proud to be empowered by the Internet to be able to contribute to their healthcare. Too bad that so much of the information that they find is inaccurate. The price that we pay — as physicians — when patients arrive at our clinics with misinformation like this, is that we must take time to re-educate them.
That places us in a bad position: we start our relationship with a new patient by telling them that they are “wrong.” We squash their pride in their research accomplishment. We start our relationship as an adversary. Not the best way to start a relationship with a new patient. And all that re-education takes time away from getting to the issue that brought them to your clinic in the first place.
That frustration led me to start a medical education website, a blog. I simply write short articles on topics that my patients are interested in. As a pediatric otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat surgeon), my topics of interest revolve around upper respiratory illnesses — allergies, rhinitis, sinusitis, otitis, asthma, reflux, etc.
Because my patients call me their “boogordoctor” (and they laugh hysterically), my site name is www.boogordoctor.com. I made sure that I included this website on my business cards, mailers, emails, and letterhead.
Over a short time, a remarkable thing happened: “traffic” to my site steadily climbed; I now have between 5,000 and 7,000 visitors to my site per month!
Patients arrive at my clinic feeling that they already have a relationship with me. Because they have read about my approach to various illnesses, they know what to expect; we start out on the same page — a much more positive start. We can spend all of our time in clinic together focusing on their specific signs and symptoms, focusing on the questions that they still have. This is just one of the operational efficiency returns: our clinic time is streamlined, efficient.
As I polled incoming patients, new to my clinic, more and more families reported that they had found me through my website. The percent of new patients reporting that they “found” me online now varies between 30 percent and 50 percent. Remarkable. Granted, my practice is a very narrow niche, and most practices report eight percent or 10 percent of new patients traceable to their digital footprint, but even that is a great return on a small investment.
I achieve many returns from my presence in the digital world, things that are difficult to assign a number-value to: enhanced connection with my patient community; enhanced recognition by my referring physician community for my areas of expertise; significant improvement in operational efficiency in my clinics; improved patient advocacy.
The financial calculations are more direct. Even if I limit my ROI calculation to financial considerations, the addition of 30 percent of my patient volume from my online presence amounts to a significant addition to the bottom line.
Given that I spend less than $100 per year on my digital “brand,” and even if I value my time for writing short articles at $100 or $200 per hour, my ROI runs into the thousands of percent return!! Traditional marketing simply cannot match that.
Many other examples exist.
The reoccurring message that we hear from physicians who make the investment to participate in the digital world is: “Social media helps practices grow their patient volume at a reduced cost.” As more practices “get engaged” it will become evident that there is tremendous ROI with social media in healthcare.
But why aren’t more practices participating in social networks. Physicians need more data and love to make informed decisions, so if you are seeking some answers, I invite you to take a short survey and benefit from the resulting case studies and best practices.
Find out more about Russell Faust and our other Practice Notes bloggers.