Best Methods to Recruiting Patients in the 21st Century

November 10, 2016

Potential patients are everywhere, but practices can struggle to connect with them. Here are the best methods to recruiting the modern patient.

Patient recruitment is key to maintaining a sizable patient panel, and in turn, a profitable practice. Recruiting on a continuous basis is ideal, and with more outreach options than ever before, it can be challenging to formulate a plan.

Here are the methods today’s practices are using to recruit patients. 

Digital marketing

With more than three billion people online, digital marketing offers an increasingly worthwhile avenue for patient recruitment.

“As the modern healthcare consumer behavior changes to reflect a more digital savvy lifestyle, many practices are still relying on ineffective and outdated means of marketing such as print ads and billboards,” said Daniel Goldberg, CEO of Gold Medical Marketing, a medical marketing and public relations firm in Parsippany, N.J. “The most successful practices are embracing the shift toward digital marketing and patient acquisition.”

Steven Hammer, founder of ROIvertising, a Dallas-based internet marketing firm, has similar thoughts. “Recruiting patients has taken a big turn since Google and WebMD gave everyone an overwhelming amount of medical information,” he said.

This state of information overload leads patients to look for a definitive solution and that’s where targeted online advertising, like AdWords, comes in handy. It’s an appealing option, especially for practices with limited budgets, because no fees are incurred unless an advertisement is clicked.

“We often supplement [this] with social media ads, which have a similar cost system, but much different targeting,” said Hammer.

Tracking your digital marketing efforts is imperative though. Many of the social media platforms have built-in tracking systems. Additionally Hammer recommends using Google analytics as well as dynamic number replacement.

Goldberg offers a less technical option too. “When a new patient calls, ask them where they saw or heard about your practice,” he said. Immediately log this information into the EHR and use the reports function to compile a list of which avenues are attracting the most patients.

Physician referrals

Developing a physician referral system is another way to reach patients.

Armando Hernandez-Rey, a board-certified reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist located in Coral Gables, Fla., has found this technique most successful. "Though patients are often influenced by our Facebook page and other social media efforts, 75 percent of patients still come through traditional referral channels [via] other doctors,” he said.

To establish and maintain these mutually-beneficial partnerships, it’s critical to ensure each referred patient has a positive experience. If that occurs, the cycle tends to become self-sustaining, although frequent contact with the referring physicians is important.

“Physicians need to be reminded of your presence in the medical landscape and how [you] can benefit their patients,” said Hernandez-Rey. “The more they see you in-person and hear about you in print and online, the greater the referral opportunities.”

Robust referral systems do require a healthy investment of time, possibly upwards of two years, according to Hernandez-Rey.

Community education

Local, in-person events are excellent ways to recruit new patients as well as provide education about specific health concerns. Plus, they offer a low cost of acquisition.

Drew Stevens, a Saint-Louis based practice management consultant, encourages his clients to get out into the community and share their expertise. “Chambers of Commerce and Kiwanis are constantly in need of experts,” he said. “You might speak at a local ladies auxiliary or a youth fitness class. Choose venues where your [ideal] patients will be.”

In the same vein of public speaking, lunch and learns offer another way to get directly in front of potential patients. Think of these in terms of short, informational sessions where one particular topic is discussed.

“Research companies around your region that would be interested in gaining some insight into health, wellness, and other areas of corrective health,” said Stevens. “The intent is not only delivery [of useful information], but also possible business from attendees.”

Word of mouth

Perhaps the simplest form of patient recruitment is via word of mouth advertising. When you are treating patients with kindness, professionalism, and positive outcomes, patients will happily spread the news.

“The most successful methods for smaller clients will always be word of mouth and nothing can replicate the impact of a glowing review from a friend or family member,” said Goldberg.

Hammer agrees that word of mouth will likely always be a beneficial patient recruitment tactic. Thanks to social media and the ability to share our opinions on a wider, immediate scale, it’s easier than ever to influence the healthcare decisions of those in your circle. 

The bottom line 

Ultimately, the biggest factor in successful patient recruitment lies in your ability to establish credibility and trust. After that, it’s about positioning yourself in front of your target market.

While some methods, like digital marketing, can seem overwhelmingly complex and technical, starting small and simple can net substantial results. For example, one of Hammer’s clients was receiving only one new patient inquiry per day. Now, after slowly building his recruitment efforts, the physician is booked more than a month out.

As Hammer has witnessed, “Once it’s working, it's easy to invest more into it.”

Steph Weber is a freelance writer hailing from the Midwest. She writes about healthcare, finance, and small business, but finds her passion for the medical field growing in sync with the ever-changing healthcare laws.