Easy, inexpensive, and sure to start the year of right.
For many medical practices, the schedule during the first few months of the year can be light. This can be stressful if it means concerns about cash flow, but it’s also an opportunity to give marketing more attention, which can help reverse the trend.
Here are five easy, inexpensive ways to take advantage of less-busy days to grow your practice.
1. Confirm you’re not turning patients away
One of the simplest ways to improve your marketing is to be sure all physicians, NPs, and PAs in your practice are listed properly in the directories of your contracted health plans.
When a plan directory lists one of your physicians under the wrong specialty or at the wrong address, or if it doesn’t state the physician is accepting new patients, the directory is systematically turning away your prospective patients.
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Such errors are unfortunately common, even when a physician has been with a health plan for years. In fact, errors cause so many problems for patients, especially errors related to network participation, that more than 20 states have recently introduced legislation to compel directory accuracy. But maintaining directories is not as easy as it sounds, and errors still occur.
Ensuring prospective patients find you in their plan directories is one of the simplest, most effective ways to market your practice. Even better, it costs nothing but a bit of staff time. Mark your calendar to check your health plan directories at least once a year, and ideally more than once.
2. Invest time in your online presence
Patients taking their first steps to find a new physician often start with a Google search. Make sure your practice is easily found when patients search by location and specialty.
Most often, Google business listings-the listings keyed to a map at the top of search results-are the first options patients see when searching for a physician. Make sure you’ve taken control of your practice’s own Google listing. It’s one of the most powerful forms of marketing you can try, and it’s free! (Start at google.com/business and follow the prompts.)
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Listings from other patient directories like Vitals and Healthgrades also often appear near the top of search results (Yelp, too, for some specialties). Claiming and updating these listings is an invaluable form of free marketing. Search for your specialty in your local area and see which sites rank highest, then work your way through them in rank order. Be sure to take advantage of all the detail these sites allow you to include, to improve your chances of being found in a patient’s search.
3. Explore technology upgrades
At first glance, it might seem odd to see “technology upgrades” in a list of marketing tips. But some of the most exciting software upgrades available make interacting with your practice more convenient for patients-and that helps your practice stand out in a positive way.
For example, is your practice offering online statements and bill payment? Are your reminders automated-and can your patients choose to receive them via text or email (whichever is best for them)? Do you have a kiosk or tablet check-in system that improves patient privacy?
We often find that these upgrades are already built into the systems our practice clients are using and paying for. Many times, they can be turned on at little or no cost. Testing them out in the first quarter, when the office is a little less busy, makes the process less stressful.
Best of all, these types of upgrades won’t just help you improve patient service, they also improve operational metrics like your collection and no-show rates.
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4. Network with other practices
If you rely on referrals from primary care practices, the first quarter can be an ideal time to share information about what your practice offers your referrers’ patients. Consider offering a lunch-and-learn at your referrers’ offices, where you bring in a nice lunch to enjoy while you share a presentation.
For example, a presentation on spotting potential skin cancers that should be referred to a dermatologist can be invaluable education for primary care that also increases referrals to your derm practice. Or if your specialty is allergy, educating primary care clinicians on when it’s safer and more effective to refer patients to an allergist helps protect primary care providers from liability and keeps patients safer, while also encouraging referrals.
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These presentations don’t have to be restricted to physicians. NPs and PAs can be very effective networkers, and their colleagues at primary care practices are often great sources of referrals. (They may be more excited about the chance to attend a nice catered lunch presentation, too.)
5. Refresh your practice image
Has it been a while since you entered your practice through the front door? Taking a few moments to look at your reception area and front desk through the eyes of a patient can help you see where a few renovations might be in order.
A fresh coat of paint in a stylish color, new prints on the wall, or a reorganized front desk are easy ways to make a better first impression when patients arrive. And all of these things are inexpensive or free.
Laurie Morgan, MBA is a partner and senior consultant for Capko & Morgan. Her consulting focuses on practice management effectiveness and practice profitability. She is the author of the book People, Technology, Profit: Practical Ideas for a Happier, Healthier Practice business as well as the Management Rx series of e-books, and blogs at capko.com/blog.