Marketing on a Shoestring

March 26, 2009

Practices around the country are feeling the pinch of uncertain economic times and wincing as the volume of patient visits wane.

Practices around the country are feeling the pinch of uncertain economic times and wincing as the volume of patient visits wane. Some patients are trying home remedies in an attempt to eliminate a trip to the doctor; others are postponing annual physicals; some decide that a visit to the specialist or an elective surgery can be put off for awhile. So, what strategies might you employ to keep your practice humming when things start to look a little dismal?

  • Focus on customer service. Beef up your staff training on customer service. Make sure every patient feels welcome in your office. This will help convince them they made the right choice when they selected your office and scheduled an appointment. Make sure potential patients who are doctor shopping are encouraged to make an appointment. I was recently in an office where potential patients spent an average of 2 to 6 minutes on the phone asking pertinent questions about the practice, but only 10 percent scheduled appointments. Why? Staff members failed to ask them to schedule an appointment at the end of their conversation.

  • Put you best foot forward. Be a shining star in your community. Be visible. You and your staff should participate in community events. Get involved in something you enjoy, are good at, or something you feel passionate about. If you are athletic it could be running a marathon, a race for the cure, or getting involved in supporting a local little-league team. If you have an artistic bent, why not participate in your city’s competition for creating a public health poster for promoting annual flu shots, or enter your photos in the 4H competition at the local county fair?

There are other ways to increase your visibility. Purchase lab coats that are embroidered with your practice name and logo for everyone on your staff. When your staff members duck out for a quick latte your practice name will be front and center. Such inexpensive marketing can result in new patients for your practice.

  • Tap into your database. Send healthcare reminders to patients who are overdue for annual exams or have reached that magical age when they should be screened for particular conditions such as prostate cancer or bone density studies.

Some practices are going even further to make a connection with patients; they hold evening seminars to introduce new services such as anti-aging consultations or health and fitness programs, with incentives if they bring a friend. This is a great way to increase your patient panel.

I know a pediatrician who holds a quarterly “fun day” at the park and invites all the new patients from the prior quarter. An obstetrician could have a Mommy and Me luncheon for new moms in the practice. These are the types of things patients talk about to their friends, making them think your practice might be a better choice for them.

  • Manage referrals better. Your database can reveal the referring sources for your new patients, so get to know your data. Make sure staff members enter this information accurately. It is not just a matter of tracking physician referrals; if patients found out about your practice from another source - whether their child is on the same soccer team as your son, or a new patient’s best friend raved about you - it’s important to know and honor those loyal referrers. Some practices put names in a hat and draw for a prize once a month. Others send a nice note thanking their patient for the referral.

  • Add Web site power. Make sure your Web site represents you well. It should include your mission statement and practice vision - what you do to live the mission. Tout all the great things about your practice including your practice focus, physician credentials, special services, and anything else that sets you apart from the competition. It could be something as simple as extended hours.

The opportunities to market on a shoestring are numerous, and are only limited by your (and your staff’s) imagination.

Judy Capko is a healthcare consultant and author of the popular books “Secrets of the Best Run Practices” and “Take Back Time.” Based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., she is a national speaker on healthcare topics. She can be reached at 805 499 9203 or judy@capko.com.