Across the country, healthcare competition continues to heat up. In the 2020 PatientPop practice growth report, 89.6 percent of healthcare providers said they practice in a competitive market — 1 in 3 called their local area highly competitive.
How healthcare providers describe the competition in their market
That level of competition persists. From hospital-owned medical groups to retail pharmacies and even tech giants like Amazon and Apple, an increasing number of big players are vying for healthcare market share — challenging private practices to find ways to thrive amidst this competitive growth.
How can an independent practice stand out among the competition — especially when it comes from big brand-name care settings?
Elevating your practice perception, influence, and business opportunities requires a dedicated focus to attracting new patients and ensuring your current patients are satisfied enough to ignore options popping up around them.
Differentiate your healthcare practice to maintain growth
In a customer-focused environment, the adage is true: you have to be different to be better. You have to offer something others don’t. What makes your practice more appealing than the physician practice, urgent care center, or retail clinic down the road? Answering this question is a key strategic step for independent practices to thrive today and continue to run a successful business in the post-pandemic world.
While some healthcare practices may choose aggressive advertising strategies to build their patient base, we know most private practices can’t afford a large-scale marketing budget. Here’s the great news: Rising above the competition doesn’t have to break the bank. Instead, resources are better spent on devising a patient-focused strategy, one that manages an accessible, convenient experience alongside exceptional care delivery.
A few ways to set yourself apart: Maintaining open and regular communication with your patients, reinforcing safety during the pandemic, and focusing on patient convenience. You might be surprised to find how many practices overlook these simple strategies, leaving the door open for others to welcome new patients and turn them into local advocates.
Here’s a close look at our first two tips to win over more patients this year.
1. Get proactive with patient communication.
Patients want to hear from their healthcare providers more than ever — and that demand is likely to continue beyond pandemic concerns. A 2020 poll by AP-NORC found that people trust their personal doctor at nearly the same level they trust the CDC for accurate information about COVID-19.
Beyond just this year, patients have clearly stated their preferences for two-way text messaging and other communication conveniences, to keep them updated on everything from upcoming appointments to vaccine availability. But, within the next six to 12 months, there are a whole host of reasons patients would appreciate hearing from you.
With increased stress, decreased physical activity, and even delayed care, many patients are unhealthier than they were a year ago, and may need to hear from their doctor. Keep in mind that about 36 percent of non-elderly patients delayed or skipped care due to pandemic safety concerns.
All these factors make proactive communication a welcome patient benefit, and a strategic way to drive appointment volume. Here’s how.
Practice strategy: Consider all communication opportunities.
As you determine the type of information to share with patients, think of all the patient communication channels at your disposal. You may already be using a couple to reach out to established patients — important for keeping your practice top-of-mind.
As an example, consider this combination of options, a few best-practice ideas for your team:
- personal phone calls to rebook patients who’ve missed appointments
- text message campaigns to patients who are due to book their next appointment
- emails to existing patients with information related to your specialty, practice, and community
- social media posts and blogs
To inspire connection with prospective patients, keep your online presence optimized — that includes your practice website and any other site on which your professional profile appears. Stay consistent in what you say about your services and approach to care so potential patients get a sense of who you are, and how you keep patients informed and engaged.
How about during the pandemic? The bottom line is that more is generally best, as patients search for information on testing, vaccines, and symptoms in large numbers. Just remember, when possible, to use your patients’ preferred method(s) of communication. If they’ve indicated they prefer text messaging, and you can meet that demand, respect their wishes to further solidify the patient-provider relationship.
Practice strategy: Elevate your brand during this time.
To boost your brand visibility, you’ll need to optimize your online presence, as referenced above. If you haven’t already, begin by ensuring all your online business profiles (think Yelp, WebMD, Facebook, and especially Google My Business) have been claimed and enhanced with up-to-date information (especially related to COVID-19), photos of your practice and providers, and accurate practice details.
Next, focus on your practice website. Make sure your site includes information that aligns with what patients are looking for. What are your patients asking about most often? That’s the information you want to share on your site (as well as the Questions & Answers section of your Google business profile — see our step-by-step Google My business guide).
Right now, including COVID-19 information to your brand communications can make a big difference. Add a dedicated section (or page) on your website that features the most in-demand details, such as where to get COVID-19 tests and vaccines in your area, and general information related to the pandemic. This strategy will give you a better chance to rise to the top of search rankings, which can increase web traffic and drive new patient volume.
Practice strategy: Use technology to communicate at scale.
Many healthcare practices are struggling with their administrative workload right now, maintaining practice operations while keeping up with the changing COVID-19 needs, including additional patient screenings and safety steps.
The best way to save time and reduce some of that daily work is to automate your communication, which also helps you reach the right patients at the right time. Your staff can deploy segmented email campaigns to send targeted messages to specific patient populations (such as those eligible for the vaccine or due for a routine checkup). Similarly, using automated text message reminders for appointments removes the manual task of making phone calls from overtaxed front office staff.
2. Communicate with patients who are hesitant or unsure about pandemic safety.
While we’d hoped COVID-19 would be behind us sooner in 2021, it’s looking unlikely as experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci suggest it may be 2022 before things get closer to “normal.” As such, patients continue to modify their personal habits due to the pandemic, including whether they’ll schedule or keep in-person appointments with their healthcare providers.
A December 2020 PatientPop survey indicated that at least 15 percent of patients are still hesitant to attend scheduled appointments due to COVID-19. This number is likely to fluctuate throughout the year, of course, as case volumes rise and fall.
That’s why, even one year into the pandemic, it’s important to implement COVID-19 communication strategies that can help reduce fear and anxiety, and remind patients it’s safe to maintain their healthcare appointments.
Practice strategy: Broadcast your safety protocols online.
By adding a dedicated section to your website that outlines your safety protocols, you’ll assuage fears for patients, and keep everyone informed of all you’re doing to keep them safe. Spell out the steps, including patient arrival procedures, cleaning protocols, and staff and patient screening.
To extend the reach of this information, link to this new page from the “COVID-19 information” listing in your Google business profile, as well as any blog posts, social media posts, and text message campaigns you may implement. Setting safety expectations for patients is one of the most valuable communication actions right now for reducing no-shows and influencing patients to schedule appointments.
Practice strategy: Push safety information out to your patients.
Just as your website informs incoming interest in your practice and services, an outgoing email campaign keeps current patients informed. Use your email messaging templates and functionality to set patient expectations, calm nerves, and reinforce your practice as a trusted source of information related to the pandemic. Let patients know when your staff have been vaccinated, remind them of safety protocols (both yours and theirs when visiting your practice), and keep them aware of local community COVID-19 metrics.
In part 2 of this topic, we specific ways you can win over patients by offering virtual care options and using in-demand technology tools that upgrade the patient experience.