Another year has gone by the books and 2017 is well underway.
Looking now in hindsight, what do you think of your 2016? Were you happy with your staff, your customer service, your patient retention? Do your patients seem satisfied when they walk into your exam room? How did you fare with respect to those two all-important metrics — return on investment and cost per patient acquisition? More on these later.
Your perception of your year is critical input to factor into your 2017 marketing plans. Metrics, of course will play a part, but don’t discount what your gut is telling you either. As you assemble your plan, put your action items through a reality check by thinking about them separately from the entire plan. Each element should make sense in its own right — achievable, affordable, reasonable, and whatever other adjectives you might add to this list.
Now let’s take an objective look at your other inputs that will lay the groundwork for your plan. In order to do this successfully, you will have had to accurately “source” your new patients. Knowing how each new person found you is invaluable in charting your course for the future. Here’s what your inputs list might look if you had a robust marketing program during the prior year; for other practices, use whichever of these you have available.
1. Customer Feedback
For an accurate starting point on crafting your plan, you must have input from your customers. Perhaps you conducted a formal survey, focus group or encouraged patients to rate you on sites like healthgrades.com. There are numerous inexpensive ways to get started with satisfaction surveys and these seem to be all the rage now. Take a look at surveymonkey.com if you have not yet begun your research; the site offers a wealth of online information to help you get started and is very inexpensive to use.
2. Employee Feedback
Do your employees seem to be performing well? Have you heard any patient or staff complaints about anyone in particular? Your observations about your employees, as well as any outside feedback you might receive, are invaluable in setting marketing goals for better training and more customer-focused service.
3. Outside Referrals
Outside referrals are the lifeblood, so to speak, of any medical practice’s growth and there are systematic ways to increase the number of your referrals. This writer has relied heavily on physician referrals not only for specialist treatments, but for primary care as well. Going the extra mile to get to know these referring physicians and request their referrals outright will go a long way in building up your practice.
4. Digital Profile
Take stock of your digital profile. How do you look on the online? Are you easily found by Googling your specialty and geographic location (page 1 and 2)? Do you have patient reviews online and are they positive? In formulating the details of your plan, see if your profile is complete and determine whether it needs improvement over the coming year.
5. Competitor Research
Are you up-to-date on your competitors and how they present themselves online? Are they emphasizing benefits that you also offer but haven’t promoted? Be sure to keep attuned to changes going on in the marketplace and rank any deficiencies high on your list of “must-haves” for your next plan.
6. Cost Per Patient Acquisition
This metric will help you assess what’s working and should be a part of your next marketing plan. Your cost per patient acquisition calculates how expensive it is to obtain a new patient — given that you have reliable information about the source of each new patient. If you find that an expensive advertisement or billboard is drawing few new patients, it may be time to discontinue this activity and look for something that works better for you.
7. Return on Investment (ROI)
Make sure that your marketing investments are working for you by calculating your ROI. Similar to the patient acquisition cost, this metric assesses how much you are getting — through new patients and expansion of business with current patients (if applicable) — in return for your spending in a given area.
Once you have gathered and analyzed your inputs, use them to craft a customized marketing plan for your practice. You have all the tools you need in front of you to assess what is working for you and what is lacking in your marketing profile. In assembling your marketing plan, try to be goal-oriented in your thinking and then develop your plan by identifying the strategies and tactics that will help get you there.
To take a simple example, one of your goals may be to attract new patients to your practice. You may have, say, three overarching goals that form the foundation of your plan. Next, you will develop strategies to accomplish these goals, following by the tactical steps you need to take to get you there. Here is how the goal of “attracting new patients” may play out in your marketing plan.
Goal: To attract new patients to my practice.
Strategy 1: Improve my digital presence online.
Tactic 1: Add a blog feature to my website and post useful content bi-monthly.
Tactic 2: Go through all of my online profiles (healthgrades.com, etc.) and ensure that they are complete.
Tactic 3: Compare my website to peers’ and make edits to ensure competitiveness.
Strategy 2: Improve staff/customer phone interactions.
Tactic 1: Create standardized phone greeting.
Tactic 2: Have all employees identify themselves to patients they are dealing with.
Tactic 3: Reduce wait times by having more assistance answering phones during peak periods.
Strategy 3: Increase patient convenience.
Tactic 1: Stay open late one night per week.
Tactic 2: Enable online appointment scheduling.
Tactic 3: Offer to reschedule patients if their doctor is delayed by more than one hour.
As you can see from this simple example, some of these strategies and individual tactics are fairly easy and inexpensive to implement; others will take a bit more resources and planning.
Your marketing plan should reflect your core beliefs and priorities as well as those of your current and potential customers. Rest assured that you can evaluate and change your plan often throughout the year, and feel confident that even baby steps forward will make a small difference to many and quite possibly, a huge difference to some.