The way in which patients choose their provider has changed forever. This post will discuss how your organization can leverage this change to positively impact hospital and practice volume.
1. Pro-actively manage your organizations relationship with your referral sources at the provider (not practice) level.
Just knowing which sources generate the most referrals for your organization is not enough in today’s world. Understanding what your current relationship is with each referral source involves much more than just the number of referrals. Most marketing efforts stop at gaining that first referral and stop there. Real profit potential is found in deepening relationships to gain loyalty and advocacy. If your objective is based strictly on patient volume you are likely missing opportunities to make stronger connections that will last longer and yield better ROI over the life of each relationship.
Try categorizing your referral sources based on metrics that you can trend over time such as number of overall referrals per month, complexity of the procedure, and DRG/ICD codes referred. You will very quickly gain insight regarding where opportunities lie and where you need to do a little work. For Instance; if the provider only refers low end procedures your strategy should focus on demonstrating outcomes for the high-end procedures. Similarly, if they tend to refer for 30% of the overall scope of services you provide you have an opportunity to introduce them to a broader scope of services. Trending these measures over time will help to proactively define appropriate tactics to deepen the relationship as changes begin to evolve — for better or worse. For instance, if the trend is downward your efforts should focus on “Re-Engage” tactics designed to determine if there is an issue with your organization and reinforce the advantages of continuing to refer.
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2. Re-think your website to conform to the interests of your patients and prospective patients.
Most websites were originally set up like a digital brochure. Websites were strictly a self-serving tool to tell our story. Patients have moved on. They have little patience with organizations that are more concerned about themselves versus providing information that is useful to their needs and interests. Your story is secondary. Effective websites in today’s world must be all about THEM.
If you have given your website a “fresh look” without considering why patients would come to your website in the first place you will likely lose their interest very quickly. Review the navigation of your website to ensure topics that address your prospective patient’s interests are easily found. Then review the content to ensure you are addressing all the decision points they will be checking off to determine if your organization and its services are a good match for their needs. Think through the decision process patients go through. What questions are they asking? What information should they know when making their decision? If your website does not have information that is designed with the user’s interest in mind they will quickly move on to one of your competitors who do. Think about what your website can provide that will cultivate trust in our organization as a useful resource first and create preference second. Re-structuring your website to feature content that is relevant to current and prospective patients also helps to qualify patients for more meaningful discussions when they are ready to make a decision.
3. Humanize your providers credentials
It’s academic. Provider CV’s are academic by nature and not written for public consumption. Consider “humanizing” provider credentials. Provide snippets of personal information; “Dr. Jones worked his way through medical school at University of Virginia by driving a truck. He completed a residency at Duke in cardiology after being inspired by his mother’s struggle with heart disease. You can find Dr. Jones at the local bait shop Saturday mornings on his way to his favorite fishing hole”.
Patients and referring physicians want to feel as though the person that will be taking care of them is someone that they can relate to—someone that understands them. Sure credentials are important, but present them in a way that is human not academic. Think through what will be important to patients, what information will resolve their concerns and make them feel good about choosing the provider. If you are effective you will also reap the benefit of word-of- mouth advertising since patients are sure to share the “inside information” they have learned.
Whenever possible include photos, and ideally a video of the provider talking about what is important to them, why they are in medicine, how they feel about treating patients and what makes their practice different. Ideally, a personal story about a patient that touched their life would make a powerful impact if it can be delivered from the heart.
4. Know what your patients think.
We sometimes forget that healthcare is –dare I say –a service industry. Patients chose a provider based on their perception that the care is better and they will be treated well. Believe it or not, it is a similar thought process when choosing a hair stylist or a restaurant—the stakes are just higher. Patients expect that they will be treated as-well-as they are in other venues. More importantly, word-of-mouth recommendation is critical in a world where social media is a daily activity.
Just a few years ago the old axiom “People will tell 3 to 5 people about a good experience and 10 to 15 about their bad experience” held true. Social media changed all of that. Today, at the push of a button people tell their entire network about their experience—about 75 people on average. Yet it doesn’t stop there. If the people in your patient’s network decide to “like” or “share”, the original message reaches even more potential patients.
Bottom-line, one of the best things you can do to improve patient count is to understand how your current patients think about you.
As with other service industries, long-term patient loyalty is no longer a given. Invest in a survey process to gain patient input. Before you do, ensure that you have a process in place to act on what you find. Your good intentions can misfire if patients feel as though you do not care about the concerns they have shared with you. A simple recognition of their concern is sometimes enough but action speaks louder than words.
5. Actively manage your reputation.
Just to build on #4 above, word of mouth has become a significant driver of provider choice. Whether you like it or not, your patients are sharing the results of your best and worst days — through social media and rating websites such as UComparehealth.com, HealthGrades.com, Vitals.com, and Yelp. Make it part of your everyday routine to do an internet search on your provider. At minimum, know which rating sites appear on the first page of your search and monitor them for patient comments. Understand the policies of those services. Most will permit you to comment. If possible, attempt appropriate service recovery to demonstrate your sincere commitment to patient satisfaction.
The way in which patients choose a provider has changed forever. The days of blindly following their provider’s recommendation are gone. People are validating the credentials of providers through your website and the opinion of others. To successfully compete it is critically important to take a hard look at ensuring your internet footprint is structured in a way that mirrors how prospects interact on the web. Remember, if you have not addressed this prerequisite, your strongest competitors likely have. Equally important, to assure success today, providers cannot take old loyalties for granted. To maintain market share and grow it is critical to monitor referral sources on multiple metrics —beyond volume— and pro-actively identify and address issues and opportunities.
Pete Sitter is the founder and principal of PSM (Pete Sitter Marketing). His 30 years’ experience is divided between work with consulting/advertising firms and executive positions with industry category leaders. PSM, is a concierge marketing firm that limits its client base to no more than six clients that are of interest. Marketing Strategy, Creative Services and Marketing Management is the primary focus of the firm.