It costs your hospital or practice about 5 times more to obtain a new patient than to keep an existing patient within your database. That’s why patient retention matters–the overall loss of a patient’s lifetime value is not something you want to give up.
So if you’re losing patients, you might be…well…losing patience. The good news is there’s something you can do to fight the trend. However, you must be willing and able to audit your current processes and find out what’s turning patients away, and be honest about why they might be seeking help elsewhere.
1. These Common Front Office Blunders
Most practices, group practices, and even hospitals don’t realize how much money is lost at the front desk. In our research, we’ve found that some practices have the potential to lose millions of dollars at the front desk. Some of this is thanks to the processes you may have (or not have) in place. But the bulk of the problem occurs when the front office staff is not properly trained in customer service.
Gone are the days when the front office staff were considered a primarily administrative part of our profession. In the modern days of patient experience, the front office experience is held to a higher standard. These mistakes, however, can get in the way:
Poor phone skills. If patients perceive your front desk staff as being rude, indifferent, or rushing through calls, they have the option to simply call someone else.
Long hold times. Putting someone on hold for 10 minutes is no longer acceptable practice. It’s a reflection of how you treat patients in the office, and some people will simply hang up if a hold is unexpected.
Confusion or misinformation. There are some questions your front office staff simply cannot answer, whether due to doctor-patient confidentiality or because a question required medical advice. However, your front office should be able to redirect the question properly and make sure patients feel able to get the answers they need.
Billing issues or inefficiencies. If a patient is overcharged, for example, or given misinformation about insurance coverage, they have plenty of reason to go elsewhere.
2. High Wait Times
The average wait time for patients in hospitals and practices in the US is just over 20 minutes. That means many patients are waiting even longer than this—and that’s a long time to go without anything happening to you (not to mention time spent waiting for testing, etc.). About 30% of patients say they have left a doctor’s appointment because of a particularly long wait.
Nurturing patient relationships is one of the easiest ways to ensure patient retention. You only need to ensure patients are able to recall your name when they need you.
You and your team should come up with an outreach strategy in order to show patients you care. That goes beyond simply sending out appointment reminders. The little gestures mean a lot, from calling to check up on how well a medication is working to asking whether a child is feeling better. Patients will remember that you took the time to ask.
A big part of maintaining a patient relationship also involves marketing. Build your brand through social media or use automated email campaigns to update previous patients so that they come back to your practice or hospital or recommend you to friends.
4. One Bad Patient Experience
One bad experience can ruin your chances of patient loyalty. There are some experiences you can’t bounce back from if a patient resolves never to return to your office. However, you may be able to learn from those patient experiences to prevent this from happening in the future.
Think of a time you’ve had a bad experience that kept you from going back to a restaurant or retail store. Maybe you ranted about the experience to friends who had a similar complaint. Or maybe you went online to find that lots of people had left reviews of a similar nature. When patient retention is low, you may be able to attribute it to a shared experience driving people away from your practice or hospital.
Check your online reviews to find out what people are saying about your practice. Better yet, automate reviews so that you can easily review feedback and respond if need be. Part of marketing any healthcare organization means being willing to change your processes to keep up with what patients want.
5. No Plan in Place to Ensure Patient Retention – and to Replace Those Who Do Leave
All in all, if you have no plan in place for patient retention, you can expect to run into trouble at some point. This should be part of your overall marketing plan. You cannot expect your patient volume to stay the same forever, but with a marketing plan in place, you won’t have to wait until your waiting room is empty before you do something about it.
Physicians ensure patient retention in their practices simply by being proactive. This means having a plan in place for staff training, process improvement, maintaining patient relationships, reviewing and responding to feedback, and much more.
Good doctors alone, no matter how competent or innovative, do not make a hospital or practice successful. Some level of marketing is always required. It may start with word-of-mouth, but eventually, you’ll need to expand your reach—and you might start to consider what medical marketing agencies have to offer.
The most successful practices and hospitals realize that good marketing requires investment. It’s up to you whether you want to use this investment on agency experience or attempt to handle everything in-house.
Medical Marketing Agencies vs. In-House Hires: Questions to Ask First
Investing in marketing is a major decision. Maybe you work at a practice that’s put very little into marketing aside from some fliers and online listings. Or, perhaps your organization is like many hospitals and practices realizing their budgets must shift from primarily traditional media to an emphasis on digital advertising.
Eventually, you may need some help in this department from someone who can commit their time to your marketing. With so many medical marketing agencies vying for your attention, it can be a tough decision. You may be hoping to hire in-house instead. Whatever you decide, it’s crucial that you ask yourself these questions first and foremost.
1. Do you know your long-term goals?
What do you hope to accomplish in the next year? What about the next 5 or 10 years? Before you hire an outside agency, you should have a grasp on what you and your team aim to achieve and how you plan to grow or maintain patient volume. Hoping to increase growth by 15%? See 5 more patients a day? Promote an underutilized service line? This plan can be conceived with the help of an in-house marketing team or committee.
Not sure if you can maintain a higher patient volume? If your goal is to keep your patient volume relatively the same, you should still have a marketing plan in place. You don’t want to wait until your waiting room is empty before you do something about it!
Implementing those goals, however, may be better left in the hands of an agency. Getting a solid grasp on your plan can help your prospective marketing company guide you in the right direction of which steps to take first to accomplish it.
2. Do you already have a marketing specialist in-house?
An in-house marketing specialist offers so many benefits. We’re willing to admit this, even as a medical marketing agency. This person is intimately familiar with your branding and the everyday occurrences around the office. Their attention is in no way divided amongst priorities, and they can act quickly on last-minute projects and corrections.
The right marketing professional can truly serve as the cornerstone of your marketing plan as long as you hire wisely. Still, you cannot expect this person to build your brand, increase profits, and drive success all on their own.
A single marketing specialist simply cannot specialize in everything related to marketing. Just as there are specialists in medical fields, medical marketing agencies have specialties in all areas.
Digital advertising specialists (PPC & Display ads)
Social media specialists
Search engine optimization (SEO) specialists
Media buying specialists
Can one person really take on all of this? If you can afford to hire an in-house marketing specialist, go for it. However, this person should work alongside your healthcare marketing company for the best results—and for the best cost benefit.
3. Are you hoping to cut back on costs?
We hear a lot of people say they would rather save money with an in-house marketing specialist than work with an agency. A single marketing professional will likely result in an incomplete marketing plan and execution since one person simply cannot do it all. Most importantly, in our experience, it costs more to hire an in-house marketing specialist alone.
If you’d like to take advantage of premium tools for marketing—everything from Photoshop to InDesign to an email marketing automation system—you have to pay for it. This is on top of the salary and benefits for your in-house team or person. Medical marketing agencies already pay for these tools, cutting the cost for you.
All in all, you may simply need a change in thinking. No matter what, marketing is an investment. Whether you work with an agency or hire an in-house specialist, you will have to pay in to see that return on investment. Quality marketing can give you a 3:1 to 5:1 return…it all depends on what you’re willing to put in.
4. Do you want to stay involved with your marketing?
Keeping involved with various components of marketing is a priority for many doctors and hospital executives. However, choosing an outside agency does not mean you are left out of decisions about your marketing.
The right agency will keep you involved with your marketing with weekly meetings, emails, and regular calls as needed. An in-house specialist is able to serve as a point of contact with the agency, as well as planning aspects like events that can be coordinated with the marketing team.
5. Have you done your research?
Before committing to any decision—medical marketing agencies and in-house hires included—you have to do your research. Hiring a web designer doesn’t mean your digital marketing is covered. You need to assemble a team of specialists to get the most out of each subset of skills.
When considering different medical marketing agencies, it’s time to look at niche marketing experience and healthcare-specific know-how. Has this team marketed to your specialty before? Are they willing to take the time to learn your brand, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all solution? Can they verify the success of your marketing campaigns with data?
Whatever you choose, make sure you’ve taken time to learn your options and form a strong team that keeps your best interest in mind.
Mobile is taking over the world. There’s no way around it. When you have a personal assistant in your pocket every day, why would you perform searches primarily on a desktop computer? As user behavior changes, the future of mobile advertising is changing as well. Hospitals and practices must keep up if they want to stay ahead.
If you don’t have some sort of mobile presence, you are missing out on opportunities to win patients and build your brand. And many doctors who think they have a mobile presence actually don’t. On one of our recent visits to Google headquarters in Silicon Valley, we had the chance to speak about how mobile advertising is changing the game in healthcare.
Mobile Advertising: How Mobile Is Taking Over Healthcare Advertising - YouTube
Research shows that about 60% of all online searches are now done on mobile. In our time marketing for hospitals and practices across the country, we’ve seen this trend grow more and more each year. In fact, we’ve done our own research and found that, for our clients, mobile represents…
63% of our overall impressions.
71% of our total clicks.
67% of our inbound calls.
The majority of impressions, clicks, and calls coming from online sources are mobile. And this number will only get higher. As the future of mobile advertising continues to move this way, we do everything we can to ensure client sites are optimized for mobile, and you should too. If you aren’t reaching prospective patients in the right place, at the right time, with the right keywords, and on the right devices, you don’t have a chance.
Two Things that Kill Mobile Healthcare Campaigns
Success in mobile advertising with healthcare campaigns requires more than simply running an ad. You have to clean house first and foremost to ensure your advertising will actually be effective. There are two things that can quickly kill a mobile campaign.
The first is slow speed. This can be brutal for a mobile campaign. If it takes 5 seconds to load your page, people will lose patience. As small a detail as it may seem, people are far less willing to put up with slow load times than they were 5 or 10 years ago.
The second issue is a lack of mobile optimization. When you collapse your website from a desktop computer, are parts of your website missing? Do some items squish down so tiny you can’t even see them? That’s what users are seeing on their mobile devices. Today, websites should be responsive, meaning they are optimized for any size device.
A responsive medical website design.
Questions to Ask about Your Mobile Strategy
The future of mobile advertising is evolving. You have to ask yourself tough questions about your mobile-readiness if you want to keep up.
Is your website fully responsive?
Is it user-friendly?
Does it load quickly?
Does the content follow natural eye movement?
Are there clear CTAs (calls to action) near the top of the page?
Is it a confusing experience in any way?
Do the colors work well?
However, there are many questions you won’t be able to answer by simply looking at your page. In our research, we have found that even small details, like the color of the button for your CTA, matters. That’s why it’s helpful to have a team of marketers to help you along your mobile-ready journey.
Get Mobile-Ready First and Foremost
We always recommend that hospitals and practices focus on their mobile readiness before moving on with their digital advertising campaigns. Otherwise, it’s a lot like revision surgery. If it’s not done right the first time, you’ll have to go back and spend more money later on.
We’ve seen extensive research on the role of mobile in search, but we also know about the mobile experience from our own behavior. Here’s an example: my mother recently fell and broke her hip. (It happens!) After her surgery, the doctor handed me a list of skilled nursing facilities. But a referral alone wasn’t enough for me. As a digital savvy person armed with a smartphone, I went through and looked up each facility on Google before selecting the right one.
I often marvel at my own user behavior on my smartphone because I’m really practicing what I preach. Throughout the day, I only have a few moments available to search, and I’ll likely choose products or services that respect those time constraints. All in all, your mobile campaign has to reach busy people as quickly as possible if you expect to gain them as patients.
When Dr. Tim Gray started Mountain View Medical Center in 1990, he was committed to providing first-rate medical care. Patients trusted Dr. Gray and his team to prioritize their health—but patient waiting times were rarely a topic of discussion.
Then, Dr. Gray received a compliment that was a bit of a double-edged sword: “Appointments here are like fine dining. It takes forever to get a table, but the food is amazing.” Yikes.
When David Swartout, Director of Operations at Mountain View Medical Center, first entered the practice 10 years ago, he knew something needed to be done. “I had a feeling some processes could be improved,” says Swartout, “but we needed the data to back it up.” Armed with a background in intelligent supply chains (using data to improve processes within an organization), he set out to do what few practices have done before in regards to patient waiting times: remove the non-value add time out of clinic workflows. Today, patients are seen in just over 2 minutes on average, and the level of care has never suffered as a result.
Swartout set out to audit the processes in place at Mountain View Medical Center and see how the team could reduce patient waiting times. The practice enlisted the help of nearby Pacific University, which offers a Master of Healthcare Administration program full of students looking for relevant clinical experience.
MVMC hired a student to study the patient lifecycle while in the clinic. “This student literally sat in the waiting room with a stopwatch timing how long it took to complete the check-in process.” In addition, the student diligently followed around hundreds of patients to gather data about what went on from the moment they walked through the doors. How long did it take, for example, for a patient to enter an exam room? To see a nurse? To see a doctor? To get an x-ray? She discovered that patients were waiting an average of 15 minutes and 20 seconds, basically sitting by themselves, before anything really happened.
Unsurprisingly, patients could spend well over an hour at Mountain View Medical Center, and modern patients have little tolerance for high waiting times. “So, we tore apart our workflow,” says Swartout, “auditing each and every process to see if it was really necessary, or if anything should be completed in a different order. It was a real team effort.” For example, the team focused on:
Patient check-in forms
Tweaking the scheduling system
Reordering certain processes
Restructuring the lab
Changing the process of assigning patients to exam rooms
Changing the order in which doctors saw patients
Making small changes—like ensuring patients never felt lost in the office
MVMC even did some internal construction, tearing out a couple of walls and moving one of the nurse stations, all in an effort to improve patient workflow. In fact, Swartout’s office is part of the old waiting room! (They realized they were no longer using 1/3 of the space).
The Results: Lower Patient Waiting Times and High-Quality Service
After 9 months of restructuring processes, the doctors heard another unexpected “compliment” from a patient: “I’m so sorry to see you’re closing your doors. There’s never anyone in the waiting room anymore.”
The MVMC team was thrilled to hear this.
It had, in fact, been one of the practice’s busiest days, and the reason there was no one in the waiting room was that patients no longer had to wait.
In the past, patients waited an average of 15 minutes and 20 seconds. Nine months later, patients were seen in just over 2 minutes––and this is still true today. In fact, they rarely have a chance to sit down. “Patients bring along books to pass the time, and they’re surprised when a doctor enters right as they open the cover,” says Swartout. “The doctors often joke, ‘I can come back later if you want!’”
On their busiest day, Mountain View Medical Center might see 100+ patients, but they are always focused on the patient’s needs, first and foremost. They still get seen on time and receive the quality of care they’ve come to expect.
Sustaining the Progress They’ve Worked For
Years ago, Dr. Gray and his team were excited to see 20 patients a month. Now, they’re en route to see 300 patients a month.
Swartout credits a lot of the continuing success of Mountain View Medical Center to the marketing efforts of Healthcare Success, as well as the continuous checkups his team makes to ensure processes run smoothly. Staff members are often assigned to “be a patient” for the day, walking through the process for themselves to recognize inefficiencies. Mountain View also frequently consults its PFAC (Patient and Family Advisory Council), which is made up of a diverse group of skeptics and supporters.
Another way Mountain View manages high patient intake numbers is with their “$100-for-100” program. This began during the early stages of Mountain View’s transformation when new patient numbers were hovering around 85 a month. The staff felt that new patient intakes were a lot of work. “So we offered the staff a crispy $100 bill when monthly new patient intakes reached 100,” Swartout says. The staff ran with the challenge, and the team will begin the “$300-for-300” this year.
“Moving from 100 to 300 new patients a month,” says Swartout, “is like drinking from the firehose. It may work for a while before things slowly start to unravel.” It takes teamwork and vigilance to maintain a steady intake system and ensure everything continues to run smoothly. But it can be done.
A solid digital marketing strategy involves several components, but paid digital advertising is the most direct route to your bottom line. I’ll put it this way: you can pray for clicks with search engine optimization (SEO), using the proper keywords and hoping it gets you to the top of Google’s results pages–or you can pay for clicks and see results. That’s where medical PPC (also known as pay-per-click or paid digital advertising) comes in.
There are two primary ways to run an effective medical PPC campaign: paid search and display advertising. Paid search puts your name at the top of Google’s search results, while display ads are a bit more passive but can significantly build your brand. So how do you know which strategy to focus on? Google invited us to discuss this topic at their headquarters in Silicon Valley. Check it out below, or keep reading.
Search vs. Display Ads for PPC in Healthcare Advertising - YouTube
The Difference Between Paid Search and Display Advertising
Pay-per-click advertising allows you to target certain keywords and get your site within the top 3 or 4 results on the search engine results page (the SERP). The only thing clearly distinguishing your paid search advertisement from organic listings is one small word–“ad”–off to the side (which some searchers may not even notice).
The SERPs are what we would call the “low-hanging fruit.” People are actively searching for a service like “knee surgery in Atlanta” or “Los Angeles cosmetic dentist,” so you reach the people ready to interact with your site and possibly become a patient.
Display advertisements are a lot more passive. These are the advertisements that show up at the top of a website (banner ads) or off to the side–results that may or may not have to do with the website you’re looking at. You can see these while reading blogs, articles, or browsing your favorite websites. Typically, you’re seeing the ad because it is relevant to the content on the page or based on your past behavior.
Display advertising builds your brand. I like to say it “stains the brain,” helping others to recall your brand when they need you. Someone might be searching symptoms on WebMD, browsing the New York Times website, or even just watching a YouTube video, when they notice your image or video advertisement.
Remarketing through display advertising keeps your brand fresh in someone’s mind, even when browsing the Weather Channel.
Display advertising allows you to target people based on user behavior or the content they are currently browsing. While they may not currently be searching for your brand, display ads allow prospective patients familiarity with your name before they’re ready to make a decision. They may be researching procedures. When they are ready to find a doctor in your area, you’ve already planted that seed so they can recall your name.
Targeted Medical PPC through Paid Search
Paid search is a lot more intent-based, putting results at the top of the page. For example, this keyword search for “knee surgery in Atlanta” includes 3 local orthopedic surgeons at the top of the results, above Yelp, thanks to paid advertising.
You might believe that people have a tendency to skip over these ads. Yes, some people skip over the paid results, but others don’t even realize they are paid results. Some searchers may even prefer the paid ads when they are ready to buy because it shows you are actively looking for patients.
We know for a fact that people do click on paid advertisements based on data and recorded phone calls linked directly to these local ads. Paid search is a way to profitably, predictably, and passively generate patients quickly, bringing your results to the top of Google and targeting the right people at the right time.
So Which Paid Healthcare Search Strategy Is Best?
So why would you choose display advertising over paid search? Here’s the thing: digital advertising isn’t just about your display ads, search ads, or YouTube campaigns. You should use them all together as part of a solid medical PPC strategy for best results.
If you’re already doing paid advertising within the search results, you can layer this with image or video ads that go across various platforms. Search advertisements are a way to reach those who are actively searching, but display ads bring online synergy between all your advertisements.
Most of a searcher’s time is spent passively searching and browsing webpages, so display ads allow you lead prospective patients to click on your ad now, or come back to you later when they’re ready to find a doctor.
The journey to your site is often more complex than a single search or a single click. With a thorough digital advertising campaign, your pay-per-click works together to reach the same person across multiple devices, whether they’re reading articles or blogs or watching videos. When they are ready to take action and conduct that final keyword search to locate doctors they can trust, a searcher may be more likely to become a patient.
People can say almost whatever they want about your practice online. It may seem like a difficult task, but working to and earn more positive online doctor reviews (and counteract the negative) is worth it–if you hope to grow your practice and keep people coming back time and time again.
Having positive reviews to showcase online is more important (for doctors’ offices of all kinds) than ever before. You need a solid strategy for earning positive online doctor reviews, but once you have that in place, you can improve your practice in more ways than one.
1. Improve your practice by focusing on what patients want
The landscape of healthcare is drastically changing. No longer do patients choose a doctor based on their location–they expect a visit to the doctor’s office to be more like a customer service experience. Every patient has a list of priorities they want from a local healthcare professional, and they expect their chosen practice to check off the boxes.
So what do patients want?
We all speculate about what patients want, but in the end, it’s better to hear about it directly from the source. Online doctor reviews offer insight into what patients prioritize the most, so you can focus on transforming processes to meet patient expectations.
Has it been a while since you’ve looked at your doctor ratings online? From now on, make an effort to keep a list of things your patients seem to care most about most, and start planning to audit processes and improve upon patient complaints.
We’ve seen too many practices make the mistake of dismissing negative reviews as a one-off instead of working towards a better patient experience.
2. Strengthen the patient-physician relationship by responding positively
When you see a negative online review from a patient, what do you do first? Too many practices simply write off that patient and think, “Good riddance.” But shouldn’t you make an effort to learn from your patients and shift towards a better experience for everyone?
It is no small matter to make a patient feel like experiences matter. Responding to your reviews in a HIPAA-compliant way, without referencing any patient details online, can help strengthen the patient-physician relationship. Prospective patients see that you are committed to improving the patient experience, and you may even win patients back. Here’s how to do it right:
Thank the patient for their feedback. Keep it simple. Do not disclose any PHI, including acknowledging that the reviewer is currently, or ever was, a patient.
Provide the patient with a way to contact you offline.
Respond with a pre-approved message. You and your team can come up with several pre-approved responses that address patient concerns and detail ways you are working to improve a problem.
Respond personally whenever possible. Whenever possible, you should attempt to respond personally to resolve a patient’s issues. If there was an error in billing, connect them with the right person to correct the error. If there was a high wait-time, let them know if plans are underway to update systems for faster appointments.
With the right response, people will appreciate that you took the time. Others might notice your quick response to a negative review, and the reviewer may take the time to update their negative review to reflect a positive experience.
3. Boost your rankings in search
A study by Moz found online reviews to be one of the top 7 local search ranking factors in 2017. In other words, reviews can make or break the ranking of your practice in local search results.
There are several ways reviews can boost your presence in Google and other search engine results:
Adding reviews is a way to continuously generate fresh content to your website, something the search engines are looking for.
Reviews encourage patient interaction with your site.
People are more likely to click through to sites with high ratings.
That’s a huge deal. It means patients are willing to believe the positive (or the negative) reviews on your site, and that they enter your practice with a set of expectations.
This can only be a good thing. When your site features mostly positive reviews, patients come into your practice with a positive attitude and outlook. This serves to strengthen the patient-physician relationship before you even interact face-to-face.
5. Build your brand by asking the right patients for reviews (at the right time)
Positive online doctor reviews can help to build up your brand. Locals may start to see you as an authority in your field. You can build up enough positive reviews to counteract the negative reviews you receive on various review sites. But you have to seek out these reviews at the right time.
Asking for online doctor reviews at the right time
The best way to reach the right people at the right time for a positive review is to send out requests for reviews through an automated system.
An automated review system puts control in your hands. Patients first fill out a questionnaire in the office about their experiences, which includes a scoring system with a scale of 1-10. Patients who score your services between 7 and 10 receive a follow-up email requesting a review on your site (and encouraging reviews on sites like Yelp).
Lower scores can trigger an email response as well, but this looks a bit different. A follow-up email can ask a patient what could have been done differently so that you can better serve future patients. This patient may or may not return, but they will be less likely to give your practice a negative online review online when you are in communication.
Google may be the number one search engine in the world, but it also owns the second-largest search engine on the web: YouTube. Despite its ever-growing presence and 30 million daily users, few hospitals and practices include YouTube as part of their healthcare advertising strategies. There are two ways to take advantage of YouTube to reach more patients in your area:
Building a YouTube channel to bring awareness to your brand.
Advertising through related videos and channels.
We recently met up with our contact at Google Headquarters in the Silicon Valley to talk about why YouTube should be a part of your healthcare advertising plan. Check it out!
Making YouTube Part of Your Healthcare Advertising Strategy - YouTube
Of course, any content you put out on a social platform like YouTube must be HIPAA compliant and should be relevant to users’ interests. So what are prospective patients looking for when they stumble across a healthcare-related YouTube channel?
Many are simply curious about what the doctor looks like or want to take a peek inside the facilities. You can use YouTube to increase brand visibility and help people to see that you and your staff are affable and available.
People from all over the world may land on your YouTube channel when researching a surgery or procedure to see what’s involved or to see before-and-after photos. This type of content requires patient consent, but it helps boost your reputation as an authority in your field.
There are several key ways you benefit from developing a channel with your hospital or practice’s brand in mind.
Google owns YouTube, so relevant, informative YouTube results get high priority in the search engines for many key terms.
YouTube reaches more 18-49 year-olds than cable, so you’re able to reach out to prospective patients on a platform they actively engage with.
Your YouTube channel becomes a convenient place to steer patients when they have questions about your office or services.
YouTube Advertising for Medical Practices
Building a YouTube channel that’s regularly updated can help to get your name out there, but this isn’t for everyone. Besides, you cannot rely on organic YouTube traffic alone to advertise a hospital or practice. YouTube users may not be actively searching for your location: very few people would ever use YouTube as a primary search engine to find local medical practices, after all.
However, prospective patients in your area may be looking at stories of people who share their symptoms online. They might be looking up their symptoms, or searching for treatment options that other YouTubers have discussed in detail already.
Anyone who has watched a YouTube video knows to expect a short advertisement before they can move on with the selected video. There are two main forms this advertisement may take on:
TrueView video ad – The viewer is given the option to skip over a longer ad after about 5 seconds. You only pay for the advertisement if the viewer watches 30 seconds of your video (or less for shorter advertisements).
Bumper ad – This advertisement is only 6 seconds or less, with a short, memorable message viewers cannot skip over. You pay for each view the advertisement receives.
Either ad is useful in getting your message, logo, and branding in the mind of a prospective patient in your area. With TrueView ads, you can still get your brand out there–anything they watch over 5 seconds of your video is just gravy on top.
YouTube advertising, like Pay-Per-Click advertising, allows you to focus on the locations you choose to target. You can also handpick channels or types of content you would like to pair your advertisement with, or advertise based on user behavior.
YouTube Advertising Ideas that Go Beyond Healthcare Strategy
YouTube advertising allows practices and hospitals to reach out beyond only those people actively searching for your services or expertise. One recent YouTube advertising campaign we’re really proud of happened during this year’s Winter Olympics. We chose to advertise only on Olympics-related content to reach people who may be sports enthusiasts or Weekend Warriors–anyone who might require help with a sports injury.
Advertising on YouTube is not always simple. The important thing is that your channel and your YouTube advertisements are strategically planned.
This means handpicking the content that is best for your business. It means giving people the option to watch something–or to view an image, or read your messaging instead. Video is gaining huge traction in advertising today, and you can reach a much wider audience when you take advantage of it–and do it right. But it’s only part of your overall healthcare advertising strategy. Moving forward, YouTube should be a channel in any successful healthcare advertising strategy, as long as you take the time to use it the right way.
Patients have more options than ever before. With so much information available online, they no longer feel the need to visit the hospital or practice closest to their location. That’s why it’s so important to have a planned, budgeted healthcare marketing strategy to reach new and returning patients in your area at the right time.
Even if you’re happy with your current patient volume, that doesn’t mean you can go without a planned medical marketing strategy to keep your brand at the forefront of people’s minds. Think of all the reasons someone might decide to switch healthcare providers: a change in insurance, relocation, dissatisfaction with wait times, or just one negative experience. You are not guaranteed to keep up your patient volume forever.
Planning Your Healthcare Marketing Strategy
Doctors tell patients all the time that an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure. It’s better to have a strategy in place now than to wait until you find out your patient database is nearly empty.
A healthcare marketing strategy is an investment. You may have to hire outside help and plan for a larger budget than you have in the past. But in the end, it’s worth it for that peace of mind–and to see your patient volume grow faster than ever before! To help you along, we provided our top 15 items to include with any well-planned healthcare marketing strategy.
You might feel confident your expertise sets you apart from other practices or hospitals. But let’s face it–to a patient, one white coat looks just like the next.
You need to figure out what your brand us all about. What’s unique about your hospital or practice? Is it the way you treat patients? Your family-friendly office? A spa-like environment? There is at least one thing that makes your team unique, and that’s what helps patients remember your name.
It may take time to figure out what works for your brand. But eventually, your healthcare marketing strategy comes together smoothly because you learn how best to represent your brand with any marketing materials.
2. Evaluate the online patient experience
A decade ago, simply having a website was enough to impress prospective patients and help them find your brand. But now, a website is healthcare’s new front door. It’s the first thing patients often see, and if it’s not optimized for user experience, it may also be the last time a person considers your hospital or practice.
Put yourself in a patient’s shoes. If someone were to land on any page of your site, would they know your location and primary services in about 5-10 seconds? Would they be able to contact the right person quickly? Does the imagery and wording represent your average patient?
User experience is an important consideration in website design. But sometimes, designers are so focused on making the website look good, they forget to focus on the patient experience. We often find that websites need to be completely redone. However, it might help to make small changes, like positioning the “Contact Us” form higher up on the page.
3. Build a responsive website
A responsive website is one that automatically adjusts to the size of a screen, so the experience is the same whether the site is accessed on a computer, tablet, or mobile device. It’s the norm in website design today–but more than that, it’s something the search engines are looking for when crawling your website to determine where you rank.
Google cares about the user experience, and it will prioritize competitors who have a site optimized for mobile. In general, responsive sites work best for the mobile experience. But even if you currently have a responsive site, you should check that the content and imagery continues to load properly on mobile devices.
4. Test site speeds
Marketers who study user behaviors online have proven that patients today are less willing to put up with slow loading times than ever before. It only takes 5 seconds to lose a prospective patient who decides to navigate elsewhere thanks to your slow site.
In fact, it’s another user experience issue that may cause your medical website to fall in the search engine results. You can test your site speed at Google’s PageSpeed Insights here. If load times are slow, speak to your web developer about ways to speed it up.
5. Optimize for the search engines
Search engine optimization is a powerful tool for getting your practice or hospital to the top of the search engines. However, it’s a lot more complex than most people realize. You cannot simply use the term “optometry practice” 100 times throughout your website and hope to rank number one on Google among optometrists in your area.
A large part of SEO involves using the right keywords so that Google can crawl your site and make sure you rank for the proper terms. But it also means using those terms naturally throughout your content, as Google cares about readability first and foremost. And this is only the beginning of best practices for SEO, which also include:
Having links pointing back to each page on your site.
Pay-per-click advertisements appear first in the search results.
Search engine optimization is an organic way to make a practice or hospital more visible online. However, even if your site ranks number one for a search term like “dentist in Tulsa,” there are still 3 or 4 paid advertisements above that number one search that people will see first.
These are pay-per-click advertisements, paid advertisements that are laser-targeted to appear first for a set of search terms. With pay-per-click advertising (also known as PPC or paid search), you can manage your budget and decide what you’d be willing to spend to keep your site visible at the top of the search engines. Your return on investment is clear and defined with both PPC ads and display ads that appear on the sidebar or top of other websites.
7. Leverage social media (the right way)
Too many hospitals and practices rely on organic social media for a large part of their digital healthcare marketing strategies. Organic social media means posting photos, updates, events, and more directly to the Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ platform, and it’s a valid strategy to build your brand and let patients know what’s new.
However, it shouldn’t be your only social strategy. Paid advertising on social media is a better way to reach the right people who may be looking for your services—even if you’re not already connected. Let’s face it: few people share posts from local healthcare organizations online unless they are already engaged with that group, or better yet, employed by it.
Paid social media is about more than pressing the “Boost Post” button that appears when you post from your business page. Like PPC and display advertising, it involves strategizing and budgeting to target the audience you want.
8. Ask for reviews
Typically, patients only leave reviews when they are motivated to do so, or if they had an above average (or extremely poor) experience. Unless you ask for reviews, you miss an opportunity to feature positive feedback from patients who were satisfied with their visit. This might be difficult for your front office staff to do–and they should not be required to evaluate each patient’s level of satisfaction as they walk out the door.
That’s why we recommend automated reviews as part of any hospital or practice healthcare marketing strategy. Here’s a brief overview of automated reviews: patients use a computer or tablet at the office to rate the quality of service they received on a scale of 1-10. High scores automate a follow-up email asking the patient to leave a review on their site. Those positive reviews show up directly on your website and can potentially counteract any negative reviews left elsewhere online.
Poor scores allow the practice or hospital a chance to ask the patient to elaborate and, hopefully, reach out and resolve the issue.
9. Follow up with patient feedback
You can’t help it when patients have a poor opinion of your practice and leave reviews on outside sites such as Yelp. What you can do, however, is follow up with any patient feedback and show that you are working on the problem. Sites like Yelp allow you to respond to patient feedback directly. With the right follow-up, patients may be motivated to update their review to let others know the problem was resolved in a timely fashion.
Reputation management should be part of any healthcare marketing strategy, but this doesn’t mean you should get defensive about negative reviews. It means upgrading processes and equipment and ensuring the best possible patient experience moving forward based on prior patient feedback.
10. Look into traditional media options
Many hospitals, groups, and practices are afraid to invest in external media opportunities: traditional advertising sources like radio, television, billboards, and newspapers. It’s a major investment, and you have to be careful about where you spend your money to see the best results.
Having a trustworthy media buyer to make these decisions for you is the best way to make sure your advertisements get seen by the right people at the right time. A billboard in the middle of nowhere does little to bring in patients, but a television advertisement that runs on a channel with demographics that represent your average patient can do wonders for your ROI.
11. Build doctor referrals
How does your practice reach potential referring doctors? If you’re not using a physician liaison, you’re not getting what you need. Too many practices and specialty groups trust the front desk to reach out to doctors who may choose to refer their practice–but the front desk simply does not have the time to commit to this!
Doctor referrals are some of your best organic strategies for bringing in new patients. Your physician liaison should be visiting hospitals and practices every day, scheduling lunches with potential referral bases, and keeping in touch with potential sources.
Though it may not compare to digital advertising, word-of-mouth referrals should always be part of your overall healthcare marketing strategy.
Follow up with patients after an appointment or procedure to see how they’re doing. Ask about their families, or send out birthday cards with a personalized touch. Send emails and mail reminders for follow-up appointments, and do whatever you can to maintain a relationship. Patients will always appreciate that you took the time and may make a point to recommend you to friends and family.
13. Become an authority in your field
Prospective patients remember you when you establish yourself as an authority in your medical specialty. Your PR (public relations) strategy should involve reaching out to the appropriate media outlet when you have something to share–it’s free advertising for your brand!
Stay up-to-date with your industry through LinkedIn groups and other online forums. Consider following sites like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to learn about interview opportunities. Submit press releases from time to time–and consider hiring outside help to boost your visibility.
14. Track your strategy
You should continuously monitor how your medical marketing strategy pays off in terms of ROI. Each year, your healthcare marketing budget should adjust in terms of what you want to focus on this year, based on a careful study of your metrics so far. There are many ways to do this:
Use a CRM (customer relationship management system) like HubSpot to track how patients engage with your campaigns via email or targeted landing pages.
Use Google Analytics to find out what terms you rank for in the search engines, and which terms you’re missing out on.
Track your pay-per-click campaigns by setting up Google AdWords.
Use a HIPAA compliant phone tracking system to see how paid advertising is paying off and to monitor your front desk.
15. Audit your front desk
You can have the best healthcare marketing strategy of anyone in your area…but if your front desk staff cannot handle calls properly, you lose money and opportunities. An audit of your front desk may reveal any of the following:
Long hold times
Confusion or misinformation
A slow scheduling system
An inability on the part of your staff to “sell” your services
No strategy in place to get patients to book an appointment
We strongly believe that no healthcare marketing strategy is complete if you don’t take the time to train the front office staff properly!
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is happily married and a "rock-n-roll daddy" to two wonderful girls.
Medicare influences most of the healthcare decisions of patients 65 and up. Unfortunately, original Medicare can have gaps in coverage that steer people away from making the right decisions for their health.
That’s why millions of people choose a private Medicare Advantage plan as their 65th birthday approaches or during the Annual Election Period (also known as AEP or open enrollment)—to fill in those gaps and prevent a major procedure from leading to bankruptcy. A Medicare Advantage marketing plan allows you to reach patients at all stages of the process, but it can be tricky to do effectively and ethically.
Our premiere healthcare marketing agency partners with Medicare Advantage Plan sponsors to help hospitals and practices get more patients. Learn how the right strategy can benefit hospitals and practices of all sizes, and contact our team at 800-656-0907 if you need help.
About Medicare Advantage plans
When patients turn 65, they have a 7-month period—three months before, during and after their birth month—to select a Medicare plan. Typically, patients consider Medicare Advantage after realizing the out-of-pocket expense involved with original Medicare, which can leave patients responsible for 20% of the cost of some services with no limit on out-of-pocket expenses.
Medicare Advantage is a private plan that fills many of the gaps in coverage of traditional Medicare. With Medicare Advantage (also known as Part C coverage), patients are still covered by Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance), but with additional benefits original Medicare won’t cover. Out-of-pocket fees are limited annually, so patients don’t have to worry about the high cost of some procedures.
Why you want more Medicare Advantage patients
But why would hospitals, medical groups, IPAs, and practices need a Medicare Advantage marketing plan?
Attract more seniors who need primary care or specialty care. Advantage HMO plans control large numbers of seniors in your area. Primary care practitioners receive predictable capitated payments for large numbers of patients, while specialists can gain new access to thousands of potential patients.
Retain patients. You can avoid losing your patients when they turn 65 by participating in the best Medicare Advantage plans, and making sure that your patients are aware they have options.
Point patients to better plans. We all want patients to get the coverage they need. On the wrong plan, patients may end up refusing treatment or seeking alternative treatments to avoid paying tens of thousands of dollars, but Medicare Advantage helps them avoid this.
Give patients who ask about Medicare a safe place to go. During open enrollment and leading up to a 65th birthday, people are bombarded with offers from competing plans and providers. Help give them the information they need to make an informed decision.
Events promoting a particular plan must be properly labeled as sales/marketing events rather than educational events.
Sponsors cannot promote plans in healthcare settings unless it’s a shared space (like an entryway or conference room).
Providers themselves must remain neutral when discussing plan options with patients.
These may seem limiting, but there are still plenty of ways to reach patients with properly planned events, seminars, mailers, and online content—IF you follow compliance guidelines.
Medicare Advantage Marketing to current patients
Providers do need to remain neutral about most aspects of choosing a Medicare plan. Still, you can and should keep patients informed of all their options and ensure they are able to make the right decisions for their health. There are plenty of ways to reach out to patients who may be considering a Medicare Advantage plan:
Targeted mail and emails for patients 65+
Reminders for current patients during open enrollment
Informational blogs and social media posts
Posters in your office
Referring patients to an informational page on your website with a lead capture
Partnering with a plan sponsor to hold events outside of your office or in common entryways, providing educational or promotional materials
Marketing Medicare Advantage to prospective new patients as they turn 65
Reaching out to prospective patients can be a little tricky, as they receive so many informational brochures, mailers, and emails during open enrollment and when they turn 65. With the right plan in place, though, you can reach future patients through…
Mailers to people turning 65
Retargeting and pay-per-click ads
Facebook and other social media ads
Remember, many seniors have family members making their healthcare decisions, so don’t rule out digital and social media advertising as a way to reach those decision-makers!
Marketing to new patients during the Annual Election Period (AEP)
Patients have the option to switch their plans during the Annual Election Period every year. That’s when you can reach out to all seniors in your area who may be reconsidering their Medicare plans via…
Broadcast TV and radio
Pay-per-click and display ads online
It’s certainly useful to have information available on your website or on-site to help patients make the right decision and to bring more Medicare Advantage Plan patients to your door. But how can you make sure you’re doing this both ethically and effectively?
Working with Medicare Advantage plan marketing experts
We strongly recommend you work with experts who understand Medicare Advantage plan marketing. Failure to do so can lead to a disaster.
Last year the Marketing Director of a large hospital told us a horror story about how her marketing company failed to comply with the Medicare regulations. As a result, Medicare fined her hospital and prohibited it from participating in the entire open enrollment period.
Finally, most hospitals and practices do not have employees on staff who are both qualified and have the time to answer detailed patient questions about Medicare Advantage plans. So, you will also need a reputable partner to refer your patients to for more detailed information.
For our part, Healthcare Success has partnered with My Senior Health Plan to help hospitals and practices see more patients through Medicare Advantage. It’s part of our complete marketing management and one of the many ways we help you reach the right patients at the right time. Call 800-656-0907 to learn more!
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is happily married and a "rock-n-roll daddy" to two wonderful girls.
Michael Boblitz, VP of Planning & Business Development at Gwinnett Medical Center
From time to time, I get the opportunity to interview leaders in healthcare from various viewpoints. Recently, I had fun speaking with my old friend Michael Boblitz about his role in shaping the strategic healthcare marketing plan of his organization in two big ways:
A philosophy of focusing on a few things at a time, and
Improving the patient experience with a more patient-centric model of care.
Michael Boblitz is the Vice President of Planning and Business Development for Gwinnett Health System, a center about 30 miles north of Atlanta, Georgia, with approximately 550 beds and $800 million in operating revenues. Listen to our conversation below, and keep reading to see my key takeaways.
Healthcare Success Michael Boblitz interview - SoundCloud (999 secs long, 27 plays)Play in SoundCloud
Prioritizing your healthcare marketing strategy
In the initial planning stages of a healthcare marketing strategy, it’s easy to make a list of 20 different things you want to focus on, but, Michael Boblitz says, “You realize pretty quickly that an organization only has so much bandwidth to cover the day-to-day operations, which is a lot of work for most health systems.”
It’s easy to throw out a lot of ideas, but it takes discipline to step back and think about the long-term goals of a healthcare organization and which steps will really get you there.
Boblitz has worked for several hospitals and health systems over the years. When he first comes in to a new organization, he thinks about what it strives to look like in about 3-5 years. “Then,” he says, “I really work hard to get a majority consensus across management and physician leadership about what that vision should look like.”
This may mean gaining input from the CEO, but at Gwinnett, this involved assembling top management and physician leaders in what Boblitz calls the Planning Council. This council decides on the top overall priorities for the next 3-5 years before choosing what steps to take in the coming year.
Developing a focused annual plan
Most healthcare marketing strategies try to tackle too many things at once, spending a lot of time and money without planning for the long-term benefit or ROI of each marketing effort.
Once you know what you want to do in the long-term—that’s when you can start to focus on your priorities for the next year. A well-represented management team can help to narrow down and compromise on what the priorities should be over the next year in your annual healthcare marketing plan.
Boblitz gave me a good example of how that compromise might come up: “Let’s recognize there’s a lot we want to do over the next 3 or 5 years—but this next year we have to find some way to meet in the middle and focus on these few priorities…So let’s say we’re not putting a lot of attention on oncology this year; next year, we’ll just make sure that’s at the top of the list.”
Patient-centric care puts patient needs first
So what are the most successful initiatives Gwinnett has put forth in their own healthcare marketing plans? Those that were focused on the patient experience first and foremost.
One of the most important conversations going on in healthcare today has to do with healthcare consumerism—the idea that patients expect care to be a lot more patient-centric, like customer service, because they have more options than ever before.
One of the things that shocked Boblitz when he first came to Gwinnett was how often he heard the phrase, “Our emergency department is our front door.” While Gwinnett has a well-established trauma and emergency medicine departments, Boblitz realized this approach completely excluded the elective marketplace.
That’s where he came up with the idea for a Consumer-Oriented Ambulatory Network. “We had to change from the historical approach of delivering healthcare as providers want to deliver it, to understanding consumer behaviors and delivering medicine the way consumers want it,” Boblitz says. “The key is to make sure we don’t disrupt quality at the same time.”
How Gwinnett is changing the patient experience
Boblitz gave me a great example of how a patient-centric marketing plan can put patient experience first. Gwinnett had been working on a number of service lines, including spine surgery and spine care for quite some time, but they seemed to be competing with spine surgeons on every corner.
“As I started to speak to these physicians and started understanding the experiences of consumers,” Boblitz says, “I realized that while there are a lot of surgical opportunities and capabilities, the pathway is really just someone showing up because they have back pain.”
The patients didn’t necessarily want surgery, or at least they hoped they didn’t need it. What they wanted was someone to guide them through the appropriate care plan. They also wanted immediate access to care. The new Back Pain Center at Gwinnett allows patients 24-hour access to appointment scheduling, along with a customized care plan that may include physical therapy or a podiatrist visit rather than automatically resorting to surgery.
“We’re still a great emergency medical trauma expert,” Boblitz says, “but we also have these convenient access points throughout the community that people have started to love.”
My number one takeaway from our conversation: healthcare is changing no matter what—it’s just a matter of whether you’re being proactive or reactive.
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is happily married and a "rock-n-roll daddy" to two wonderful girls.