Episode 18: Patient Acquisition Strategies Inside & Outside the Practice

Time for a reality check on patient acquisition. There are things outside the practice that draw new patients, and there are things inside the practice. There are local outreach efforts to connect with patients, and marketing tactics to avoid until you’ve mastered digital. There are reasons to build patient relationships and improve your patient experience and communication. It takes continual effort by everyone in ways you might not suspect.

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Show Resources

  1. Blog post: Orthopaedic Marketing Tactics to Avoid (Until You’ve Mastered Digital)
  2. Blog post: Local Outreach Efforts to Connect with Patients and Physicians
  3. Blog post: How to Build Relationships with Your Patients
  4. Blog post: Patient Experience & Communication Tips for Effective Word-of-Mouth Marketing
  5. Blog post: Focus on what sets you apart from other practices to differentiate yourself

Full Transcript

Announcer: It’s time to think differently about healthcare. But how do we keep up? The days of yesterday’s medicine are long gone, and we’re left trying to figure out where to go from here. With all the talk about politics and technology, it can be easy to forget that healthcare is still all about humans. And many of those humans have unbelievable stories to tell. Here, we leave the policy debates to the other guys and focus, instead, on the people and ideas that are changing the way we address our health. It’s time to navigate the new landscape of healthcare together and hear some amazing stories along the way. Ready for a breath of fresh air? It’s time for your Paradigm Shift.

Michael: Welcome to the “Paradigm Shift of Healthcare,” and thank you for listening. I’m Michael Roberts with my co-hosts Jared Johnson and Scott Zeitzer. On today’s episode, we’re discussing patient acquisition strategies and what it takes… both inside and outside today’s practice is to drive patient volume.

Outside the Practice

Michael: You know, this is a topic that’s really near and dear to us because we work with, specifically, with orthopedic practices all around the country. We have worked with them for a very long time now, and it’s this process that takes a lot of strategy and a lot of thought to not only move people through their practice, once they get there and, you know, all the workflows that are associated with it, but there’s a lot that has to happen before the patient gets there, before anyone even knows to come to your facility to get the care that they need.

So, you know, one of the things that we like to talk about… Obviously, we’re very biased towards digital media. We’re, you know, a web development company and a marketing company, those sorts of things, and we focus a lot online. You know, but one of the things that we focus with practices, in particular, is that, in a lot of ways, their budget and their level of marketing, I’ll even say, like, personnel that they can devote, it’s very much run like a small business, you know.

So you think about, like, the local retail store, you think about, even like a local car repair place, they’ve only got so much time and attention that they give to marketing unless they’re, you know, they’re reaching out and getting help with it. And so, they can’t go after every different tactic that’s out there.

And one of the things that we try to do is steer people away, whether it’s a small business or if it’s a practice, steer people away from a lot of traditional media means. So, billboards and television commercials and big ads in the local newspaper, in the, you know, magazines that are running nearby.

Scott: It is an overarching thing of like, “Hey, man, they’ve got limited time and limited money to get what they need to get done.” And… You know, it’s always a big ego boost to see a big billboard out there as you’re driving into work, but how many people is that billboard really hitting? And, how the heck do you measure that? You know, there are ways. Don’t get me wrong, but with limited time and money, it’s something they need to be careful about.

Michael: I think specifically around the groups that we work with, let’s say that you’re, like, a dentist to let’s say you’re a plastic surgeon, you’re something like that, and maybe even, like, if you had the budget as a primary care group, you need to reach kind of everybody, right? You want to get your message out to as many people as possible. With orthopedics, though, and spine and neuro, like, you’re reaching very, very specific groups of people that need you when they need you and not before. And so…

Scott: You’re actually right.

Michael: You can blanket people with messages, but it’s not gonna be relevant all the time.

Scott: You know, that’s a very significant takeaway if you’re listening in on this, and you’re in a practice marketing situation. It is about…I really believe that patients are very, very hyper-focused on what their problem is, and rightfully so, and so, getting to those patients at the right time, that’s the critical win.

Michael: And this could be different for, even for, you know, once you start getting into very large medical groups and maybe you’re, you know, working all the way from, like, primary care all the way through hospital care and all that kinda stuff. That’s a totally different dynamic. But when you are these sort of small businesses that we tend to work with a lot, then you have to be very hyper-focused on that messaging. And some of that even leads to, what can practices do, you know, as small businesses to get out there and connect with people that are referring patients to them? How can they get out there in the community, you know, and be a part of different events that are out there, that are very, like, very closely related?

So, again, one of the groups that, you know, we may work with is like a sports medicine group, you know, specifically within orthopedic. So that’s a very easy connection to, “Well, hey, if I’m the sports medicine doctor for the local high school team…” There is a very clear connection there. There’s a very clear point where, like, okay, that makes sense, and the people that are in this group clearly need you. So it’s not just a, “Hey, I hope this works” kind of blanket message again.

Scott: Yeah. You know, Michael, we talk a lot to, say, an orthopod’s doing sports medicine, they do work with a lot of trainers. They work with a lot of primary care providers, a lot of specific, key people within their community. And, you know, this has nothing to do with digital versus traditional that…

Excuse me. This has nothing to do with digital advertising. It’s more of a traditional modality here, but take advantage of those relationships. There are a lot of good, old school modalities that we have found to be very effective that, frankly, as you get on in your practice, you may forget about.

You know, initially, you’re going to meet everybody, talking about people coming right out of their fellowships.

A lot of people spend a lot of time in ERs developing relationships with the local community, just getting new business because they’re there. It’s critical to getting their practice started. And then as their practice starts to mature and grow, and consequently, the practitioner gets more busy, they tend to forget about that. And, you know, reminding people about the criticality of keeping those relationships is really important. And, guys, we’re not talking about, you know, sending a box of chocolates. We’re talking about, “Hey, thanks for sending a patient over.” A letter or a quick phone call to say that I’ve taken care of that patient, and here’s what’s going on.

Good communication is so critical. A lot of our surgeons work with primary care providers, rheumatologists, and they occasionally have dinners that are sponsored by medical device companies, where they kind of go over like, “Look, man, here’s your options,” when to take down the whole idea of, to go down the pathway of, say, total joint replacements. It’s like, “Hey, here’s what you can do to avoid total joint replacement. We all agree with that. But when you finally have to get to the point where you think those things aren’t working, here’s what happens.” Those primary care dinners are very helpful. And communicating. Like, don’t just end it there.

Michael: We’re very quickly kind of bridging this gap between what’s happening outside of the practice to what’s happening inside a lot of these relationships that have to be there for referring physicians, for just the community, in general. So, you know, Scott, I want you to talk something about, like, what’s going on inside the practice.

Inside the Practice

Scott: Thanks, Michael. So now we finally have the patient walking in the door. You’ve worked really hard to get that patient to walk in the door. Whether that referral came from a friend, family, the professional, or an online referral, they’re finally there, and it’s critical that you take very good care of them. And we’ve talked to a lot of surgeons who say, “Well, I take great care of them. You should see the surgery I did,” you know. And that’s when you go like, “Got that. That’s important. But did you think about what it was like when they walked in the door? Who’s welcoming them in, right?”

You know what I mean? Michael, how many times have we had that conversation? And then, who on your staff is helping them get behind the door and into the exam room? What is that interaction like?

Michael: Yeah. You know, one of the very first interactions that people are having, obviously, it’s not with the doctor or the surgeon, it’s how long was the wait time to be able to get to somebody? Just, you know, if I’m calling in on the phone, if I’m visiting the office, how long is it before I actually see somebody that can help me with my medical condition?

Scott: It’s so critical, everyone, to set good expectations from when they’re walking in the door. Hey, man, we deal with a lot of surgeons, and surgeons are not gonna say like, “Well, you know, they’re bleeding still. There was this problem.” Whatever, you know. I’m just being silly. “So I’m just gonna leave, anyway, though, because I don’t wanna make somebody miss their 10 o’clock appointment.” But it is critical that there’s good conversation occurring between the staff in the OR and your staff back at the office and, if you are running late, hey, you gotta explain that to your patients that are waiting for you and reassuring them that, “Hey, if that was you, you would appreciate the fact that you’re taking the extra time to make sure.”

We’ve got a surgeon that tends to talk quite a bit with all of his patients. Forget about the surgery part slowing him down. He does not leave those patients until he’s answered every single one of their questions, and we actually put something on the site because he was getting a lot of feedback. Like, “I’m always late.” And I think we wrote something on the site that said, “Yeah, I tend to run late because I’m gonna make sure that I answer every question, so if you’re looking to get in and get out, I may not be your guy. But if you’re looking for someone to really take great care of you, that’s me.” And he set good expectations, and I thought that was really helpful, and it really helped him with all of his patients.

Michael: You know, one of the things that, as you’re kind of talking through that story, like, we each have these different places that we try to communicate, right? Where, like, and this is something that even just working with a very small company that we work with, you know, we’ve communicated something once, and we feel like, man, we did it, you know. Like, now, we’ve got that checked off. We’ve communicated that item once, and so we’re good to go. But, how many times…? We really need to reinforce messaging by over-communicating in as many different ways as possible.

So, you know, one of the things I was thinking about as you were telling the story about that surgeon is, “Man, I would love if that information was in his waiting room somewhere.” You know, like…

Scott: Sure.

Michael: “Hey, this is why, we might be running a little bit late, but this is why,” and this is very, like, a positive thing instead of, like, “Ah, now I have to wait another five minutes or ten minutes.” Whatever it may be.

Scott: Yeah. I agree with you. And there’s another great story I had where a sports medicine specialist that I had known for a while. I worked with him when he was a fellow, and he was getting out, and he just had difficulty getting his own practice going. He was within a group, but he was the first sports medicine guy in the group, and everybody else was basically a general orthoped or a total joint specialist, and I think there was one podiatrist.

But this sports medicine guy was working hard and really having trouble getting sports medicine patients, and he was running out to the ER, and he heard the front office person say and I quote, she was on the phone answering a question, obviously, and it was something along the lines of, “Sir, we’re an orthopedic surgery practice. We don’t do sports medicine. That’s medicine. We’re surgeons.” Then he was like, “Oh, my God.”

And so, when we talk about communicating better, usually, we’re having…most surgeons are talking to us about how they communicate with their patients, but before you even get to that, make sure that your people in your office are well-trained. Take the time to go over what you do and why you do. It’ll make your life so much easier.

Jared: Scott and Michael, I feel like you’re really hitting on something here, especially the part, Michael, that you talked about communicating something once, and then you feel like, “Yep. Everyone should understand this and comprehend it and retain it and remember it from here on out,” where I am guilty of that. And oftentimes, where I have put something out in one channel or I, yeah, it’s an email, and I assume everyone’s read it. Why, I mean, why, of course, why hasn’t everyone read that, opened it, understood it? And it’s so critical to realize how many things we are all being flooded with every day. The fact is it takes more efforts to coordinate that same communication more than once, and yet that’s what has to happen.

And so, I was just reading something the other day about how we focus so much on what’s going on externally, you know, about how to market the practice, how to acquire our patients, that we think about…just focusing on things outside that we don’t spend enough time with internal communications. And so, this is just…it’s a great thought, and it’s something that goes without saying, we’re either doing it right or we’re just not thinking about it enough.

Scott: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Jared, you’re right. If anybody has not heard the podcast we had with Dr. Greene, it was one of our first podcasts and he was talking, specifically, about what he does with his patients, about, you know, how he takes the time to listen and empathize, how he, literally, set up his office so that he could make good eye contact. But, the other part of that conversation that Dr. Greene talked about was how much time he spent going over this with his office as well. So, it really is so helpful, the feedback that he gets from his patients about his empathy and about his attention to detail, that comes across not just from Dr. Greene, but from Dr. Greene’s office.

And, to all the care providers out there, you’re the captain of the ship. They are not gonna remember, in most cases, one of the nurse’s names or the billing person’s name, etc., they’re gonna remember you, and rightfully so. You’re in charge. And so, as you start to think about how you need to communicate better with your patients, start thinking about how you need to explain that to your staff as well. And that, as a team, will be so much more helpful.

Michael: It’s also good to know that there are a lot of tools that are now in place that can help out with not only explaining it that first time but going back and reviewing how well the office is doing around those factors. So you can do things like monitor your calls internally, where you can actually get some recording systems that help, just from, like, a quality assurance kind of standpoint of like, yes, we’re setting this the right way. We’re getting people to what they need quickly. We’re making this process much less painful for the patients that are calling in, that are trying to get in there.

So, one of the… My first boss has always had this saying of, you know, “You can’t expect what you don’t inspect.” And so, you always have to go back and actually pay attention to these things to… You can’t set them up once and just say, “It’ll be fine,” and never look at it again.

Scott: Yeah. I always remind people that I’m a biomedical engineer by training and that I test, test, and retest, and frankly, something that may be working now may not work five years from now as well or, you know, things do change. So you could test it and then, hey, it seems to be working, and it’s, like, well, sure, but how about two years from now? Is that still gonna be working?

You know, we talk about lots of ways to communicate with your patients and over-communicate and, you know, there’s newsletters, there’s email, direct mail, when appropriate, health tips. We had a great conversation with Justin Smith in Texas about how he is a big user of social media. That works for him to communicate in that manner. It might be better for other people to utilize Facebook and Twitter and Instagram like he does, or it might be better to use pamphlets. It might be better to have tons of really good patient education.

When we build websites for a lot of our customers, we really do try to insist to add good content on that site to set up the appropriate expectations for your patients, to help attract the right patients. It certainly makes your site more searchable/findable, but it also makes your patients more comfortable that you know what you’re talking about, and they know what to expect.

Michael: Yeah. It’s so true, Scott, and you think about, if we take a step back and we look at, like, why are we talking about internal communication when we talk about patient acquisition, right? Well, I always love the types of conversations where I get asked…okay, so I’ve heard, “We just need to get some really good word-of-mouth. We just need to get some really good reviews. How do we…? Like, let’s do that. Like, what.do you have up your sleeve to do that?” And I’m like, “Turning the mirror back to you.” And, this is… Like, “Why do people spread the word about your practice?” “Well, it’s because of things that happen in the practice that I have nothing to do with.” It’s all the things you just talked about. How easy was it to communicate with your patients? Did they go home feeling like they were communicated to in the right way?

When we think about those kinds of things, it’s pretty clear, and it’s a lot easier to realize this isn’t something they just plug in something for… The website is there as the tool. They have to use it in the right way. They have to keep it up. They have to create some good content to communicate with their patients. And so, it’s just…it’s realizing that word-of-mouth, in and of itself, kind of happens on its own when you do these other things right.

Scott: Yeah, it will grow organically faster if you’re paying attention to the details that matter to your patients. It’s that important. You know, we see in jest, in general, without knowing the specifics that one of the things I look at first is what kind of website do you have? Does it have good information on that website? And, are you using any type of reputation marketing in any way, surveys, etc.?

You know, reputation marketing is one of those things that I have found, and I think, Michael, you would agree, to be a really excellent external source that helps reinforce that the practice is doing what it’s supposed to be doing overall.

Michael: Again, going back to, like, practices in small businesses. So, I’m an SEO nerd, so that’s kind of like the, search engine optimization is the path I kind of came from getting into marketing. And, you know, you just can’t do SEO as a local business without focusing on these kinds of things, without focusing on your Google reviews.

You know, specifically, for healthcare, we can look at Healthgrades and Vitals and all those other, you know, systems that are out there, even Yelp. You have to be looking at what’s happening because, again, you can say you’re great all day long, you know, “Come to my practice. I’m the best,” but if your reviews are terrible, it doesn’t matter. It’s not… You’re gonna have a really hard time convincing patients that everyone else was wrong about you.

Scott: What I do like about reputation marketing is it does two things…well, it does lots of things, but it will reinforce when you’re doing a good job. That’s for sure. Getting positive reviews makes you feel good and seeing that makes you feel good, and you should make sure your staff is aware of it as well because it should make them feel good. Most of the time, when I see horror reviews, it’s, most of the time, it’s not about the surgeon. It’s not about the doctor. It’s about something associated with what happened. Like, it could have been the billing person. It could have been a person with poor expectations. There’s lots of reasons.

And so, some of those reasons are like, “Yeah, we’re not gonna give you opioids just because you came in and said your back hurts.” Okay, that’s cool. And that’s fine, and you can put some sort of hypo-compliant comment about that. But, if you keep seeing that the billing person’s mean, well, then, maybe, you need to just talk to the billing person and kind of have a conversation about like, “How are you having these conversations?” And if you start to see that maybe the billing person is mean, you either need to retrain that person, or you need to get a new billing person, you know. It’s not about ignoring negative reviews. It’s also taking them and improving yourself.

Jared: And when it’s hard to do that, you know, looking back and not taking them personally, right? I remember for one hospital, I spent a year reading through every single review that came in online, so Facebook, Google, or Yelp, primarily, and there were thousands of them over the year, and I just remember reading through them, and the trend line was consistent, though. Throughout the year, that, easily, two-thirds of the negative reviews had to do with billing, like you just said. People weren’t happy about that. Or, billing your insurance. You know, I side lump those together. But things that are, typically, had nothing to do with the patient experience. That’s afterward.

Then, you know, probably another close to the other third, you know, so maybe a fourth, I guess, did have to do with “So-and-so was rude to me.” You know, “I just didn’t sense they cared about me,” you know. Or “They said…they… Somebody was being uptight with me” or whatever. And it wasn’t even like, “They were yelling at me. They were, you know, calling me a name,” or something. It was just like, “Oh, they were impatient with me.” And then there was just, you know, maybe 10% left. I don’t know if my math adds up right there, but the rest of that little sliver was just various other things.

But quarter after quarter, month after month, those trends stayed consistent. And, again, this was for a hospital and so it’s gonna be a little different where somebody might have seen several different…they might have seen a PA and a nurse practitioner and, you know, several other clinicians before they actually see the physician and so there might be all sorts of different touch points involved there. And then, yeah, billing, you know, the bill shows up so many months later where people had already forgotten about it, so it makes sense why that was a bigger deal for a hospital.

And yet, I think the trend is going to stay there for a while. These are things that, you know, are… On the positive ones, where people are saying, “Oh, this doctor had the best clinical outcomes.” No. Like, they’re focused on, “No, I was happy. They informed me. They treated me like they cared. They answered my questions. They knew what they were doing. There were an expert. I could tell.” And those kinds of things. It’s amazing what drives those, and so we just have to be realistic about what it means to drive that type of word-of-mouth with that type of reputation marketing.

Scott: You know, Jared, you really hit on something that, while you were talking, I was thinking, like, if you’re a total joint replacement specialist and you’ve got a fellowship in total joint replacement, and you’re well trained, and you’re experienced, that’s great. Now, I’m gonna guess if you’re in a decently sized metropolitan area, a lot of other people can make that statement. You know, “I’m well trained. I’m very experienced, and you should come see me.” And, what separates you from that person down the street is, of course, gonna be your skills as a surgeon, but the other part of it, just as important, is gonna be how you were taken care of, across the board not just as you got, you know, wheeled into the operating room.

The minute you walked into that practice, how long it took to be seen. Who spoke with you? How they spoke with you. What was the follow-up like? Your PT, if you’ve got physical therapy in-house, how did those people work with the patient? What was the billing like? What kind of expectations were set with payment and insurance? A lot of this is going to be a big component of how you, as a practitioner, are seen within your community, and it’s critical that you understand that.

Jared: Yeah. It’s so true. And, you know, a way to kind of put a bow on this part of the conversation in my mind is to just point people on, “I feel a little…I don’t mind doing this at all,” you know. Just kind of mentioning that a lot of these points that we’ve been discussing about word-of-mouth marketing, about what happens outside the clinic to drive patient acquisition and what happens inside, these are all… You guys have compiled quite a few resources on your website, on the P3 Inbound website, with some blog posts.

And they include everything from… The most recent one that I paid attention to was about… You listed 15 advertising and media tactics that you can use to build your practice, and one of those was about how to focus on what makes your practice different. And with each of the tactics on that list, I thought it was really cool that you guys kind of split it out, and you listed the effort and the cost involved with each of them, which just makes it really easy to think through. You know, it was a pretty exhaustive list, and it was pretty comprehensive. So that one, in particular, kind of stuck out to me because it talked about you got, you know, every practice, every surgeon pretty much knows what makes them different, so how do you convey that in the right way?

And, yeah, it usually does have to do with the content on your website. It’s got to be not only informative, but it’s got to tell how your practice is different right away. And so, there are a lot of, you know, a lot of techniques to do that and there can be a lot of effort to that. I thought that one out of everything, out of that, that post really stuck out to me, so I just thought it was kind of a cool way to think about this. It’s something that we probably think, “Yeah, of course, I know what makes us different.”

But, you know, if you start asking your patients, “Hey, you know, what drove you to us?” You know, “What brought you in the door?” Then, I would guess the majority still don’t realize, “Oh, it was that one thing that makes you guys different” because we still have a hard time across the board tending to get to convey that to the outside world of what that thing is that makes us different.

Michael: One of the most difficult things that I find and just as trying to write up, like, my LinkedIn bio or trying to write up, like, something like that, is identifying that thing within myself, you know, and identifying, like, why you should wanna pay attention to me. And I think that getting some people that you can talk with is critical because then you can kind of quickly, it’s not an ego thing, at this point, you know, what is it that I can do that helps you? What is it that I can do that helps other people in a way that’s different from somebody else that’s down the street?

Because there’s only going to be more and more competition even if you are in a spot right now where you’re not facing a lot of competition, let’s say you’re in a rural area or you’re in something like that. We see all these changes that are coming with Walmart Health, with, you know, Amazon Health, you know, systems that they’re testing out and all these different ways that people are trying to make healthcare different and really outside the box. And so, this is something that I think every surgeon, every practice has to figure out sooner than later, especially if you’re in a big market. You’re already behind if you don’t know this part. So, this is something you’re gonna have to figure out very quickly.

Scott: Yeah, Michael, just to jump on that, if you haven’t been thinking about this and good for you, lucky for you, but you’re starting to worry and starting to wonder, we do have a lot of resources on our website that you can just read. We’ve got local outreach efforts to connect with patients and physicians as one of our posts. We have got how to build relationships with your patients, patient experience, and communication tips. We’ve got quite a bit of stuff that… Hey, man, come to the website, take a look at it and read a bit.

Every small business, every practice is going to be different and has their own set of boundary conditions that will affect, what is the right set of choices moving forward? But I really do believe, as a whole, over-communicating with your staff and your patients about what to expect, probably a good place to start. And you may think you are doing a great job with that and my only advice on that would be, ask people you trust to get some really good feedback about that.

I can’t tell you how many times I have had conversations with practices where they basically said like, “Wow, I thought our word-of-mouth was awesome, you know, but now that we’ve got this website up, I am getting even more word-of-mouth, you know, referrals.” You know, friends and family kind of stuff. At first, I was like, “How the heck can that be?” And then I realized it really was about, well, you were doing a better job of saying what to expect and talking about what to expect and following through on that.

And that, naturally, led to more people feeling good about that to tell other people to see you, and then that website reinforced it. So instead of some of those people going, “Yeah, I get it that my mom really liked this doctor, but I saw the bio on another doctor, so I decided to go over there.” It’s like… That’s why it’s critical. You really don’t know until you start focusing on it, about how many patients you might be losing. I think in the marketing… what was it called, Michael, leakage?

Michael: Yeah. Leakage. The overly official term for that.

Scott: There we go. Yeah.

Michael: Absolutely. Guys, thank you so much. This is obviously a topic that we’re very passionate about and can talk on for quite some time if we had the space to do so. But I do appreciate it. I’m glad that we had a chance to kind of change up the format for a bit for this episode to talk through what practices are facing, and I think that there’s even more that we have to talk about this. And something that we’re kind of looking into as we go into season two, we’re kind of getting close to the end of season one with these interviews, and we’re gonna continue on with interviews in season two. But I think translating that into, what should practices do about that?

Here are these megatrends? What do the small businesses of healthcare do about that? And I’m looking forward to discussing that more with you guys. So, thanks so much and have a great week, everybody.

Announcer: Thanks again for tuning into the “Paradigm Shift of Healthcare.” This program is brought to you by P3 Inbound, marketing for ortho, spine, and neuro practices. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.