Patient Referral Marketing Strategies For Doctors
Patient Referrals. While it does take some effort to get a system up and running, it is very cost-effective and often provides excellent leads for new patients
While we do live in a world that mixes digital marketing with traditional marketing, many new doctors make the mistake of neglecting an valuable source for new customers to their clinic: Patient Referrals. While it does take some effort to get a system up and running, it is very cost-effective and often provides excellent leads for new patients. Best of all, unlike traditional marketing, you are not advertising to a large pool of people hoping to get a few interested in your services. Generally, the people who come to your clinic for patient referrals are people who are specifically looking for your services.
Question 1: Should I wait for patient referrals to arrive?
Patient referrals require some proactive actions from your clinic. It isn’t putting up a billboard and hoping you connect with the right person randomly on the street. For your patient referral program to get off the ground, you need to solicit them from your current patient base. It can be awkward to ask for these referrals, and at first, you may feel like you are pushing too much or you are too “Sale-sy.” However, with some planning and structure, it will become easier and more comfortable for you and your staff to solicit patient referrals.
Question 2: Am I already getting patient referrals? What does a patient referral program look like?
When you boil it down, a patient referral program is an organized effort to get your current, loyal patients to recommend your services to someone. Generally, the patients who do send referrals your way are among your most loyal customers and perhaps are “brand advocates” to your medical practice. Organized patient referral programs may have some incentives associated with them in terms of gift cards, discounts, or even swag from your clinic. You should check with local laws and regulations to make sure the incentives of your patient referral program are legal where your clinic is located.
Question 3: What are some key parts of a patient referral program?
No 1. Create specific materials for your patient referral program.
For your program to be successful, you should create, and print materials designed explicitly for patient referrals. You will want printed materials to give to patients, so they have something to give to others when they refer them to your practice. These brochures should have a summary of the services you offer, a contact number, your location, and (if possible) a special offer for new patients. Some medical clinics even have small “thank-you” gifts to send to patients who successfully refer someone to your practice.
It is crucial not to make a half-hearted attempt at this and be inconsistent with your program. Be sure to consistently recognize new patients and those who refer them to your practice. Failing to do so will make it hard for your patient referral program to gain traction.
No 2. Advertise that you are accepting new patients and you welcome referrals
How are patients supposed to know you welcome their referrals if you don’t tell them? Create signage and materials explaining that your practice welcome patient referrals and the incentives you offer if someone is referred to your office. Some medical clinics incorporate a small message on their bills, indicating they accept referrals and to encourage patients to send new prospective patients to your medical clinic. Depending on the nature of your medical practice, it may be even useful to include small care or information every time you send paperwork or a medical report home with a patient.
No 3. Be mindful of various regulations and codes of ethics when you determine incentives.
Unfortunately, there is no nationwide standard when it comes to what kind of incentives you can give to patients who refer others to your medical practice. Generally, discounting services are acceptable in all areas. When possible, medical clinics also offer gift cards, enter names into monthly drawings, or give coupons for specific amounts off of certain services. If you are unsure whether or not you can legally offer an incentive, check with your local medical association for guidance. They may have some additional resources or can put you in touch with another doctor with a system in place for you to ask questions.
No 4. Assign an employee to manage your patient referral program.
A patient may be happy to refer you to other people, but they are not going to want to hear it throughout every step of their visit to your medical clinic. It will quickly become obnoxious, and you will not see the results you want. Pick a point in a patient’s journey during their appointment with you to gently remind them about your patient referral program. Often, this is done as they arrive or as they leave your practice. For those who do not send informational material home after every visit, this could be an opportunity for a staff member to mention your referral program and the benefits associated with it. Monitor the results and feel free to experiment with different touchpoints during a patient’s visit to your clinic to find the moment that produces the most significant results.
No 5. Be consistent with your approach when requesting referrals.
In order for you to evaluate the results of your patient referral program, be consistent with how you are requesting them. If you have multiple doctors at your medical practice and different sets of staff working throughout the week, make sure everyone is on the same page with your program. You will not have reliable data if some doctors are handing out business cards, other brochures, and others doing both. Everyone working for you should be doing the same thing so you can evaluate this program. If part of your requesting process involves text messages or emails, it would be beneficial if you had an automatic program send these out. First, you will be less likely to miss someone. Second, many of these services provide reporting letting you know how often emails are opened, and text messages are responded to.
When a new doctor or employee starts working for you, review with them your patient referral program, and check-in with them often during their first few months at your medical practice. They may think they have it committed to memory, but they may be skirting a few steps that overall make your efforts less effective. Periodically review the program with others to eliminate any bad habits.
No 6. Evaluate the effectiveness of your patient referral methods, but also give it time to develop
You shouldn’t expect immediate results from your patient referral program. It takes time for it to develop, and it may even take some time for all of your current patients to realize you have a program. Give it time to develop before you do a serious evaluation of your efforts. If changes are made, give those changes time to take effect. Avoid changing aspects of your patient referral program frequently. It adds confusion to not only staff but also your patients. If you are changing aspects and the process of your patient referral program every month, you are only setting yourself up for failure. With that said, don’t cling to a failing process because it’s easier than making changes.
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4 Components of a Marketing Plan for a Medical Practice
Traditionally, marketing experts tell us that there are 4 key components of your Medical Marketing Plan.
- The Product or Service – This will be service offerings for your medical practice. For example if you an Urgent Care clinic, do you offer service to patients based on 12 major categories. Examples will be Onsite X-ray, DOT Physical exams, Lab-test results, Ports Physicals, Simple Fracture treatment, Travel medicine, Immunizations etc. If you are MedSpa / Esthetic based practice, you may want to define your product/service strategy based on competition and availability of your staff’s credentials. For example if you want to offer “CoolSculpting”, you will need to make an investment in purchasing this technology and then training of your staff.
- The Price of the Service – In many cases, this is driven by the insurance company payouts to you. But there are certain procedures that are not covered by the insurance payments. There are additional strategies available to you here. Each patient can be divided into 3 main categories.
- PPO or Full Insurance – These insurance plans pay fixed amount for each procedure for in-network vs out-of-network procedures.
- Self-Pay Patients – Patient pays directly to the provider – you have leverage to provide better service than your competitors and charge more.
- High-Deductible plans – In this case, as an example, patients typically have to pay initial $4000-$10000 out of their pockets. After ta patient has spent these amounts on deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance, then the medical insurance plan pays 100% of the costs of covered benefits. Many patients consider that first $4000-$10000 as something that have to “shop” for prices, hence you have an opportunity to apply your own marketing strategy on how to attract these patients to your practice.
- The Place or Location of Service – For most parts, healthcare delivery system in USA and Canada is very local. Telemedicine can change this in the future, but for now patients typically go to a “local” provider. This is evidenced by 2000% plus increase in Google searches for “Urgent care near me” or “Sleep Apnea doctor near me” or hundreds of other variations based on mobile patients searching fro services “near” a patient. So your Place or Location matters.
- The Promotion(marketing) or Advertising of Service – This is one area, where you have true leverage to dominate your medical field. Your medical plan must include the promotion of your service. There are generally 2 main sub-areas for promotion of medical services:
- Offline Promotions – Traditional marketing – includes newspapers, yellow pages, billboards, referrals from peers, networking with other providers and suppliers.
- Online Promotions – This refers to digital marketing and digital advertising to acquire more patients and retain existing patient base.
What Is Content & Why Is It Important?
1) Text, words and sentences – useful information for the reader.
2) Images with relevant tags and links
3) Videos, diagrams, and other visual aids that support the main headings, sub headings and actual paragraph text.
This information is consumed by your prospect and existing patients in the form of Website pages, Blogs, Facebook Posts, Email Newsletters, Images on Instagram, Feeds on Twitter, SMS text messages on mobile devices. Hence your medical marketing content should be interesting, attractive, useful, and provide value to your prospect patient or an existing patient. Unique quality content on your own website is the single most important factor for higher SEO rankings for doctors and medical practices.
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