By Rebecca Epperson
With more than 40 days of stay-at-home orders under our belt for most of the country and a majority of physician practices operating their business in a new way, clouds are beginning to shift from “how to conduct business during a pandemic” to “how do we begin to reopen and re-engage with our current patients and connect with those who were in our pipeline.”
Recent times have unsettled even the most successful physician practices. Those that will prosper will learn and lean into the recent changes to integrate the necessary and the new to ensure procedures are recognized as vital to their patients – and those in their funnel.
The paradigm shift is an important one and shouldn’t be left to the old idea of “build it (or in this case, reopen it) and they will come.” While your practice may not have changed its products and services during these troubled times, your customers have most definitely learned new habits involving connecting and making choices.
Individuals are recognizing it may be much easier to dial into a telehealth appointment than to go into a doctor’s office or may have realized that their elective surgery can wait a bit longer.
However, old habits do die hard and with weeks of being tied to our homes and our families in a real-life version of “Groundhog Day”, individuals are looking for relief and open to new opportunities.
That’s where your re-engagement with patients can be most effective. Instead of starting where you were/are, consider where they are to best reach them.
Consider these ideas to re-ignite and market your practice in this new, untethered world:
- Make Your Practice Critical vs. Elective. Whether or not there is a second wave of COVID-19, it’s time to ensure your messaging is relevant at all times. There are very few elective surgeries that are not critical to one’s health and wellbeing. While a vein clinic may be known for minimizing ugly spider veins, related procedures also alleviate considerable pain and allow individuals to return to everyday activities. While having a colonoscopy may be considered something that can be delayed, it’s a critical procedure that can actually prevent cancer by removing precancerous polyps.
- Re-Evaluate – and Change Up – Your Pre-COVID Marketing Efforts. It’s time to take a good look at what your marketing strategy was before COVID stymied physician practices’ everyday livelihood and determine how to change it for the foreseeable future. Re-evaluate your marketing campaigns and perhaps update your messaging and visuals to spur engagement.
- Share Your Patients’ Success Stories. Nope, it’s not intrusive to ask your patients to tell their story of how your practice, your procedure or your staff positively impacted their lives. In fact, most people are thrilled to share their story. And for most physician practices we work with, these stories are the most-read items on the organization’s website and social media channels. People can see themselves in those stories, leading them to think if you’ve helped others, you can help them.
- Expand or Strengthen Your Telehealth Initiatives. Most practices may have had to start – or enhance – their telehealth services during the past few months. While stay-at-home and elective surgery restrictions are lifting, patients have become accustomed to having a doctor at their fingertips.
Take the time now to train your internal team on common challenges/questions you encountered during the past few months. Look into how to further communicate the telehealth options for your patients as some may still be concerned about coming into your offices. Update your website and share information via your e-newsletter, text or other external communications. Gain feedback from the patients who did utilize telehealth earlier this year to understand what worked and what could be improved for them.
Our partners who have recently launched telehealth services have reported some early positive feedback from patients. Virtual visits help patients feel safe reaching out during a crisis and they’ve been a great option for individuals who typically travel far for their in-person appointments. Prepare to do a deeper dive on telehealth post-coronavirus to see how you can improve on and continue using the services.
- Better Understand Your Revenue Mix. It sometimes takes a crisis to determine what has the best ROI for your organization. Review your revenue mix and determine how you want your marketing dollars to follow that lead. Lean into your strengths, and both your marketing efforts and word of mouth will grow from there.
- Develop New – and Ongoing – Ways to Communicate. I stress the “ongoing” as there’s nothing that says “used car salesman” as hearing from an organization you haven’t heard from in eons just to make a sale. During recent weeks, I heard from a doctor who I had one elective procedure with three years ago and haven’t heard from since. He obviously distributed a blanket text to everyone in his database to offer a refer-a-friend program and/or offer a discount on my next procedure. I found it inauthentic and impersonal.
- Enhance Your Digital Marketing. It’s not news that everyone is online even more these days, so meet current and potential patients where they are at by sharing insight, advice, and stories. And invest in a quality digital marketing approach that is focused with its message and aimed at the right audience. Individuals are seeking information and if appropriately targeted, your organization can benefit from that.
- Do the Opposite of What Your Competitors are Doing. Separate your organization from the noise of others. Just because your competitors advertise on television doesn’t mean you have to do the same. During the 2008 economic downturn, one of our clients decided to substantially grow its marketing efforts rather than shrink like competitors were doing. That ambitious approach allowed it to be a voice of reassurance and leadership during a volatile time. Not only did this business maintain its market share, it grew substantially and continues to maintain that position 12 years later.
The pandemic has forced us to go in many different directions, but there are lessons to be learned and learning needs to be a priority. Take the time to consider where your customers are at – both physically and mentally – to assist with their fears, needs and dreams as you move forward in this paradigm shift.
Rebecca Epperson is President of Chartwell Agency, an award-winning marketing firm with a special focus on health care organizations and physician practices. More information on Chartwell Ageny’s health care practices marketing efforts can be found here: https://chartwell-agency.com/medicalpracticemarketing/.