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Get a return on your practice marketing investment

John Kim, Technology Evangelist, Kareo

John Sung Kim, Technology Evangelist, Kareo

Every practice, no matter what specialty or size, has one thing in common—they need to find and keep patients. However, the keys to succeeding at this have changed vastly over the last decade.

Patients have increased expectations of their healthcare providers and are choosing physicians in new ways. While patients may still get referrals from friends and family, that isn’t the only decision-making factor. Most will now also do online searches, look at social media, and read online reviews. In a recent survey, 47 percent of patients said a physician’s online reputation matters when choosing a new provider. In addition, many are looking for providers who offer online scheduling and billpay, text communications, and electronic communication with their doctor.

Healthcare providers worry that patient engagement and digital marketing are loss leaders. According to a 2015 HIMSS study, physicians stated lack of reimbursement and time constraints as the primary barriers to increasing patient engagement. But this can be an unfounded fear. There are ways to ensure a positive financial return for practice marketing and patient engagement investments.

So how do you generate more revenue while providing the solutions patient want? And how can social media and online reviews improve your bottom line?

You might be surprised to learn that recent research conducted by Harvard Professor Michael Luca showed that where Yelp reviews penetrated a local market, the business of chain restaurants declined as consumers gained confidence about the quality of smaller, local restaurants. Similarly, for independent practices this means that there is an opportunity to compete against larger health systems through an effective strategy designed to increase online reviews. The survey also found that an increase in star rating can be directly tied to an increase in revenue—one additional star equates to a nine percent increase in revenue.

The other benefit of increasing positive online reviews is that it helps your practice improve its ranking in search results. When reviews are combined with strong search engine optimization on your website and a consistent social media presence, your practice can quickly rise to the top of leading search engines like Google.

Dr. Scott Kramer, an OB/GYN in California, learned this firsthand. Using marketing automation software he was able to get over 250 positive social media reviews in just 36 months. He now ranks first for his name in Google searches and has an average 4.75 star rating on first page search results across multiple sites. His reviews are read three to five times per day, and he receives, on average, one new prospective patient phone call per day.

It’s easier for patients to find Dr. Kramer because his online strategy is effective, and more patients are researching providers online before scheduling. In fact, according to Google, 78 percent of patients search online before making an appointment with a medical provider. As a result, smaller practices can gain up to 20 percent of new patients from online sources with the right program in place. When you offer online scheduling and text reminders, your practice can capture those appointments more easily while reducing patient no-shows.

Reducing no-shows can be one of the biggest sources of positive return on your investment in practice marketing and patient engagement. Studies done on appointment reminders suggest that they can reduce no-shows anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent. In a three provider practice, reminders could prevent the loss of $75,000 to $100,000 in revenue each year.

Keep in mind that reminders aren’t just about technology. They are a combination of staff, internal processes, and technology. Westgate Skin and Cancer in Austin, TX, has a very effective program of sending email reminders two days before a patient appointment followed by a text message reminder two hours before the appointment. The result has been a 70 percent reduction in patient no-shows.

Once you have a system in place that allows the practice to communicate securely with patients, you can also conduct recare programs with ease. Recare, also known as recalls, is a way to engage patients by reminding them to come in for routine checkups or other time-sensitive visits, including flu shots or childhood vaccines, and is another area that can result in significant revenue.

Practice management consultant Laurie Morgan believes that recalls for preventive care visits should be a cornerstone of primary care practice. Her analysis in a recent webinar shows that for a practice with a panel of 2,000, if the average patient comes in for only six annual checkups versus 10 over ten years, it will cost that practice $800,000. 

Overall, when brought together as a closed loop approach, online reviews, online scheduling, reminders, and recare can have a big impact on a practice’s bottom line. With today’s affordable, cloud-based practice marketing platforms, it doesn’t cost much to set up a system. As an added benefit, practices that employ these techniques are also more likely to increase patient loyalty and be positioned to take advantage of value-based reimbursement.

Look at the small investment in a practice marketing or patient engagement platform as the next step in your practice’s growth, and a key piece of staying independent and thriving in today’s healthcare environment.

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