By Michael Tetreault, Editor
MARCH 17, 2014 – In an era when everyone promises to have “the next big thing,” something “buzzworthy” or “innovative,” it can be extremely difficult for direct-pay, boutique doctors and concierge medicine practices to rise above the noise and clutter. After all, you actually do have something “buzzworthy” and “innovative” that needs to be shared with a wide audience. This week, we put together seven (7) “Best Practices” and three lessons learned from successful, practicing concierge and direct-pay physicians to help you successfully educate your local community and any inquiring minds who want to learn more about your practice. These ‘Lessons from the Road’ can help you stand out from the other choices available in your area.
1. Learn To Be A Good Listener. Author Maya Angelou captured this idea best when she said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Compelling stories have the power to engage every audience — your patients, your family, employees and your clients. A story that educates and entertains at the very same time can be the best way to convey a message.
What I’m about to share isn’t new. But, it’s proven to work and we know this because we’ve sampled, interviewed and listened to hundreds of the most successful doctors in the country about what they’re doing right — and wrong. Here are some more ways you can take prospective patients from ‘What’s that?’ to ‘Sure! I’ll try it!’
2. Your story makes you human. You’ve built a relationship between you and your patients with whom you’re treating every day. Some have known you for years and some have known you only a few weeks. However, with one story, you can transform a inquiring, skeptical mind into a loyal evangelist for your practice. Sure, a hard sell approach will only sign-up a few new patients, but it will most certainly repel most listeners. An emotional narrative pulls people in. Your story, or parts of it, should be told in your emails, letters, by staff and others. It could be as simple as ‘Why I started my practice.’ But, be careful, a story about how you dislike insurance forms and Medicare isn’t going to make you any friends. Your story however, just might change the relationship between you and your patients, and possibly, generate some new ones too.
Here’s one last thought on this idea. You and your staff should slowly move away from the role of ‘sellers’ and think of yourselves each day as ‘story tellers,’ creating a foundation for a lasting, professional relationship.
LESSON LEARNED # 1
“I remember when I started my direct-access, home-based primary care practice (www.MetroMedicalDirect.com) in 2009,” says Raymond Zakhari, NP and CEO of Metro Medical Direct. “Patients were skeptical and reluctant because of how accessible and convenient the service was. They expected to be kept waiting on hold. Some seemed puzzled by the fact that when they called I answered the phone and knew who they were. One patient even inquired as to how come they only had one form to fill out. Direct-access primary care patients who have been referred post hospital discharge, have not been readmitted to the hospital in the last 4 years because I can see them without delay or red tape. In NYC, despite the high number of physicians per patient, particularly on the upper east side of Manhattan, direct-access primary care can still be a viable practice solution for patients and providers. It helps patients cut through the red tape that has become expected in accessing health care.”
3. Ask For An Online Review. Did you know that most online patient reviews rate doctors highly, seriously, it’s true. In a world increasingly dominated by social media, doctors are becoming more concerned about managing their online reputations. Some doctors have even resorted to making their patients sign a gag order before treatment. Despite all the controversy, medical professionals need not fear online reviews: sites like Yahoo! Local and Insider Pages show that the majority of patients rate their doctors 5 out of 5.
Rather than asking patients to sign a gag order, perhaps doctors should be asking their patients to fill out online reviews — chances are, you’ll get top marks. Unsurprisingly, people commonly complained about rudeness, billing hassles, and long wait times. Regardless of how much people value medical expertise, customer service is still important.
Cardiologists, for example, were repeatedly credited for saving their patients’ lives and oncologists were frequently described as compassionate. Chiropractors, for all the flak that they get from the healthcare community, received the highest average rating (4.61 out of 5) of all health care specialists, while endocrinologists got the lowest rating (a mildly positive 3.56 out of 5 — maybe the patients didn’t like to be repeatedly told to modify their diets), according to DocSpot.com.
Vitals.com for example, is the destination for more than 100 million patients each year who need to find a new primary care, specialty or ancillary doctor, prepare for a visit or schedule an appointment. Their target audience is impressive too: Female – 65% women, the household health managers; Affluent – 33% have a HHI over $100,000; and Educated – 66% have a college education.
4. Use Micro Site Profiles. These sites help you manage online reviews and your reputation online include: Vitals.com; HealthyGrades.com; ZocDoc.com; GetListed.org; DocSpot.com; EverydayHealth.org; RateMDs.com; DrScore.com; Switchboard.com, Yahoo!, Bing, Google Local, YP.com, Kudzu.com and AngiesList.com allows searchers (i.e. prospective patients) to narrow their search by categories of services and view past patient reviews.
It would make sense to take the time to monitor monthly these comments, tie your services to as many of these categories as possible so that your business appears in more instances when a person is searching. Most of these sites are free. Some require a subscription.
5. Encourage patients to leave you an online review before they can’t remember the last time they visited your practice. We’ve learned that the most successful direct-pay and concierge-style physicians across the country are the ones that do this often and have their staff remind the patient to do it right before the patient exits the office. With just a little bit of effort and a quick reminder before your patients leave the office, ‘don’t forget to leave us a review online!’ … you can make a big difference. Since repetition is the key to marketing success, using three media outlets to begin with will help you reach the same people multiple times.
Bonus Tip! If you run a local magazine or HOA ad in a neighborhood near your practice and send out a postcard, you run the risk of the majority of the people only seeing your ad once. It’s better to stagger the release of these items and choose one different outlet each month. However, if you send out the postcard twice in one quarter, you can guarantee that you get your message to the same people twice and you will start to build a ‘know, like and trust factor.’
Once you are seeing the returns from your selections or if you decide that one is not working for you, you can branch out into another form of advertising. Over time you will build up a very diverse set of media tools inside your marketing plan.
LESSON LEARNED # 2
“It’s commonly presumed that doctors who enter concierge medicine are driven to do so by money,” says Brian Thornburg, MSM, DO, PA, FAAP of Innovative Pediatrics. “What most doctors who’ve been there and done that will tell you is … ‘I’m fueled by a passion to help my patients. I’m now allowed the opportunity to problem-solve and make life a little easier, better and cheaper for my patients.’”
Now that’s a story you can tell!
6. Work With Your Local Media. Don’t be intimidated. Journalists, reporters, writers and editors are not looking to expose deep, dark secrets 99% of the time. The media can and should be your friend, particularly the “Hyper local” media. “Hyper local” media meaning a group of publications, niche magazines, newsletters or localized media outlets near your business that focuses primarily on the concerns of local residents.
Media outlets might only cover one or two zip codes around your medical practice, blog only to a certain township or geographic area, etc. HOA Newsletters are another example of “hyper local” media. You can probably think of one or two “hyper local” media or publications that you read regularly … for me, I see them at the end of my driveway once a week. In my area, they distribute and report only on the activities and happenings in my county.
Local reports typically write about local businesses starting in the area, Rotary Club meetings; special parades happening; DUI’s; burglaries, and much more. Believe it or not, more people read these types of publications and HOA newsletters and blogs cover to cover before throwing them in the waste bin.
Reach out to your “hyper local” media and consider the following ways in which your medical practice can communicate with them:
- Call and tell them about a new procedure you are doing in your practice;
- Write a short press release, 3-4 paragraphs long about tests; screenings or vaccines your offering to the local community this month;
- Talk to the editors – or better yet, take them to lunch and tell them you’d like to write some educational articles. What type of content are they looking for?
- Are you treating a certain “niche” population? I.e. Senior Center(s); Homeless; Mothers; Children; etc. Tell your local media about how you’re helping them.
- Have you written a book or recently been published? Tell them about it.
- Do you have unique training? Write a letter to the editors and tell them about yourself and your practice and most importantly, what services you offer to the local community.
- Write a short press release, 3-4 paragraphs long about a charitable event your participating in.
7. Create awareness. While we expected the uniqueness of your medical practice to essentially “sell” itself to employers and consumers, it also proved to be one of our biggest challenges for more than ninety percent of concierge medicine and direct-pay doctors currently operating across the U.S. in 2014. We’ve learned through countless interviews and examples received that some of the best ways to generate awareness for your medical practice are traditional grassroots efforts, everything from concentrated media relations outreach to widespread educational and PR efforts at local community trade events. At the heart of each of these initiatives, it’s imperative to remember who is your target demographic for your practice.
LESSON LEARNED # 3
“Slow and steady growth is ideal in this type of practice because it allows you to offer patients a personalized experience,” says Joel Bessmer, MD, FACP of Omaha, Nebraska’s Members.MD. “I’ve found that the word-of-mouth aspect (vs. a billboard advertising approach) has been the most consistent factor in building my practice. I consistently have patients recommending their family members and friends. Getting word of mouth referrals based on high quality care, staff service and patient satisfaction has been a much more effective tool than traditional marketing. And the slow and steady approach ensures that staff can keep up with new patients, as opposed to getting a rush of new caseloads that would be more difficult to manage all at once.”