The coming months are going to bring an undeniable change in the healthcare delivery system as we all know it.
The Affordable Care Act is going to shift the paradigm of patient attraction substantially. Despite the problems that have come with the ACA rollout, many patients are already seeing changes to their insurance premiums and coverages. Also, many employers are changing the insurance plans of their employees in an effort to control the costs of insuring employees.

In this changing system, medical marketing and public relations are going to become increasingly important in terms of attracting quality patients to your practice. Prospective patients are going to be heavily researching specialists to make sure they are getting the highest caliber care for their insurance dollars.

Below are four tips to help practices navigate this changing market and maintain a profitable practice.

Shifting Your Referral Sources
For many years, primary care physicians have been a steady stream of referrals for specialists and surgeons. A good relationship between a Primary Care Physician and a surgeon or group yielded quantifiable numbers of patients every year. However, independent specialists and group practices were not the only ones to notice the ocean of referrals a primary care practice could generate.

With many hospitals and larger health systems struggling to bring new business they began to integrate these referral sources into their health systems by acquiring these primary care practices. Given the resources and funds of many of these larger health systems, primary care practices took the bait and are now locked into these hospital systems. These health systems make sure that referrals are not leaked out to other unaffiliated practices and stay within their system. This has left many independent practices and ASCs scrambling to supplement this loss or referrals in other ways.

Shifting focus to direct-to-patient marketing efforts is the most important tool in supplementing this potential loss of referrals. Patients may visit a primary care practice as a first line of treatment, however they are not blindly going to the specialist their primary refers them to. Instead, they are researching who is best qualified in their local area to treat their condition. Patients decide who is best qualified by factoring in many of the efforts below including media presence, online presence and reputation.

These elements have already begun to replace the typical referral from a primary care physician. If your practice is solely focused on garnering referrals, that well may soon dry up.

Have a Public Relations and Media Strategy
Public relations and media are the most underutilized tools for attracting new patients. This is because most practices are not skilled in PR and decide to forego it altogether. However, a well executed PR and media strategy can yield incredible results and the best part is, it costs nothing.

Reporters, editors and producers are always looking for engaging patient stories or innovations in medicine. The key is knowing what type of content they are looking for and becoming a source to provide this content for them. Properly placed media pieces afford your practice a great deal of exposure and highlight what you can provide to other patients. This can range from TV appearances to editorial features to articles in newspapers and magazines.

Creating these relationships and pitching quality content will create a lasting relationship between your practice and the media. However, this is a very delicate task and there are far more “don’ts” than “do’s” when it comes to media.

Diversify Your Online Presence
A recent poll showed that a staggering 72 percent of patients found their specialist based on online research. By this point, your practice needs high quality website that provides education and information to prospective patients. However, simply having a website is not enough to ensure patients are finding your practice when searching online. Having a creative mix of online advertising, SEO and social media strategies is crucial for generating new patients.

Recently, Google updated its search algorithm to factor in your various online presences as well as what is called “Author Relevance.” Essentially, this means that Google now considers where the information is coming from and if the source is relevant to the search. It also factors in how diverse your web presence is when listing your practice. It also has begun to give lower ranking to pages that have generic cut and paste content or no unique information in regard to a topic.
What this means is that the content on your website needs to be properly maintained and updated often.

For instance, if a patient is searching “herniated disc treatment” and your practice site gives no unique information about herniated disc treatments, you are not likely to be shown as a result. If your site is not being listed you are missing out on an entire market of patients who are searching for your services.

Reputation Management
With so many patients finding information about specialists online, review sites like Vitals, RateMDs and Yelp can mean the difference in a patient making an appointment or avoiding your practice.  These review sites now serve as a seemingly unbiased look into your practice wherein prospective patients can learn about your bedside manner, skills, wait times and overall demeanor. Some of the best marketing strategies can be rendered ineffective by poorly manage review sites

Unfortunately, unhappy patients leave reviews three times more often than happy ones. For every bad review, a physician will always give me a justification of why that particular patient left a negative review. Regardless of the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of a particular review, the justification by the doctor is irrelevant. Every time a prospective patient reads that review the physician is not there to defend it. (Physicians should never directly respond to an online review) This means that reviewers perception of the physician is now undisputed and is influencing the decision of a potential patient.

Maintaining favorable review site ratings is about controlling who leaves reviews to ensure only positive reviews. Having a program within your practice to identify happy patients and asking them to leave reviews is one of the more important things you can do to maintain your online reputation.

Sometimes, negative reviews are unavoidable. However, if they are buried in a sea of positive reviews they hold far less merit. The average person is inclined to agree with the majority and if there is one negative review among countless positive reviews it is seen as baseless because it is not the prevailing opinion. This makes the negative review ineffective.

Gold Medical Marketing specializes and Medical Marketing and Public Relations for Orthopedic and Spine practices as well as ASC’s. Gold Medical Marketing utilizes the demographic and
psychographic research to create unique strategies for practices to generate more patients.