This article originally appeared in Becker’s Orthopedic Review
When it comes to orthopedic marketing and spine practice marketing, many efforts are defined as “marketing” and practices justify the use of these efforts so long as it seems to create more exposure for the practice. The prevailing thought being that more exposure will generate more patients.
However, over the last several years the patient acquisition paradigm has changed substantially with many patients being far more digital and research based. To remain relevant and profitable, orthopedic and spine practices need to adapt to this new paradigm and transition financial and personnel resources away from the strategies that may have been effective a decade ago – but are far less effective today.
1. Physician Referral Marketing
Sending a representative from the practice out to drop off donuts or lunches to PCP’s or internists is the probably the oldest form of practice marketing and makes sense from a logical perspective. However, there are two distinct issues with this form of marketing that may now render it almost useless – hospital acquisition and physician disinterest.
A recent Jackson Healthcare survey showed that 54% of hospital systems intended to acquire primary care, family medicine or internist practices within the next year. The reason is to create a feeder system wherein referrals from these providers are up streamed to hospital specialists. With PCP and internist practices finding it more and more difficult to remain financially independent, partnering or selling to a hospital system is an enticing offer. In fact, 68% of all practice acquisitions in 2015 were initiated by the practice with the intent to sell their practice to a hospital system.
What this means for your practice is that if a large referral source sells to a hospital and you are not a part of that hospital system – those referrals can disappear overnight. This is especially troubling for practices whose sole means of marketing is referral marketing.
The second reason for this form of marketing becoming ineffective is disinterest from the referring physician. Let’s face it, your practice is not the first to knock on their door looking for referrals and certainly will not be the last. In addition to your practice representative, referring doctors are bombarded daily by pharma reps, device reps and sales reps – all of whom are fighting for 15 minutes of their time. Because of this oversaturation, many PCP and internists practices are shutting their doors to reps altogether.
Also, if a PCP has been referring to the same orthopedic group for 10 years, that PCP clearly has trust in that practice and is satisfied with the level of care provided to his/her patient. It is extremely unlikely that your practice rep bringing a tray of sandwiches is going to derail that relationship.
This is not to say that your practice should stop looking for new referral sources. It means that an examination of hospital affiliation and referral habits needs to studied before you go knocking on their door. Also, keeping track of which referral sources are sending you patients and those that are not can help your practice determine the ROI on these efforts.
2. Print Advertising
The local newspaper has always been seen as the most financially sensible way to advertise your practice. The thought being that the more people in your local area who saw your ad, the more patients you would get.
However, over the past decade newspaper readership has declined substantially as the primary news sources have become digital news and social media. In fact, a 2015 Pew Research poll showed that the average number of people who read a newspaper is only:
• 17% of those between 25-34 years old
• 21% of those between 35-44 years old
• 28% of those between 45-54 years old
• 38% of those between 55-64 years old
• 50% of those 65 and over
What this shows is that the more desirable pre-Medicare aged demographic is not the audience that is still reading newspapers. When this is coupled with the statistics of the pre-Medicare aged populations average time spent online and on social media sites every day, it becomes even more glaringly obvious that newspaper is no longer a viable source for new patients.
Newspaper advertising can have some limited uses and be effective, if done correctly. If your practice is adding a new location, it may be worthwhile to advertise in that locations newspaper for a short period of time to help residents familiarize themselves with your practice and create some level of brand recognition. This can also be true for any events or seminars that are open to the public. However, using newspaper advertising as a long term form of direct to patient marketing is not going to be an effective strategy.
3. “Reputation Management” Companies
As mentioned above, the more modern patient is far more digitally savvy and research based and review sites like Yelp, Google, RateMDs, Vitals and Health Grades have become a integral component to the success of your practice. When it comes to these physician review sites, some negative reviews are legitimate and others are simply a matter of patient perspective. In years past, certain sites would allow you to remove or hide certain reviews however, this is becoming rarer as these review sites have strictly limited what can be removed.
Regardless of the veracity of the negative review, it will certainly impact a potential patient if they read it. This is where “reputation management” companies have gotten involved.
Seeing orthopedic and spine practices as having deep pockets, these companies prey on the desire of physicians to have these reviews removed so that they cannot influence future patients. These companies will promise that they can “push down” these reviews using their “software” and charge tens of thousands of dollars to do so. This is a scam.
The most common tool these companies use is to create several web pages and social media pages associated with your name so it will appear first if a patient searches your name and thus pushing the review site pages further down on Google. There are two major reasons this cannot and will not work.
First, Google is aware of these fake domains and pages and, over time, its algorithm will flag and penalize them which results in them being pushed to the third, fourth or fifth page of Google. This penalization is based on things such as the quality of the content on the page, the domain authority, the user experience, bounce rate and hundreds of other factors. When dozens of these sites associated with your name are flagged, it significantly diminishes your Google authority and is a waste of thousands of dollars.
Second is a lesser known function of Google Search known as “user intent.” For instance, when a patient searches, “Dr. Michael Smith reviews”, Google knows what they are looking for and will propagate the search results with the most reliable sources of reviews like Yelp, RateMDs, Vitals, Health Grades, etc. Because the fake sites and social pages have been flagged due to the factors above, they will never outrank these more legitimate sites. The same is true when trying to send out dozens of online press releases to bury negative reviews.
The truth is that the only way to lessen the impact of negative reviews is to drown them out with good ones. There are a few legitimate services that use text or email to encourage patients to leave a review on a particular review site. However, patient selection is vital in this process as asking every patient to leave a review is like opening Pandora’s box.
Daniel Goldberg is the CEO and Creative Director of Gold Medical Marketing, a firm focused exclusively in Orthopedic, Spine and Neurosurgery Practice Marketing. Gold Medical Marketing represents practices across the country and utilizes the most advanced Direct to Patient Marketing Strategies to increase patient volume. Daniel has been recognized as a leader in Direct to Patient Marketing strategy and has lectured both nationally and internationally on the topic of Orthopedic and Spine Practice Marketing.