The Psychology of Increasing Patient Volume
As a specialty physician, surgeon or specialist in the modern era of medicine you obviously understand the inherent value of increasing the number of patients in your practice. Patients are the lifeblood of your organization, whether you are a solo practitioner or practicing in a large group. Patients facilitate higher revenue as well as the potential for expansion.
Recently, I was asked to give a presentation at the Becker’s Magazine Orthopedic and Spine Conference regarding effective ways to increase patient volume in orthopedic, podiatry, interventional pain, and spine based practices. Regretfully, I was not afforded the time to delve into the psychology of attracting patients. However, I will do so here.
The Fallacy of the Gate Keeper Model
Inevitably, during your tenure in practice, you have attempted to cultivate and maintain advantageous relationships with Primary Care Physicians (the Gate Keepers). The genesis of this relationship was predicated on the hope for future referrals from these PCP’s. For decades PCP’s have held a disproportionate stake in your future by monopolizing the ability to refer patients to whichever specialist they chose. If you are like most practices, over the years, you have taken the deliberate route of buying into these physicians good graces. Perhaps you sent a representative from you practice to bring the office a lunch and pander to the office staff. This was then followed by a curt meeting in which you spend 5 or 10 minutes explaining your credentials and experiences to the PCP in a transparent attempt to assuage him or her into sending patients to you.
How is this an effective way to increase patient volume? Should you not have the opportunity to show what you can offer to patients; without having to lay at the mercy of another physician? Well, lucky for you, in the past decade two models have arisen and, if properly implemented, they will allow you to circumvent the inevitable shame of soliciting PCP’s. Also, if executed well enough, these PCP’s will refer you patients without you ever setting foot in their office. This is by no means to say that the Primary Care Physicians should be cut out of the equation but rather have a contribution to the success of your practice and there are many other ways to garner patients other than referrals.
Do You Exist?
After years of education and training, you may now finally find yourself able to join a group practice or perhaps even start your own. You even may be a physician with a controlling stake in a group practice. As we all know, a practice does not exist without patient volume and new consults. As mentioned above, the model for attracting patients has changed drastically in the past decade. The advent of this may have been the approach pharmaceutical companies took over a decade ago. These companies decided that in addition to soliciting physicians to prescribe their medications; they were also going to begin marketing directly to patients. No longer is the doctor the only one informed of allowable medications for a certain pathology, but the patient is now educated as well. A patient can now ask his or her physician about a specific medication by name. Branding.
Forty years ago publicly advertising medications for depression, erectile dysfunction, and obesity would have been taboo and made most people to cower in shame. However, as social mores have loosened and society has become open about exposing their issues, the stigma of imperfection has subsided. This has opened up the door for those in the marketing world who are savvy enough to identify it.
Here is an example of how branding has been utilized to increase our patient volume. While exploring vocations that had a high incidence of back pain or spine injury I identified that long haul truck drivers were among the highest. This was due to the physical nature of their work, coupled with long hours of driving without adequate lumbar support. I began by simply contacting the digital and physical publications in which most long haul truck drivers read or subscribed to and offered to contribute an article. Almost all of them published the article in some form. The key was that the name of our practice was mentioned in the article several times as well as possible treatments. In addition, I contacted a Sirius / XM radio show that specifically catered to these truck drivers and requested our doctor have a guest spot on this show to discuss this issue. This then developed into a 1 hour segment twice per month featuring our doctor giving health tips and fielding calls from truck drivers. The listenership of this show was 1.2 million truck drivers. All of these 1.2 million drivers now know the name of our practice and many have become patients. Branding.
How does this translate to you? Adapting the direct to patient model to your practice has proven incredibly successful. Giving patients the opportunity to inform themselves as well as make choices provides them a sense of empowerment. This empowerment leads to improved confidence and the ability to make more rational and informed decisions.
Having an internet presence is a large factor in the visibility of your practice. However, just like beginning a practice does not guarantee you patients nor does simply having a website. The content, both visual and text, on your website is going to have a large impact on a potential patients opinion of your practice even before they set foot in the door. In addition, the behavior of a potential patient once on your site should be of the utmost importance. Analyzing the information that a potential patient came looking for makes a significant difference. If the information is not readily available or the patient must go searching through multiple pages on your site it may dissuade them from taking the next and most important step, contacting your office. We have developed into a culture fixated on instant gratification and in on arena is this more prevalent than the internet world. If your website does not generate the information a patient wants in under 30 seconds, someone else’s site will. To proper optimize content analytics such as SEO optimization, Bounce Rate and search traffic must be taken into account. Analyzing and
Here is an example of how branding was utilized to increase our patient volume. While exploring vocations that had a high incidence of back pain or spine injury I identified that long haul truck drivers were among the highest. This was due to the heavy physical nature of their work coupled with long hours of driving with inadequate lumbar support. I began by simply contacting the digital and physical publications that most long haul truck drivers read or subscribed to and offering to contribute an article. Almost all of them published the article in some form. The key was that the name of our practice was mentioned in the article several times as well as possible treatments. In addition to that, I contacted a Sirius / XM radio show that specifically catered to these truck drivers and requested our doctor have a guest spot on this show to discuss this issue. This then developed into a 1 hour segment twice per month featuring our doctor giving health tips and fielding calls from truck drivers. The listenership of this show was 1.2 million truck drivers. All of these 1.2 million drivers now knew the name of our practice and many became patients. Branding.
Implementing The Model
As learned from marketing guru, Howard Moskowitz, “There is no perfect Pepsi. There are only perfect Pepsi’s”. The idea that one generic marketing plan will work for all practices is a myth of the highest kind. In the vastly successful marketing plans I have implemented research and identification are the two imperatives for success. Demographic and psychographic research are the two essentials for any strategy. These tools can also be used to identify a particular insurance population you would like to increase. Many physicians have begun to weed out those with Medicaid plans due to the low reimbursements. Demographic and psychographic research allows you to identify likely insurance trends within a population and focus, or not focus, on that population.
As a specialist, your potential population is quite vast and will come from a wealth of demographics and because your patient population is not limited, nor should your ability to reach them. The first key is identification. Properly identifying potential patient groups allows us to determine our target markets. However, the second step goes far deeper. Psychographic research is the study of the trends, habits and behaviors within a segmented population. Focusing on this research allows us to create campaigns, literature, press releases and advertising materials that effectively target each group to maximize your reach.
This harkens us back to the quote above, “There is no perfect Pepsi. There are only perfect Pepsi’s”. Different patients are going to identify with different aesthetics, so why not give it to them? Creating and adapting specifically tailored marketing tools is the most effective way to inject yourself into the social consciousness of different patient populations. Creating marketing tools that speak to a particular population will prove quite successful.
An underutilized tool in the world of medical marketing is positioning. Patients have an inherent desire to feel that the doctor they are seeing is of the highest caliber and an expert in that field. But who decides who is the best? Until the AMA starts The Best Doctor’s In America Awards, the court of public opinion is still the most heralded source to cultivate a reputation. Positioning is the art of creating an identity that becomes synonymous with a service. This is achieved through clever utilization of press outlets, public engagements, educational opportunities and participation in research. If done properly, yourself or your practice will become the associated name in your specialty. Potential patients will be conditioned to associate your name with your particular specialty. Although they may not need your services at that time, when they or a loved one do require your services the conditioning will take effect. Again, execution and proper identification is key.
Getting The Most From Your Patients
Like most physicians, you may feel that a patient’s maximum value is achieved when a successful procedure is performed. Although the health and successful outcome for a patient is paramount it does not mean a patient’s value has ceased once their fees for service are received. As a matter of fact, it is quite the antithesis. Patients hold value in their ability to promote your practice through word of mouth and properly guided documentation of their outcomes.
When potential patients are choosing a doctor they often like to see another person with whom they can identify. Historically, physicians have been held in a higher echelon than the average person and may cause some patients to feel apprehensive around physicians. This is where your patients can play an important role for you. Video testimonials, both on your site and coupled with social media are a great way to laud your accomplishments without being so direct. In essence, the patient becomes a source of validation for your skill set and accomplishments. Furthermore, this is a great tool for patients to be enticed to come to your practice, because it allays their fears, by seeing someone else who has had a successful outcome. However, you should be aware that without calculated execution, mistakes can be made. The key is having someone who has experience capitalizing on these opportunities, while at the same time, avoiding any potential errors.
Patients are also a way to garner free press for your practice. Local newspapers and news stations always love success stories from residents or physicians in the community. Although, properly crafting a press release and effectively submitting them to media outlets is something that takes skill and requires relationship building. This is something I have learned through years of effective submissions and press generation.
After working as the Director of Business Development and Marketing for one of New Jersey’s most successful spine surgical practices, I have decided to transition these skills into my own company. After only a few short months with this spine practice I was able to double our patient strictly from our marketing efforts. Our referrals from PCP’s, other physicians and attorneys increased exponentially as well.
My goal is to use these tools to increase the volume of patients in your practice. The first step is identifying your specialty and the market in which you operate. After that a series of analytical measures are documented to define how to best increase your volume. What is your area of focus and who is your current population? Second, who do we want to reach and bring in as new patients and how do we utilize creative tools to reach them? A lot of marketing companies will simply analyze your practice and make suggestions for acquiring new staff and what their position should entail, all at your expense. Gold Medical Marketing prides itself on personally creating and implementing every facet of the marketing model. From going door to door to Primary Care Physicians to building your web presence to coordinating interviews and press- you will have a dedicated person performing all functions. Our specialty is increasing your patient volume – plain and simple.
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