Earlier this month at the AAOE 2018 Conference I was able to speak to countless practice executives about their challenges and goals for marketing their practices.  One question almost all of them shared was, “We know we should be marketing our practice online, buy how do we get our physician leaders (or older partners) to buy into marketing the practice?”.

This is something that can be very frustrating for practice executives, especially those who are accountable for the growth of the practice.  Below are three strategies that we have found to be effective when trying to discuss the benefits of digital marketing with physician leadership.

Strategy 1 – Identifying Changes in Competition and Acquisitions

25 years ago, when the founding partners opened their orthopedic practice, they likely went out and met with all the local referring doctors and built relationships with them.  Over the years, these relationships resulted in countless new ptient referrals and the physicians patient volume grew steadily.   Therefore, many orthopedic orthopedic surgeons will often tell their administrators that they do not need marketing because they get most of their patients from referring doctors such as primary care and internists. 

While this may have been effective in years past, the modern healthcare landscape has been changing substantially.  One of the largest changes has been large hospitals and health systems acquiring referring practices in an effort to strengthen to their community presence and market share.

In one study, 52% of hospital executives said they planned to acquire referring practices in the near future with internal and primary care medicine being the number one target. 

When these acquisitions occur the first thing that usually happens is that there are disincentives from the health system for the referring practice to “leak” referrals outside the system.  Instead, they are now encouraged to refer to orthopedic specialists within the system or employed orthopedic specialists.

So, if 25% of private practice orthopedic surgeon’s volume comes from a practice that is acquired by a hospital system, this volume can disappear overnight leaving the surgeon struggling to find out how he/she will compensate for that volume.

 

Strategy 2 – Motivate by Highlighting Competitors

If the above example does occur, the practice may now need to implement digital strategies to supplement dramatic loss in volume.  However, if your competition is already engaged in a digital marketing program, you are often left playing from behind – which is less than ideal.

In years past orthopedic surgeons would often see newspaper ads or billboards popping up all over town for a competing practice and would see these as a motivator to start buying ads and billboards for their own practices.  The idea was to make sure that the competing practice did not syphon patients away and to make sure the community still knew your practice’s name.

In 2018, the competition for a potential patient’s attention is less physically tangible and more focused online, which can be complicated to highlight to a physician not familiar with digital marketing.

One way to highlight this in a meaningful way is to let physician leadership know that over 70% of medical journeys begin online.  Follow this by showing them a simple search Google search for something like “orthopedic surgeon near me”, “knee replacement surgeon (insert city)”, or “rotator cuff tear specialist (insert city)”. 

The practices that show up above your practice, whether it be a Google Ad or organic result, are your competitors. Educate physician leadership on the fact that Google and Social Media are the modern magazine ad or billboard ad.  Further emphasize that these practices are taking patient share away from your practice and discuss an actionable strategy to improve your organic SEO as well as a Google Adwords and Social Media program.

Strategy 3 – Equating Marketing to Increased Financial Security

Within many larger orthopedic groups there are several financial models but two of the most common are a revenue share system and an “eat what you kill” system. 

When discussing the need for marketing, it is important to establish that regardless of the model, new patient volume is essential to the financial health of the practice and to remain viable and profitable.   

The revenue share model is easier to justify as more patients means more surgical cases and thus more revenue to share.  The “eat what you kill” model is where you may have a bit more struggle as the surgeons are compensated based on their own volume and not necessarily that of others. 

One area to highlight is the physician’s ownership in ancillaries.  For instance, if the physicians in the group have a financial stake in a surgical center, revenue can be generated from other partners in the practice performing their cases in these centers.  More patients means more cases in the surgical center.

The same example can be true if the practice owns their own DME or Physical Therapy.  An increase in patient volume can drive more revenue to these ancillaries and the partners with financial stake in them.

Another approach is to discuss the potential for upstream referrals in the practice.  A common example of this is having a Physiatrists or Intervention Pain Management Specialists as part of the practice.  If the volume of these specialists grows, the number of referrals to surgeons within the practice will grow as not every patient will respond to non-surgical or interventional modalities and may need to be referred to a spine surgeon, joint replacement specialist or another surgeon within the practice. 

In short, growing the volume of the practice as a whole can result in more surgical candidates for the surgical specialists in the practice and can drive revenue to ancillaries.

 

Discussing the Elephant in the Room – Cost

 You have undoubtedly heard this marketing question before, “how much will this cost and what are we going to get out of it?”. 

To avoid the minefield that is this question, it is important to know what many orthopedic specialists (especially those unfamiliar with digital marketing) are looking for – a growth in patient volume. 

The truth is that each orthopedic practice, their location and competitors influence what their budget should be but, there is no magic number of how much to spend on digital marketing.  The “what will we get out of it” part of the question is actually more important than the cost.

Too often, administrators and their marketing team (in-house or outsourced) get too focused on the things that have no real relevance to the physicians.  Things like “clicks”, “shares” and “impressions” have little tangible value as many physician leaders do not understand the relevance of any of these pieces of data.  As a result of having nebulous terms and not having simple to understand ROI metrics, leadership loses faith in the marketing program and it ultimately falls apart.

To avoid this the most important thing to communicate to your leadership is the goals of the marketing program and the metrics you are reporting to them.  If ROI metrics are properly implemented, you can share with the data that matters to leadership such as new patient calls, requests for appointments, new patients and surgeries scheduled. 

When you are showing a growth in monthly patient volume the marketing program becomes a profitable endeavor for the practice and they have increased faith in the strategies you are implementing.  (And they ask less questions).

Further down the line you can tie your cost per acquisition for each patient to the reimbursements derived from that patient.  Also make sure to remind them that not every patient is a surgical candidate on their first visit and their care path may be over a few months before they are a candidate for a procedure.  With this in mind, the “lifetime value” of each patient and your revenue cycle becomes an important component. 

In closing, know your audience and know the questions they will ask.  Control the room by keeping them on topic and on track and you will likely walk out of the room empowered with the freedom to make decisions to help grow the practice.

 

About the Author

Daniel Goldberg is the CEO of Gold Medical Marketing, a firm that specializes solely in orthopedic, spine and neurosurgery practice marketing.  

Daniel has lectured on Direct to Patient Marketing at some of the most esteemed orthopedic and spine conferences including, AAOE 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 as well as Becker’s Annual Spine, Orthopedic and Pain Conference (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016).  His demographic targeted approach to Orthopedic Marketing has also been featured in AAOE, Becker’s Healthcare Review, Orthopreneur and Healthcare Finance News.

Orthopedic and Spine Practices across the country and utilize Gold Medical Marketing’s services for the most advanced Direct to Patient Marketing Strategies to increase patient volume.