Jennifer: Hey guys, this is Jennifer with the Dr. Marketing Tips podcast. I thought today would be a perfect time to have a quick discussion about a topic that keeps coming up with our medical practice clients. That is, “How could we stop the leakage?” I don’t mean some crazy symptom that needs to be diagnosed, but I mean how do we stop the leakage when it comes to losing our patients unnecessarily? Whether we’re losing them to referral patterns that have changed, or whether we’re losing patients who maybe once were part of the practice, but have chosen to move on to another practice to get their healthcare needs met.
Pretty much this falls into one, two, maybe three categories for all of us to pay attention to from a marketing perspective. I think that the first is, we need to identify if you even have a problem when it comes to patient leakage. What I mean by this is understanding our referral patterns and our referral trends.
Whether you’re getting word of mouth referrals, referrals from other physicians, people are walking in off the street because they happen to drive by your office, or whether you have something going on from a physician-to-physician standpoint, and you need to really put your finger in the hole, put your finger in the dam there to stop the water and stop that leakage. Or, do you have patients maybe who consistently over the years, they have come to your practice and then all of a sudden, they’ve left to go to another practice?
I think the very step first step is identifying if you even have a problem as it relates to leakage. Let’s just start by talking a little bit about, top level, about referral strategies. The very first thing that you might want to think about is identifying what in your market has actually changed? Has a doctor retired? Have a group of doctors retired? Have the independent physicians who maybe were referring to you over the course of the time where you were building your practice, have they been gobbled up by a big hospital? If so, what can you do about it? If you’re still out there visiting other offices, which ones should you be visiting?
We often get clients that will tell us that they focus on their top 10 referral partners, but the question comes back is, if you’re focusing on your top 10, why aren’t you focusing on the bottom 20? Is there more opportunity in the top 10 or the bottom 20? I don’t think there’s a magic bullet for any of these questions. Each of them are questions that you’ll have to answer individually within your practice, but these are the types of questions that need to be answered. Why aren’t you getting the same level of referrals that you used to be getting, and is there an underlying issue? Or is it just that you need to get out there and pound the pavement? These are things to think about when we’re looking at our referral strategies.
If I was going to offer one piece of advice to my clients, it’s always to have some level of reporting mechanism for understanding your referral patterns. More often than not we’ll say, I’ll have a particular doctor come to me and say, “Hey, Jen, my referrals from Dr. Smith are down,” and I’ll say, “Well, how do you know your referrals are down from Dr. Smith?” They’ll say, “Well, I’m not quite sure. It feels like they’re down.” Then we’ll go and we’ll pull a report, and the report will, maybe it will indicate that referrals from Dr. Smith are down, but that’s based off of the, kind of word of mouth that you’re getting from the patient when they’re checking-in to tell you that Dr. Smith was indeed the one to refer them.
I would recommend that you, and I do this for all of my clients, take a look at some of the softwares that are available out there right now where you can tie insurance data to referral patterns and NPI numbers, and get a real understanding of where your referrals are coming from, the potential patient volume of those referral sources, and where there might be opportunities for you to put together a practice of going out, visiting, nurturing those referrals and really kind of rebuilding your pipeline. Sometimes it’s as simple as a doctor has retired and you’re no longer receiving them. Sometimes it’s something that has happened in the backend of the office, of your office, that your referral partner was upset about that you need to identify and then go out there and rectify the situation.
There’s still nothing better than boots on the ground and building of relationships when it comes to referrals, but you can’t build upon those relationships truly unless you understand the data, so I suggest looking at the data. Like all data, it’s junk in, junk out, but if you understand that going into it, you’ll be better on the backend.
When it comes to stopping leakage, the very first and foremost is to understand referral patterns and then come up with a plan to go out and capitalize on those relationships that you’ve built, and making shifts within the referral patterns. I’m going to recommend you to a site that I do a lot of blogging for. It’s GetReferralMD.com. I don’t get any compensation for this, but check out their software or take a demo, because I think you’ll understand a little bit more of what I’m talking about.
The other side of the leakage equation or losing your patients goes down to your existing patients, and so there’s kind of two sides of this. One is your kind of current but not frequent patients, and the other is your current but your captive patients. Let’s start with the current but not frequent patients. What I mean by this is you’ve got a patient database, let’s say of 1,000 people and 800 of them have not made an appointment in the last 12 months and you’ve got, for the sake of it, let’s use an eyecare practice.
You’ve got general eyecare patients coming in through the door for your ophthalmology practice and regular wellness checkups and things of that nature, but you also have ancillary services. Maybe you have an aesthetics practice within your eyecare practice, so you do things like facials and Juvederm and Botox and things of that nature as well. You could look at your current patient list, and maybe they’re patients that came in that one time for that eye appointment but they haven’t come back for anything else.
The very first thing we want to do is we want to take a look at our current patient list and the segmentation of that patient list. We want to break it up into people that have been to your practice within the last 12 months, because the offer that you might send to these people is different than the one you might send to those folks who haven’t been there for 18 or maybe even 24 months.
I’m going to suggest that the 12 to 24 months is the audience that you want to go after proactively from a marketing standpoint because those are the folks that you have the greatest likelihood of getting them to schedule another appointment or to come in to take advantage of one of your ancillary service lines. These are the folks that you might want to look at maybe doing a survey to. You could do it via email if you’ve been collecting email addresses.
I have a client that does plastic surgery, and he has a slim spa and a med spa and he, on a regular basis, will send out an email to all the patients who haven’t been into his practice in the last six months. He’ll ask them a couple of very easy questions like, “Why did you not come back? Is it a scheduling issue? Is it a cost issue? Is it you don’t need him anymore issue?” He’ll ask them a couple of questions, and everybody that answers a little free survey online, he automatically enters them in to win a $150 Visa gift card. They don’t have to do anything but answer a couple of questions, but it helps him in crafting the messages that he may craft from a standpoint of when they’re in the office.
If it’s because somebody’s having a hard time getting an appointment, he will craft that message and make operational changes to say, “It’s easier for us to get you in now, you have a direct access line. Would you mind coming back? Can we go ahead and schedule your appointment while you’re here? We can schedule your next appointment.” Things of that nature.
A simple online or email-based survey will help you understand why your patients are leaving or why it is that they haven’t rescheduled an appointment. It also allows you the opportunity to be top of mind with your existing patients. You’re not asking them to schedule anything at that moment. You’re just asking them for some real, honest feedback that you can use to make your practice better.
Another tactic that you might use with this 12, 18, 24-month gone patient is possibly the good old fashioned direct mail. We had a client who does a printed newsletter for his practice on a quarterly basis. He pulled a mailing list for all of his patients who hadn’t been in between 12 and 24 months, and he included in the distribution of his physical newsletter, a newsletter sent to these patients in-particular with a coupon offer for a facial, something along those lines. He got a double-digit return and ended up paying for the newsletter mailing just by adding the coupon offer and focusing direct mail on these 12, 18, 24-month patients.
These are just the patients that sometimes get forgotten from a marketing standpoint, so if we can start thinking now about putting a strategy in place that would allow you to include them in your marketing plans, it’s all the better. Start thinking about what that offer might be. If you’re that ophthalmology practice, it’s not necessarily a free eye exam, but maybe it’s an upgrade to a premium service or $100 off the purchase of something from the optical department, or maybe it is access to the ancillary businesses.
If you have been smart enough all along to be collecting email addresses, you can take those email addresses and cross-reference them with your digital marketing list, and identify on social media channels which of your patients have not been there in a certain time period, and then target them with specific messages. Maybe they’re just reminder messages. Maybe it’s a cross-promotional, opportunities for your other service lines. If you’re collecting from the get-go these digital assets, then you’re able to combine them with digital assets as that data becomes available.
THere’s nothing wrong with taking that patient list of 12, 18, 24 month patients and picking up the phone and calling them and just saying, “Hey, we’re calling to update our records,” and at the same time, when you’re going through the updating of the records script, find out why it is they haven’t been back and make the effort to get the appointment scheduled.
None of this is rocket science, but it’s one of those things that sometimes gets forgotten strategically when we’re talking about marketing our practice, and that is actually marketing to the patients who have been maybe part of your practice over the years, but haven’t been there in a while. I would advise you, if you’re really looking to stop leakage, in addition to looking at what you can do from a referral pattern standpoint and understanding that data, start taking a look at the patients that you have in your current roster and what you can do to get them back in the door.
Then let’s just end with this one. You’ve got your patients that haven’t been around in a while and I call those your current but not frequent patients. Then you also have your current captive patients. What I mean by that is these are the patients that are literally in your office right now. What can you do to make sure that these patients are taken care of and that these patients know what other services and service lines that you have within your practice? How can we get them to have a positive experience, then turn around and tell their friends?
It’s time to start looking at cross-promotions within your practice. Let’s say that you have patients who are coming in for a dermatology appointment. They’re sitting in the waiting room, and there’s nothing to look at but old magazines. This is a good chance to have your printed newsletter sitting there talking not so much about dermatology, but maybe about the facials that you offer in your spa side of rhe business. Maybe there’s some sort of loss leader, coupon things of that nature.
Video loops are a great way to cross-promote your practice to your existing patients. If you’ve been doing what we’ve been advising all along, which is always leading with the positive patient stories, you should have plenty of video testimonials. Whoever is editing your videos together now, it should be no problem at all for them to create a video loop that runs anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. If you have a smart TV, all you have to do is take the video loop, put it on a jump drive, plug the jump drive in the back, and then turn the thing on. You can use this video loop and this very inexpensive way of creating a video loop as an opportunity to cross-promote your practice.
You can cross-promote new physicians that are coming on, new offices that are coming on. At the same time, you can share positive patient stories of the areas of your practice you’re looking to grow, right there on the video loop. The best part is, you’re not having to create a whole bunch of new content. This is content that you’re using in your marketing all along.
I’m always a fan of the big newsletters for cross-promoting. Especially because these newsletters are your content, what you want to talk about. You can set them in your waiting room and in your patient rooms, and they’re great for events and things like that as a sidebar. It’s just a great way to keep your current patients, sitting in your lobby right now, captive on the things that you want them to be captive on. Don’t ever forget about cross-promoting your practice within the paperwork that patients have in front of them, or their walkaway paperwork. If you want them to come back, when they’re walking away from the practice, that’s a great time to make an offer for them to come back, or to encourage them down that path for that next step that you want them to take.
Kind of the last thing that I’m going to suggest that’s super simple for you to do to really work on not having, not losing patients down the road is to really captivate patients with online reviews. What I mean by that is, we always lead with patient stories, and it’s always best when the patient themselves, themself, is telling the story. Why not go to your current captive patients, and the minute they walk out or within the next 24 hours, send them a text review. Ask them to go online and to leave a review about their experience at your practice. Because when they do that, they’re not only reinforcing that they had a positive experience within your practice, but they’re reinforcing to the world that they had that positive experience, and then it starts the cycle all over.
Just quick recap. If we’re going to stop leakage as it relates to referrals and to losing of patients, we need to have a robust referral strategy that starts with data and understanding your current landscape of your referrals. Then second, we’re going to focus on your existing patients. We’re going to focus on your not so frequent patients in the 12, 18, 24-month category, and then we’re going to focus on the patients that you’ve got in your waiting room and in your patient rooms right now. Sometimes when we’re talking about marketing we get so attracted and so excited about the things, using Facebook and ads and Google and billboards and radio and, “We’re going to go out and knock on doors,” that we forget that sometimes the best patient is the patient we’ve already got. It’s our patient and the patient of our referral partners that make the world go round.
I hope that this has given you just a couple of ideas as it relates to kind of stopping the leakage for, stopping the leakage of patients out of your practice. With that, I’m Jennifer, and I’ll see you next time on the Dr. Marketing Tips podcast.