The patient acquisition cycle starts with acquiring new patients and keeps advancing with retaining them as your loyal customers, and further keeps on revolving with getting more number of patients referred by your existing happy patients, and so on. The fuel that keeps on rotating this cycle to get more patients is derived from an inspiration of providing an exceptional patient experience. Without that, you cannot attract new patients to your practice which will cause your practice’s growth to stall.
For providing an exceptional patient experience, you’ll first need to understand and stand out on your patients’ expectations. Apart from that, you’ll also need to market yourself for increasing trust and confidence among your existing patients in a way that is also beneficial to increase patient referrals for you.
Here’s a 7-step guide following which you can boost the rotating speed of your patient acquisition cycle, and get more patients to your clinic:
Understand patients’ needs & expectations
To start with, you should first understand where you lack as a provider. For that, you’ll need to know about your patients’ needs and expectations, and your performance on those fronts. And, who other than your patients could tell you better about those!
Conduct patient satisfaction surveys, or simply look into the CAHPS survey results to understand what bothers your patients about your quality of care and customer service. Also, engage into focused discussions on topics related to diagnosis, treatment, staff communication and hospitality with your patients either face-to-face asking questions about their feelings (while they go through your treatment procedure), or on social media chats and patient portals. Check out what your patients are talking about you on review websites too. By aggregating your notes on all the replies and responses, you can get a fair idea about your areas of improvement.
Conduct sentiment analysis for a deeper understanding
By empathizing with your patients and their concerns, you can understand their emotions in a more friendly and accurate manner. Although you can directly talk with your patients to understand their emotions, it’s not possible with your manual efforts to understand and keep a record of each of their responses and do analysis over them. Also, it’s not very likely that your patients will openly share their emotions with you. Moreover, do you think you’ll get enough time to talk over these with each of your patients?
With surveys powered by sentiment analysis software, you can not only understand your patients’ emotions very well, but also keep a report of them, all done with a thorough analysis of your patients’ emotions and their intensity.
Sentiment analysis tools will assist you greatly on this. It will help you send a survey link to your patients soon after they leave your office. You will need to include the following questions in your survey to elicit responses that can be analyzed for sentiment:
- Their likelihood of recommending you to their friends/relatives based on their experience. Use a scale of 1-5 (most common) or 0-10 (industry standard for calculating net promoter score).
- An open-ended comment box where they can elaborate on their rating and anything else they’d like to share about the visit.
The AI technology will do its part by extracting human emotions from written feedback. It will help you understand exactly how your patients felt about their visits, and spot patterns overtime to identify problem areas.
Identify your target audience based on demography
While analyzing all the data and information to understand your patients’ needs and wants, and their sentiments, you should also make note of the target audience for each areas based on their demography like age, gender, location, etc. This will help in creating and executing very specific marketing campaigns and also optimizing your online marketing entities and activities.
From your website’s Google Analytics account, you can get demographic data regarding both: the actual converts, and the interested prospects. Find below the screenshot of the Analytics account of one of our dental clients showing the gender based user data for the previous 3 months.
You can see that almost 60% of the total prospects (‘new users’ section, as highlighted under the red box) are females. Same is the percentage in case of the female converts (see the ‘goal completion’ section highlighted under the red box). This could be because it’s women who typically make the most of all healthcare buying decisions in a family, which means that the client need to invest more time, energy, and effort in targeting married women to get more patients to their clinic.
You can also get specific landing page data from analytics for your different service categories so that you can know what will help you target your prospects based on their specific needs and interests.
Create unique internal patient referral programs
Identifying and understanding your target audience is the first stage in your journey to get more patients. The next step to do are internal marketing practices at your clinic focused on increasing patient referrals. However, just asking your patients for referrals, or rewarding them for it won’t provide much benefit. Moreover, rewarding for referral favors is forbidden in most, if not all states. By engaging your patients in an interactive conversation, and empathizing with their concerns, you can make your referral programs have more effective results.
- Show short commercials. Show a short, informative, and conversational commercial (during wait times) about ways to help other patients in the practice. Stories about how a patient helped another patient recently will emotionally trigger them to act.
- Offer referral bonuses. While rewarding directly shouldn’t be a great way, you can still reward by deducting from new-patient credit from the patient portion. Don’t forget to include a note on how much and why you discounted the co-pay, while you submit the insurance.
- Ask for reviews. Asking your happy patients to leave reviews will help improve your online reputation. Facilitate them on this by sending a link for posting a review right after they exit your office. It will help you get more patients from the internet route.
You can also try some more proactive measures such as making calls to each of your patients at the end of the day for demonstrating empathy and compassion, or sending birthday cards, and even inserting customized referral cards with your monthly patient newsletters.
Build strong relationships with referring practices
Building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with referring practices like PCPs and other non-specialists will help you get more patients to your clinic. It will take time to build strong reputation among referring practices. But by ensuring an optimal physician-to-physician communication and a privileged care to the patients referred by them, you can easily secure a strong and long-lasting relationship with them.
One important aspect of an optimal communication involves transfer of relevant clinical information in both directions (referring physician to physician referred). Patients don’t like to reiterate their medical history every time they’re referred to another physician. Approximately one-quarter of the U.S. patients, and 63% of referring physicians reported their dissatisfaction for this.
Apart from improving upon communication matters, focusing on providing a fast and effective care to your referred patients will retain them for life long.
Here are a few tips to acquaint you about how to provide privileged care to your referred patients:
- Tell over-the-counter staff to attend to the referred patients promptly
- Provide speedy appointment to them and don’t let them wait for too long
- Establish a direct line of contact in your office and the office of the referring practice for timely information sharing, and to alleviate the frustration of a lengthy phone tree system
- Send over the treatment and other medical notes to the referring practice soon after the patient has received treatment
Providing privileged care to referred patients doesn’t mean that you fall short on providing quality care to your regular patients. After all, you’ve to promote internal referring through them. But the truth is: you have to let your newly referred patient feel special and for that, the least you can do is to show some extra care to them.
Expand to a robust online presence & authority
Most of the patients who are referred to you will cross-check your reputation on the web. If they find bad reviews about you, or if they can’t reach your site in the first place, they’ll most likely get diverted for other options, and may even go out of the referral network for that. In that case, you’ll need to have a strong online presence and an authoritative influence on the internet to stop them from diverting.
Here’s what your patients expect to find when they search for you on the web:
- Reach you easily on the web – a strong SEO strategy in place will ensure a robust online presence for an easier reach
- Find a positive reputation about you and your quality of care on the web – online reputation management is the key to build a positive reputation
- Be able to navigate through your website swiftly and easily without distractions – a good website design with a clear UX interface will be needed
- Ease of scheduling speedy appointments – a separate landing page with a clear and strong call-to-action will work
A strong online presence doesn’t just mean that you get found easily. It also has to do with the impression that your brand leaves on your patients as the first impression. This won’t be just enough with a stream of positive reviews. You should also focus on gathering online authority by connecting with influencers and getting mentions from them. Having multiple mentions from reputed brands across the online space emits a reputable impression to your patients.
Influencer marketing also lets you get valuable links from reputable persons, publications, or companies from your industry. It helps your website rank higher on search engines, and also get a higher presence and authority on social media too.
Grow reach in your patient community
For doctors, most of whose customers (or patients) come from their locality, it’s essential for them to form a local community and connect with members on a deeper level. This could be highly rewarding as having a strong community of patients also lets you advance your reach in both online and offline space.
You can try various things to build a strong community and get a hold of your presence in it:
- Newsletters: Patients enjoy receiving and reading newsletters that solve their health concerns. Send out neighborhood newsletters that share tips and information for health improvement. The point here is to actively engage your patients by providing an interactive discussion material. Newsletters are also a great way for branding, so always keep your practice on the forefront of your patients’ minds.
- Community events: Participating in community events, such as volunteer activities and neighborhood celebrations can brilliantly improve local networking and establish your strong presence in the community. The key to success here is to be visible, friendly, and being supportive to your patient community.
- Sponsor events and leagues: Another brilliant way for community relationship building is to sponsor small fun and sports events and little leagues on at least a bi-yearly basis. Having a sports team of kids or adults in your practice’s name will immensely improve your brand authority in the community.
- Facebook page: Form an online community of your patients. Set up a Facebook page in your practice’s name. It can be a great place for showing off the culture of your practice from patients’ and staff’s perspective. Facebook pages are also a great way to promote engagement by starting conversation on different health matters, conducting quizzes, and spreading awareness about your activities and events as a healthcare provider.
Be in touch with various online and offline local news and media houses. Have a friendly relation with them. Leverage it for getting the news about your participation, sponsors, and other professional activities published through them for a wider brand reach.
P.S. – Assign the patient referral internal marketing program to a specific employee to fix accountability. This is more important for clinics or hospitals that are too busy for marketing.
In the End…
Each of these tips will require specific knowledge and efforts to be carried out successfully. Some of these knowledge and efforts will come from your practice’s team, while some will be needed from your healthcare marketing team. It’s only by involving your marketing team into this process that you can build a strong action plan that will help you get more patients to your clinic.
Ajay Prasad is the Founder and President of GMR Web Team, a leading healthcare digital marketing agency. He guides small and medium size healthcare practices/businesses in customizing their online marketing strategy, focused on building a loyal base of patients and improving their patient acquisition. Ajay believes in an improved patient experience as the key to successful healthcare business, which can be accomplished with the right marketing plan in place.