MARKETING IN A CRISIS: Medical practice marketing strategies for COVID19

Sep 28, 2020

Medical marketing gurus Ashley Ulrich and Dr. Rick Thompson examine strategies for medical practices to get through these unprecedented times.

COVID19 is bringing fear and uncertainty into our communities, leaving many medical practices questioning what lies ahead. Although you may need to adjust some of your healthcare marketing efforts, cutting marketing when things get tight is the wrong decision. Continuing to build brand awareness and cultivating and maintaining your referral network are ongoing, no matter what. In addition, people are spending more time than ever online and many referring medical providers and their staff have more time on their hands. It is essential to stay top-of-mind and take advantage of the opportunity to ethically and effectively position for medical practice or facility for the future.

Let’s first think about fundamental ways to market a medical practice or facilities:

  • Branding
  • Digital marketing/social media
  • Traditional Advertising
  • Referral Marketing
  • Media/Public Relations
  • Reputation Management

All of these strategies are important on some level to medical practices of all shapes and sizes. Marketing is as important as ever as medical practices must rethink existing, and evaluate new, strategies to grow in a world that is much different today than it was a few months ago. Nearly 50% of patients or a family member have skipped or postponed treatment because of COVID-19 and will eventually need to schedule appointments, either virtually or in person. Staying top-of-mind with patients and referral sources with any or all of the above fundamental marketing strategies, with a consistent and frequent message, is essential. Here are some things to consider as you think about keeping your medical practice thriving during these challenging times:

 

1. Don’t. Stop. Marketing.

Marketing your medical practice during and after COVID-19 must be a priority.

The last thing you want to do is halt marketing efforts. Building and maintaining your brand is the way your patients and potential patients will maintain their recognition and trust in you as a practice. They need to know that you are here and you are weathering the storm. You should also use this time to capitalize on exposure. Many practices first action has been to cut marketing expenditures. This allows you the space, time and audience to maximize impact and impression on potential patients and referral sources.

Right now is a great time to try something new. Be bold in your marketing efforts. The most successful practices will leverage opportunities presented during these challenging times and cultivate brand awareness needed to support their businesses into the future.

2. Stay engaged with referral partners

Nothing has a greater marketing impact or is a better use of time or money than specialists taking the time and effort to make themselves known to referring physicians and other referral sources (maybe schools, daycares, community businesses?). The referring physician is in fact your most important customer, next to your patients. This simple but effective approach to marketing yourself and your practice will be well worth the time and dollars spent.

Utilizing a Physician Liaison, a representative that can help build these referral relationships on your behalf, is essential in a competitive marketing. Other doctors, nurses and patients have choices, and referral habits can change. Staying top-of-mind and cultivating and maintaining trust and rapport in your community is one of the best long-term marketing strategies out there for medical practices.

3. Embrace high-value social media

Right now, social media is one of your most important practice tools. It has evolved into the lifeblood of marketing for medical practices. If you have “dabbled” in the past and have lacked in consistency and frequency, now is the time to change that. Guide your budget towards social media and providing high-value information. Spend the time and money on this low-cost strategy that yields huge ROI quickly. If you are medical practice that is relying on its website and doesn’t have a strong social presence, it’s never too late.

Social media, especially Facebook (for the sheer volume of users), is an important channel to keep you top-of-mind in your community. It serves to build your authority further in the eyes of current and potential patients – they get to know you and trust you. Focusing your message on your commitment to the health and safety of your community will continue to reconfirm your value to them. Your patients may be rescheduling appointments now, but eventually, they’ll need to come back in. And when they do, your continued educational efforts will make them more likely to come to you for their long-awaited procedures. This is nurture marketing and it’s incredibly effective for healthcare providers.

Lastly, and very importantly, don’t outsource your medical social media to a general firm. Use a medically-specific healthcare marketing firm and keep your sights set on providing the best patient care possible. Having the added hurdle of a marketing partner with a learning curve about the topics that matter to your patients, slows down your practice at a time when reaction time is critical.

4. Seek ways to be visible in your community.

This is a great time to build goodwill in your community. Patients want to go to a practice that they see contributing to the community around them. Referring physicians and their nursing staff want to see you active in the community, perhaps by donating time, food, money or volunteer hours. Writing a column in a local new publication or doing a brief interview on a local TV station are also great and effective ways for an exposure opportunity for your practice.

We also always stress the importance of joining the local Chamber of Commerce with our clients. Getting involved in chamber events or hosting (when safe to do so) events at your practice for other businesses to see how things are going. Anything to build awareness of your practice and providers within your community is a great way to stay top-of-mind!

5. Plan for the long term

Success for a medical practice is a marathon – not a sprint – and setting long term goals is essential. A reported 80% of doctors are either at capacity or over extended and now more than ever, physicians and administrators are stressed out and overworked. In such a demanding profession, simply meeting the main objective of treating patients can be overwhelming enough. There is often little time left to give to thinking about a long-term marketing plan to grow the business. However, especially for a private practice, it is crucial.

There are indeed doctors that understand the business side of their medical practice and make it a priority. They understand marketing and the importance of a robust referral network and planning for the future. But for each doctor that gets it, there are many more that don’t or don’t want to, much of which is due to the lack of business education in medical school. Patients should certainly be doctors’ primary priority; however, it is essential for physicians to understand their practice as a business in order for it to grow and thrive in the long term. Clinical expertise is simply not enough. Implementing key marketing strategies to attract new referral sources and patients is crucial.

6. Trust the advice of experts

Caring for patients is what you do best. Hire great people to help you with what you aren’t great at. Patient care improves when you let experts do the rest (marketing, accounting, etc).

Knowing how to best promote your practice to patients and other medical providers is a big task. Less than 10% of physicians routinely refer to physicians they don’t know and about 40% say they know something specific about the specialists’ outcomes or quality records. The more well-known you are in your community, the greater your opportunity for referrals from other medical providers (namely PCPs). No time for this? Hire a Physician Liaison to make connections on your behalf. This is a very effective model that has shown time and time again to help specialty practices build patient pipelines that ensure long term success.

7. Stay Tuned into Your Practice Reputation Management

Reputation Management is more important than anyone thinks. Period. 63% of people choose one provider over another because of their online presence. So even if your referral network is strong, potential patients will still look you up online. Monitoring Google, Facebook, Healthgrades and other channels for reviews (or posts) is essential. Negative reviews can hurt your practice substantially. Most every provider and practice at some point is going to receive a negative review, regardless of whether it was accurate. There are ways to help boost reputation to ensure that negative reviews are overlooked by the strong positive feedback left.

Staying on top of reviews (both negative AND positive) and responding immediately is essential. Asking satisfied patients for feedback and/or surveying patients after visits are also both very effective to build and maintain trust and rapport.

8. Update your Medical Practice Local Online Listings

Make sure your Google My Business page is consistent with your website information. If it says your office is open but you’re not, it’s going to frustrate and confuse patients. Update it frequently. Post photo of providers, of your building and COVID policies. Online listings with outdated or otherwise incorrect information can cause pain points that cannot be recovered.

9. Blog

A blog gives you a valid reason to reach out to your patients, potential patients and referral sources. Use blogs to share insight and helpful information. Blogs can be powerful marketing tools if done right. Using the right keywords in your blog post is a great (and cost-effective!) way to increase your ranking on search engines.

In regards to relationship marketing for referrals, blogs give referring medical providers a chance to get to know you, the scope of your practice, your expertise and your passions. The more they get to know you, they more they trust you. The more they trust you, the more comfortable they are sending their patients to you. Your blog is a platform that you can personally customize to help other physicians get to know more about you and your specialty. Short, newsy pieces with clinical information that PCPs can use are a great way to win points. Think carefully about what your referral sources need to know. Then give it to them in brief. Post to your website and social media sites and invite referring medical providers to follow it. Again, a Physician Liaison can help with this.

When starting a blog, we suggest committing to a schedule. Frequency and consistency are important for building brand awareness, but are also great ways to continue to regularly improve SEO.

Who do you think will be in a stronger positon when the crisis lifts – a medical practice that has stopped or limited marketing efforts during the crisis? Or one that’s been consistently engaging and informing their patients and referral sources? Marketing during challenging times builds patient and referrer confidence in your practice and providers and keeps you top-of-mind. And, when other practices cut marketing budgets and go quiet, this creates a huge opportunity for the ones still connecting with their communities to rapidly grow brand loyalty, awareness and
help keep you in front of patients who need immediate care, as well as those who will eventually pick up the phone to make an appointment to see you.

We look forward to helping medical practices get through this challenging season and prepare for better times ahead. Stay healthy!

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