Patients have more options than ever before. With so much information available online, they no longer feel the need to visit the hospital or practice closest to their location. That’s why it’s so important to have a planned, budgeted healthcare marketing strategy to reach new and returning patients in your area at the right time.
Even if you’re happy with your current patient volume, that doesn’t mean you can go without a planned medical marketing strategy to keep your brand at the forefront of people’s minds. Think of all the reasons someone might decide to switch healthcare providers: a change in insurance, relocation, dissatisfaction with wait times, or just one negative experience. You are not guaranteed to keep up your patient volume forever.
Planning Your Healthcare Marketing Strategy
Doctors tell patients all the time that an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure. It’s better to have a strategy in place now than to wait until you find out your patient database is nearly empty.
A healthcare marketing strategy is an investment. You may have to hire outside help and plan for a larger budget than you have in the past. But in the end, it’s worth it for that peace of mind–and to see your patient volume grow faster than ever before! To help you along, we provided our top 15 items to include with any well-planned healthcare marketing strategy.
1. Use consistent branding
You might feel confident your expertise sets you apart from other practices or hospitals. But let’s face it–to a patient, one white coat looks just like the next.
You need to figure out what your brand is all about. What’s unique about your hospital or practice? Is it the way you treat patients? Your family-friendly office? A spa-like environment? There is at least one thing that makes your team unique, and that’s what helps patients remember your name.
It may take time to figure out what works for your brand. But eventually, your healthcare marketing strategy comes together smoothly because you learn how best to represent your brand with any marketing materials.
2. Evaluate the online patient experience
A decade ago, simply having a website was enough to impress prospective patients and help them find your brand. But now, a website is healthcare’s new front door. It’s the first thing patients often see, and if it’s not optimized for user experience, it may also be the last time a person considers your hospital or practice.
Put yourself in a patient’s shoes. If someone were to land on any page of your site, would they know your location and primary services in about 5-10 seconds? Would they be able to contact the right person quickly? Do the imagery and wording represent your average patient?
User experience is an important consideration in website design. But sometimes, designers are so focused on making the website look good, they forget to focus on the patient experience. We often find that websites need to be completely redone. However, it might help to make small changes, like positioning the “Contact Us” form higher up on the page.
3. Build a responsive website
A responsive website is one that automatically adjusts to the size of a screen, so the experience is the same whether the site is accessed on a computer, tablet, or mobile device. It’s the norm in website design today–but more than that, it’s something the search engines are looking for when crawling your website to determine where you rank.
Google cares about the user experience, and it will prioritize competitors who have a site optimized for mobile. In general, responsive sites work best for the mobile experience. But even if you currently have a responsive site, you should check that the content and imagery continues to load properly on mobile devices.
4. Test site speeds
Marketers who study user behaviors online have proven that patients today are less willing to put up with slow loading times than ever before. It only takes 5 seconds to lose a prospective patient who decides to navigate elsewhere thanks to your slow site.
In fact, it’s another user experience issue that may cause your medical website to fall in the search engine results. You can test your site speed at Google’s PageSpeed Insights here. If load times are slow, speak to your web developer about ways to speed it up.
5. Optimize for the search engines
Search engine optimization is a powerful tool for getting your practice or hospital to the top of the search engines. However, it’s a lot more complex than most people realize. You cannot simply use the term “optometry practice” 100 times throughout your website and hope to rank number one on Google among optometrists in your area.
A large part of SEO involves using the right keywords so that Google can crawl your site and make sure you rank for the proper terms. But it also means using those terms naturally throughout your content, as Google cares about readability first and foremost. And this is only the beginning of best practices for SEO, which also include:
- Having links pointing back to each page on your site.
- Gaining backlinks from reputable sites.
- Managing your site index or sitemap.
- Claiming your site on Google My Business.
- Submitting your site to Google.
6. Utilize PPC and display ads
Search engine optimization is an organic way to make a practice or hospital more visible online. However, even if your site ranks number one for a search term like “dentist in Tulsa,” there are still 3 or 4 paid advertisements above that number one search that people will see first.
These are pay-per-click advertisements, paid advertisements that are laser-targeted to appear first for a set of search terms. With pay-per-click advertising (also known as PPC or paid search), you can manage your budget and decide what you’d be willing to spend to keep your site visible at the top of the search engines. Your return on investment is clear and defined with both PPC ads and display ads that appear on the sidebar or top of other websites.
7. Leverage social media (the right way)
Too many hospitals and practices rely on organic social media for a large part of their digital healthcare marketing strategies. Organic social media means posting photos, updates, events, and more directly to the Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ platform, and it’s a valid strategy to build your brand and let patients know what’s new.
However, it shouldn’t be your only social strategy. Paid advertising on social media is a better way to reach the right people who may be looking for your services—even if you’re not already connected. Let’s face it: few people share posts from local healthcare organizations online unless they are already engaged with that group, or better yet, employed by it.
Paid social media is about more than pressing the “Boost Post” button that appears when you post from your business page. Like PPC and display advertising, it involves strategizing and budgeting to target the audience you want.
8. Ask for reviews
Typically, patients only leave reviews when they are motivated to do so, or if they had an above average (or extremely poor) experience. Unless you ask for reviews, you miss an opportunity to feature positive feedback from patients who were satisfied with their visit. This might be difficult for your front office staff to do–and they should not be required to evaluate each patient’s level of satisfaction as they walk out the door.
That’s why we recommend automated reviews as part of any hospital or practice healthcare marketing strategy. Here’s a brief overview of automated reviews: patients use a computer or tablet at the office to rate the quality of service they received on a scale of 1-10. High scores automate a follow-up email asking the patient to leave a review on their site. Those positive reviews show up directly on your website and can potentially counteract any negative reviews left elsewhere online.
Poor scores allow the practice or hospital a chance to ask the patient to elaborate and, hopefully, reach out and resolve the issue.
9. Follow up with patient feedback
You can’t help it when patients have a poor opinion of your practice and leave reviews on outside sites such as Yelp. What you can do, however, is follow up with any patient feedback and show that you are working on the problem. Sites like Yelp allow you to respond to patient feedback directly. With the right follow-up, patients may be motivated to update their review to let others know the problem was resolved in a timely fashion.
Reputation management should be part of any healthcare marketing strategy, but this doesn’t mean you should get defensive about negative reviews. It means upgrading processes and equipment and ensuring the best possible patient experience moving forward based on prior patient feedback.
10. Look into traditional media options
Many hospitals, groups, and practices are afraid to invest in external media opportunities: traditional advertising sources like radio, television, billboards, and newspapers. It’s a major investment, and you have to be careful about where you spend your money to see the best results.
Having a trustworthy media buyer to make these decisions for you is the best way to make sure your advertisements get seen by the right people at the right time. A billboard in the middle of nowhere does little to bring in patients, but a television advertisement that runs on a channel with demographics that represent your average patient can do wonders for your ROI.
11. Build doctor referrals
How does your practice reach potential referring doctors? If you’re not using a physician liaison, you’re not getting what you need. Too many practices and specialty groups trust the front desk to reach out to doctors who may choose to refer their practice–but the front desk simply does not have the time to commit to this!
Doctor referrals are some of your best organic strategies for bringing in new patients. Your physician liaison should be visiting hospitals and practices every day, scheduling lunches with potential referral bases, and keeping in touch with potential sources.
See also: Grow Doctor Referrals
12. Check in with current patients
Though it may not compare to digital advertising, word-of-mouth referrals should always be part of your overall healthcare marketing strategy.
Follow up with patients after an appointment or procedure to see how they’re doing. Ask about their families, or send out birthday cards with a personalized touch. Send emails and mail reminders for follow-up appointments, and do whatever you can to maintain a relationship. Patients will always appreciate that you took the time and may make a point to recommend you to friends and family.
13. Become an authority in your field
Prospective patients remember you when you establish yourself as an authority in your medical specialty. Your PR (public relations) strategy should involve reaching out to the appropriate media outlet when you have something to share–it’s free advertising for your brand!
Stay up-to-date with your industry through LinkedIn groups and other online forums. Consider following sites like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to learn about interview opportunities. Submit press releases from time to time–and consider hiring outside help to boost your visibility.
14. Track your strategy
You should continuously monitor how your medical marketing strategy pays off in terms of ROI. Each year, your healthcare marketing budget should adjust in terms of what you want to focus on this year, based on a careful study of your metrics so far. There are many ways to do this:
- Use a CRM (customer relationship management system) like HubSpot to track how patients engage with your campaigns via email or targeted landing pages.
- Use Google Analytics to find out what terms you rank for in the search engines, and which terms you’re missing out on.
- Track your pay-per-click campaigns by setting up Google AdWords.
- Use a HIPAA compliant phone tracking system to see how paid advertising is paying off and to monitor your front desk.
15. Audit your front desk
You can have the best healthcare marketing strategy for anyone in your area…but if your front desk staff cannot handle calls properly, you lose money and opportunities. An audit of your front desk may reveal any of the following:
- Long hold times
- Confusion or misinformation
- A slow scheduling system
- An inability on the part of your staff to “sell” your services
- No strategy in place to get patients to book an appointment
We strongly believe that no healthcare marketing strategy is complete if you don’t take the time to train the front office staff properly!