5 steps to saving your practice through your online presence
I recently spent some time with a practice that was failing. Really, truly failing.
The failure had come as a shock to the doctor; his practice had been remarkably profitable for nearly 25 years. He was deeply loved by his patients. He had excellent bedside manner. He took great care to spend time getting to know and engage with his patients while they were in the office. He sent out Christmas and birthday cards.
The problem wasn’t that he was losing loyalty from the patients he already had. It boiled down to this: As normal attrition started to decrease his existing patient base, he wasn’t generating enough new ones to make up the difference.
As a result, (and right as he was approaching retirement age, no less), his practice was suffering so severely that he had to work harder than ever just to keep it afloat. Not only could he not retire, he was forced to foreclose on his home because all of his money was going into the practice.
So why had this previously successful practice suddenly become so desperate for a solution to getting new patients in the door?
I’ll give you a hint: It’s the same thing that has quite literally transformed the way we spend our days over the last decade. To steal a phrase from this doctor… His practice wasn’t showing up ‘on the line.’
That is, he had absolutely no web presence.
Why did he have to be ‘on the line’?
Let’s look at how you used to generate new patients.
Maybe you sent out a quarterly mailer or even sprung for a bigger section in the Yellow Pages. Regardless, you relied on word-of-mouth and referrals to keep new patients walking in the door.
But business has changed. If you sit around hoping that your patients will tell their friends and then those friends will keep your phone ringing, you’re going to see the same sort of attrition to your patient base that the practice I was working with had been suffering from.
Don’t referrals count anymore?
Referrals have always been the most powerful form of new business, but they now come with a caveat: We don’t just take our neighbor’s word for it. They tell us how great their doctor is, give us the phone number, and we say we will call. But do we? Not until we Google them. Even the internet dummies are smart enough to know that they need to do a few searches before making a decision.
Basically, if prospective patients don’t find anything when they google the name of you or your practice, they aren’t going to schedule an appointment even if you come highly recommended.
How are prospective patients that haven’t been given a referral finding a provider?
With a few clicks of the keyboard, or even just a voice request to Google or Siri, they are jumping online and searching for a provider in their area.
In fact, the importance of an online presence has increased greatly just in the last year. A recent study from Opticall analyzed data regarding the sources of new appointments from January to December in 2013. ‘Internet Sources’ was just as strong of a lead motivator as ‘word of mouth/referral.’
‘Cyber-stalking’ providers isn’t just about doing our due-diligence. We simply don’t find things the way we used to anymore: We don’t use phone books, we don’t just pop into the practice on the corner, and we don’t pay attention to the junk mail solicitations (which, let’s face it, is what your mailers would be considered.)
We use technology to look up and evaluate our options.
So how are they going to find you, if you aren’t showing up the only place they look?
Getting ‘on the line’
This was the problem for the office I started working with: Patients weren’t finding his practice when they looked online, even if they already knew his name.
When I told him that this was the problem, his shoulders slumped. He isn’t the youngest doc on the block. He could barely figure out how to perform his own search result, let alone comprehend how to make his name show up on other people’s searches.
Fortunately, I told him, getting your name on the web isn’t really that big of a deal.
There are a lot of small steps you can take, but we started with the basics. After just a few hours, he had created his own little place on the web. Within the month, he began generating new patients—some from referrals that checked out his practice website before calling, and some that were just the stray patient that needed a doctor and called on good ‘ol Google.
I’ll discuss the following tips in more detail one at a time in my Marketing Monday articles, but even this high level overview can give you the direction you need to get off and rolling.
5 Basic Steps for Establishing your Online Presence
Before We Begin: Identifying the problem
I’d venture to tell you that, even if you do show up online, you will still benefit by revisiting and improving your online strategy every once in a while. This is a good time to start.
Do a search for providers in your area. If you’re a dentist, try typing something like ‘best dentist in chicago’ or ‘great ohio dentist’ into the search bar. If Google searches are still foreign to you, ask people around you what they would search for if they were looking for a provider and then use that phrase.
Where do you show up? Do you show up?
- Have a website
There are many tips I can give you for using your website to the fullest, but before you can get to those, just create one. If you’re not already showing up online by this point, it’s likely that you might not know how to get started with a website. Fortunately, there are undoubtedly a multitude of people surrounding you every day that will be able to help you out. If you can’t afford to hire a company to create a website for you (do a google search to find one, if you can) then ask someone you know to create a Wordpress account and use it as a website. Most people under the age of 35 will be able to do it without using a tutorial, but it’s very simple to find tutorials on YouTube to walk you through it.
- Create content
Please remember this: Patients don’t want to choose a practice at random. They want to know you, dig into your credibility, and feel confident that they are making the right decision. Once you have that, take time to update your page with a bit of content once in a while. Give them a tip, review the restaurant next door… Even just a few paragraphs once a week on your website will not only increase engagement, it will improve your search result ranking.
- Venture into social media
Whether or not it’s your ‘bag’, social media is used by the majority of the population. If you don’t show up there, you’re missing out on referrals and from-scratch patients alike. Patients want a tech-savvy, cutting-edge provider. Not being able to connect via social media is a warning sign, so create the accounts and use them to express your personality and the qualities of your practice.
- Check your business listings
When I did a search for the contact information for the practice I was working with, I did yield some results. Unfortunately, the information was incorrect. Of course, no one in the practice had ‘claimed’ the sites, so no one had taken the initiative to update the info. Within just an hour, I’d helped them claim their listings for the big sites like Yelp! and Google.
- Incentivize reviews
Patients are online all the time, but if you think that the happy ones will pop over to the big review sites and talk you up, you’re in for a sad surprise. People only proactively leave reviews when they are ticked off and need to vent. However, incentivizing people to leave reviews tends to see excellent results. Make a push from your social media, include links to review sites in your newsletters, or print off little papers and hand them out to your patients as they leave the office. If nothing else, just ask them. Be honest. Tell your happy patients that you’re trying to establish yourself online and need some help, chances are that they will be happy to do what they can.
I know it sounds overwhelming, but please take my word for it: If my 11 year old can create a blog and use social media, so can you. If all else fails, hand this list off to the person that monitors your front desk. They can do it, I promise.
Check back on Mondays for more Marketing Monday posts to help you grow and improve your practice (and your profitability.)
About the author:
Amy LaVange is a professional educator for healthcare providers. She specializes in helping practices reduce inefficiencies and lower costs, so providers and their staff can spend less time worrying about their bottom line and more time caring for their patients. She currently manages communications for Solutionreach, where she consults with their clients and creates educational content to help them establish patient-centered practices by utilizing tools and techniques that allow them to streamline their productivity and improve their patient experience.