3 valuable ways to increase your patient census
By Sandra Scott
As a physician in today’s health care environment, you have many important and pressing requests on your time. From practice demands to increased and mandatory documentation necessary for regulatory compliance and insurance approvals, running a practice involves more than providing great patient care.
Many physicians feel that managing administrative demands does not allow them to spend as much time with patients as they would like. These constraints also leave physicians with very little time if any to market their services to the growing number of patients who need the quality care they provide. As such, physicians are concerned about how they will grow their practice given competing demands on their time.
If this is a feeling you can relate to as a family practice physician, there is encouragement. Listed below are three of the most valuable ways you can increase your patient census while managing the responsibilities of your practice.
FOCUS ON CUSTOMER SERVICE
Although we have facts about a product or service, we base most of our final purchasing decisions on how we feel as consumers. A product can be safe, affordable, healthy, or a sound investment. However, once all our information boxes are checked, we make our end decision based on how we feel.
Patients today are more aware than ever. From television commercials encouraging viewers to discuss a drug with their “prescriber” to the plethora of internet sources enabling us to self-diagnose, patients do not lack for information.
So, how does this apply to your family practice? When patients visit your practice, they’ve either done their research or selected you from the available options provided by their insurance provider. Although you listen to patient concerns, educate them during the office visit and inform them regarding next steps, it is also vital to ensure that patients have a positive experience.
Is the atmosphere of your waiting area pleasant, warm, and welcoming to patients or is the perception that it is cold and sterile? Does your medical team who greets your patients at the reception desk engage them with hospitable smiles extending warmth and courtesy? As a physician, do you make a connection with your patients in the time you have such that they feel heard, understood, and supported? If asked, how would you describe what differentiates your practice from that of another family physician or medical group that on paper provides the same medical services you do?
To achieve great customer service is an investment in training that does not have to cost a lot of money or a lot of time. Once a week provide an in-service for your staff focused on hospitality-based customer service. Have one goal or focus for the week and ask your team to share examples of how they went the extra mile to provide information or greet a patient warmly. You will be amazed by how expressing gratitude to a patient at check-out merely by saying “thank you for allowing us to care for you today” can make a difference in how that patient feels about your practice.
Focusing on customer service and a ensuring a positive experience at your practice can increase the likelihood of a patient’s return and promote positive referrals.
ENGAGE IN PUBLIC RELATIONS
Public relations is a great way to increase your patient census. From paid spots on your local morning show, which positions you as an authority in your field, to the appropriate social media platform, which can act as an educational arm of your practice sharing safety initiatives, research findings, or community involvement — all can be utilized to help build an awareness of your practice in your community.
As you are practicing great customer service, encourage your patients to leave online reviews. Online reviews are not only a cost-effective way of growing a customer base, it is also a way to build credibility and trust with future patients who rely on the shared experiences of others to make decisions. According to websitebuilder.org, “84% of people trust[ed] online reviews as much as they trust[ed] recommendations from friends” in 2019. Asking for a review at the end of a patient’s visit is not only cost effective, it does not put an additional burden on your time as a physician.
It is important to note that you must take time to manage your practice’s reputation by addressing online reviews, both positive and negative, as it is essential to the success of your business. According to websitebuilder.org, in 2019, 95% of consumers read reviews on sites such as Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Facebook before making a purchasing decision.
Do not be afraid to address negative reviews about your practice online. While protecting your patient’s privacy, be proactive in addressing a post by saying, “Thank you for sharing your experience with us. We value your input and ask that you contact our office directly so that we can address and resolve your concerns.”
It is equally important to thank patients who leave positive reviews. You can simply say, “Thank you for your valuable feedback. Every patient matters and your health and well-being are important to us. We are glad you had a positive experience.”
Managing how you are perceived by your community is vital to your practice. Addressed correctly and proactively, it will not only build goodwill, but it will lead to long term growth.
HAVE A MARKETING PLAN
As a physician, you did not go to medical school to be a marketer. You became a doctor to support patients who need your skill and expertise, to help them live healthy lives, and to provide the care they need and deserve.
However, for those patients to find you whether they’ve lived in your demographic area for a long time or have recently moved to the area, you need to rely on more than a provider’s list that names you as in network. You need a plan.
Your marketing plan can vary based not only on your budget, but on your goals, mission, vision, and growth strategy. Your plan does not need to be complex or take a great deal of time, but it should take thought.
For example, if your family practice would like to grow in the number of patients you serve, you may wish to provide a direct mail piece educating recipients with clear messaging about how you can help them thrive. Create a series of direct mail pieces that focuses on this theme, featuring positive patient reviews as well as your quality measures.
You can also choose to create an email campaign that focuses on your practice’s location and the convenience for patients because you are a certain proximity to where they live or work.
Whatever your strategic approach, concisely explain why someone should select your practice, put their trust in you, and become your patient. Executed correctly, a plan can build value with prospective patients both online and off.
Remember that patients have choices. Your existing patients will remain loyal to your practice and you will gain new patients if they feel they are valued, that they matter, and their care is important to you. So, give your prospective patients a reason why they should choose you and ensure that they realize a great customer experience when they visit your practice.
Scott Marketing and Consulting Group located in San Antonio, Texas provides marketing consulting services to the health care and senior living industries. For more information visit www.scottgroup.consulting.