Patient Acquisition – Some Basic Ideas

Healthcare, in many respects, is becoming a more competitive industry for providers.

Health plans are increasingly narrowing down their offerings to smaller groups of providers, clinically integrated networks are selecting preferred providers to be part of their organizations, employers are creating their own clinics, and groups of providers or health systems – and their preferred external partners – are entering into risk-based contracts or accountable care organization (ACO) arrangements with payers.

This new and more competitive model of healthcare is increasingly requiring providers or practices to focus on patient acquisition.

This is especially true for primary care providers (PCPs) because under most health plan contractual relationships, it is to them who patients are attributed; thus, if they want to be successful, primary care providers especially – and other providers too – must know what type of patients they want and how to both bring them into the practice and how to keep them attributed to the PCP practice.

A practice requires a patient acquisition strategy.

Except for, perhaps, the business manager and HR lead, it is often forgotten – especially due to the nature of medicine as a vocation and passion – that medical practices are, indeed, businesses.

As with any business, sales and customers are the oxygen that sustains life for the rest of clinic. Likewise, as with other businesses marketing is required if one wants to acquire sufficient customers to remain profitable.

Doing so requires not only, as mentioned previously, an acquisition/marketing strategy but, also, a method for regularly tracking the return-on-investment (ROI) of the strategy to ensure that it is contributing to profitably and practice sustainability rather than just being another deadweight cost.

Some Digital Basics

The first thing that must be asked is do you have a digital presence?

That is, do you have a website?

More importantly, is it more than a glorified business card or brochure?

Too often, businesses – especially medical practices – have static, outdated websites with little updated content.

Usually, there’s little more than professional qualifications for the providers, business hours, insurances accepted, and contact information. Social media sites usually have only customer reviews, business hours, and contact information.

In general, medical practice websites have little information to entice people to view the site which is necessary if one wants to use the site to attract patients. Resolving this should be one of the first strategies to attract patients.

The first step in resolving the issue with poorly designed and static websites is to make sure that the clinic has up-to-date, attractive branding. This would involve a standard color scheme and, possibly, a font layout.

It would, likewise, also involve creating an attractive logo. This layout – to best extent allowed by the format – would be displayed on the company’s website and social media platforms.

The next item that a clinic ought to do is update the content on a regular basis.

For example, add social media posts and website blog posts – use a website platform such as WordPress to allow for efficient updates – about the flu season, community health events, and various health screenings to mention a few ideas.

Frequently posted content gives people a reason to add the clinic to their Facebook feed or to subscribe to blog updates via e-mail. There are a lot of resources on the web for developing a content strategy. One can find some starting information here.

Finding Your Niche

You’re probably saying that a practice’s niche is its providers’ specialty. That, however, isn’t probably the entire truth.

Upon examination and reflection, providers and administrators will probably find that there are certain demographics and diagnoses where a professional aptitude or passion exists.

Some family physicians are interested in weight management, others are interested in diabetes prevention, and others have a passion for women’s health.

Moreover, some providers have an interest in working with senior citizens; whereas, others are passionate about treating whole families.

For a sole provider practice, finding one’s niche is extremely important. This will keep the provider engaged in the care that they are providing, and – equally important – patients will notice that the provider is passionate about the care they are providing and, thus, the patient will be more likely to retain the relationship.

In multi-provider practices, there may be a need – where passions and aptitudes are diverse – to layout the idea niche for each provider.

This individualization may evolve into separate patient acquisition plans for each provider. This can be both beneficial – diversity in the composition of patients/consumers can help offset some risk in overspecializing – and challenging as the practice will need to tailor marketing messages to different demographics.

There are additional benefits to identifying and pursuing a niche.

If, for example, one’s preference is to work with elderly patients, one can then target patient education material to that demographic, assist billing staff in specializing in working with Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans, and focus one’s incentive coordinators on HEDIS measures that those plans incentivize heavily.

On the other hand, if a provider’s preference is to work with families, the educational material would change, and, perhaps, ancillary services would focus on whole family health – e.g., wise food choices, active lifestyles, and more sound family interpersonal dynamics.

In effect, finding a niche isn’t just about marketing in itself; rather, it encompasses everything from back-office staffing specializations to the general ambiance of the practice.

What’s my Value?

Once a niche has been identified, then the practice must define what differentiates it from competing practices – i.e., it must develop its value proposition.

An accurate, concise, and powerful value proposition helps focus the practice team on what their strengths are, who their customers are, and helps to convert potential patients into satisfied patients.

For example, perhaps a practice is an internal medicine group with a focus on diabetic and pre-diabetic patients. The practice may, as a value proposition, perform A1C screenings and micro/microalbumin tests with onsite lab equipment to better convenience patients, and, there may be a registered dietician and care manager on staff that works with at-risk patients to either manage an existing diagnosis or prevent pre-diabetes from becoming diabetes; moreover, financial assistance staff would likely be trained in navigating through patient assistance programs for the major diabetic equipment manufacturers.

The goal is to demonstrate to patients – to retain them – and to potential patients within the practice’s niche that the practice provides optimal value for their current and future health needs and can offer them more value for their healthcare dollars than competing practices.

How to Start?

The first thing one should do while beginning to formulate a patient acquisition strategy is to conduct an initial review.

For example, what content is currently available?

How often is it updated?

How professional and inviting is the website – if one exists – and does the practice have an attractive logo?

Then, one would want to begin studying what the practice’s niche is, and, subsequently, then it ought to develop a value proposition.

The goal is to be deliberate and to reflect and assess heavily as the patient acquisition strategy will greatly impact not only the patients that come to the practice, but it will also impact employee and provider morale.