Marketing to Patients for Clinic Growth
Consider the benefits of internal marketing for maintaining communication.
By Jenilee Jaber, BA
For any clinic to successfully grow, or even to just remain steady, there must be a stable stream of new patients.
We often consider external marketing as the most important way to build a practice and forget that we need to continue to market to our new patients once they walk through our doors! The perfect clinic schedule includes the regular addition of new patients to go along with the standard visits that follow evaluations. This crucial aspect of a clinic’s schedule includes an intentional internal marketing plan. Successful physical therapy practices identify the considerable benefits of internal marketing, both to maintain their existing patient base, and to add new patients to the practice.
Internal marketing involves those processes that support your practice through behavioral activities within the office. There are two key elements that we must consider: Everyone in the clinic is responsible for marketing, and there must be an intentional plan to carry out the internal marketing strategy. The first step is brainstorming specific ideas with the staff and making sure everyone knows they have an integral part in the process. Once the staff has shared their ideas, the management team can create a plan and lay out the steps to carry it out. Everyone in the clinic can, and should, have a role in executing the internal marketing plan. Yes, everyone! It’s highly recommended that you hold regular employee trainings and have an organized approach that is reviewed often. And it should also be noted that your plan does not need to be complicated. The foundation of internal marketing is as simple as providing great customer service, however using strategies centered around patient referrals, patient testimonials, and a patient database will ensure success.
One of the best and simplest strategies is to consistently ask patients for referrals. Providers and therapists are frequently cautious or nervous about asking patients for referrals, but this doesn’t need to be a high-stress conversation. It can be as simple as saying “If you are happy with your care, please make sure to tell your family and friends about us.” Excellent results and outcomes in therapy services are fundamental benchmarks for patients’ care. But simply being a good therapist does not always encourage direct referrals. Patients provide referrals primarily because they have been asked. Almost always, satisfied patients are thankful for your service and they want to return the favor with a recommendation. Asking for a referral is also an opportunity for the clinic to help others. Satisfied patients will send you referrals, but you’ve got to ask! Both you and the patient will be pleased that you did.
To thank patients for their referrals, your clinic might also consider offering small denomination gifts to those who refer patients to you. Developing incentives for referrals can be as simple as offering the patient a $5 or $10 gift card if he or she mentions a particular flyer/coupon or brings it into the office by a certain date. In order to stay within guidelines, make sure to check insurance rules and regulations on patient gifts. It is recommended to review your referral gift rules often to ensure you are in compliance. This is a perfect opportunity to get your compliance officers and managers involved with internal marketing guidelines that go along with your strategies.
Patient testimonials are another opportunity to capture outcome results and to attract new patients. The easy part for you and your staff is that all you need to do is ask for them! For testimonials, open-ended questions help extract useful feedback from the patient. One example would be: When recommending us, what would you tell the person you’re talking to? Or: What are the three key benefits of your therapy experience with us? After you have provided your patients with a positive therapy experience to share, then it is easy to use their feedback (with their permission) on your website or in collateral marketing pieces.
Another way to collect testimonials is to stay alert to what the patient is saying during and after a session, or maybe in a phone conversation. If the patient says something like “What I really like about your [therapy, manner, clinic] is…,” immediately ask “Would you mind if we shared that as a testimonial?” Explain exactly where and how you would share the statement and ask if the patient’s first name may be used. If this happens at the end of a session when you need to get to the next patient, say “If you have a minute, Judy can tell you more about this” and pass the patient on to a previously trained employee at the front desk. And of course Judy would make a record of the testimonial, who provided it, the date, etc.
Once you have testimonials (from direct feedback, surveys, cards, notes, etc.), keep them in an easy to access file. It is a great idea to keep your customer or patient quotes to improve usefulness across your marketing efforts. Posting the testimonials in the office, either on a community board or by creating a book of responses, is a great way to showcase satisfied patient experiences. You’ll want to make sure to only use a patient’s first name in anything you post so that you don’t violate HIPAA. Continue to collect patient feedback and then utilize that feedback to both inspire your staff and to generate a strong brand in the community.
Most, if not all, of us keep a database of our past patients. Utilize that database for things like sending holiday greetings to past patients (printed or electronic), checking in on how your patients are doing post-therapy, or to advertise a new campaign. You can create a nice holiday card by taking a staff photo that is mailed to patients. You can also send personalized e-cards to patients via email as long as you’ve collected patients’ email addresses during intake. Depending on the area you live or time of year, you may consider promoting a special offer to your patient database like a ski conditioning program or weekend warrior injury screening. Or perhaps you could announce a patient appreciation day (or appreciation week). All in all, your past patients can be a veritable gold mine for internal marketing!
There are numerous ways to create internal marketing opportunities at your clinic and many ways to reach out to your patient base. For your internal marketing efforts to produce results, it will take staff training and a systematic approach. Successful practices recognize the considerable benefits of internal marketing by maintaining communication with the clinic’s patient base and by creating a welcoming atmosphere for patients to experience. Remember, everyone is responsible for marketing!
Jenilee Jaber, BA, is a PPS member and regional practice representative for IRG Physical | Hand Therapy in Washington. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.