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Top of Mind

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Using email marketing helps you stay connected to your patients.

By Michael Vacon, PT

How do you stay “top of mind” with your former patients? Once a patient has been discharged from your care, do you ever reach out to them again? If they should need physical therapy again in the future, will they think of you first? In private practice, one measuring stick of success is the percentage of your patients that return for a second (or third . . . or tenth) condition. You would think that establishing a good relationship with a patient and having a good outcome from a previous injury or condition would be enough to cement a return to your office should they have an issue in the future, right? It is not always the case.

In today’s health care climate, private practices are being challenged by large networks trying to keep their patients “in network,” despite the fact that most patients actually have a choice where they can go. It is our job to make sure that if a former patient needs services, they are thinking of us.

I always thought I did a good job in connecting with my patients. I have a large number of “repeat offenders” who are loyal to my practice. They think of my practice first when they have an injury or condition and regularly steer friends and family in our direction. I am doing my job, right? The moment when I realized that maybe I should be doing something more happened a few years ago. I was starting an evaluation on a patient that I had seen twice before for injuries to her neck and back. As I was going through her health history, I noticed that she had a knee surgery the year before so I asked if she had any therapy for that surgery. She said she had . . . that she went to another provider for a few sessions, really was not all that pleased with her outcomes so she stopped. I asked why she did not contact us for her treatment and her response was “I did not know you treated knees; I had only seen you for my back. I would have preferred to come here.” It was then I realized that maybe I was not doing a great job educating my current patients (and former patients) about all the services we offered.

That was when I decided to explore options for email marketing. I already had a robust web page with content related to patient education. I had a YouTube page chock-full of exercise videos that we created. We already had a Facebook page that we regularly updated, but we needed to start working on the “Inbox” of our former and current patients to really show them what we did and to help stay “top of mind” for the future.

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There are many different options to start an email marketing campaign. Some of the more popular services are Constant Contact, MailChimp, iContact, and Vertical Response. A simple web search of email marketing will turn up dozens of other companies that provide the tools to get you started.

Luckily, I had been collecting patient email addresses as part of the registration process. I was not sure what I was going to do with them, but I had a sizeable list to start to work with. Email marketing campaigns can be simple or complex. I decided to do a regular newsletter that highlights different injuries and conditions, simple exercises, discusses any new programs or staffing additions as well as giving patients easy links to our Facebook, Google+, Yelp, and ecommerce landing pages.

The service I use allows me to track how many people receive and open my newsletters. It even shows me who is opening them and what segments of the newsletter they “click through” to read. It allows me to track what information people like to read (free exercise or stretching tips are always a big “click” getter) and gear my newsletters toward that content. The service allows me to not only send the email newsletter to all the contacts I have loaded into the system, but also to post the newsletter to all our social media outlets. In addition to sending the email newsletter to current and former patients, I also include a large list of referring medical doctors and case managers as well as email lists I have generated while being involved in local health fairs and road races.

Since starting my email marketing campaign, I have seen a steady flow of returning patients. Each month that I send out the newsletter, I regularly get a few dozen former patients and referral sources that reach out with questions or comments about the content, and I always see a spike in “hits” to our webpage and social media pages.

If you are not currently utilizing an email marketing campaign, it might be time for you to consider it. As you are starting to make your decision, here are some key things to think about:

1. Cost: Most of the email marketing companies have introductory periods or limited use memberships that are extremely inexpensive, in some cases even free. Start small if you have a tight budget and then grow the campaign as you start to see success.

2. Customer Service: If you are not tech savvy, you will have questions in the beginning. Many of the email marketing services offer extended hours of customer services for tech help.

3. Social Media Links: If you already have a social media campaign, make sure the email marketing service can link with it to help expand your reach.

4. Image Hosting: To make your email marketing pop, nice images are an important part. Many of the services have access to a stock image library for free and then allow a larger library of images for a small fee. If you are planning to load your own images, make sure you have the ability to store them on the site for easy access.

5. Contact Manager/Importer: If you already have a large database of emails to enter, make sure you are able to easily import them into the service. Also, many offer a simple desktop tool that your front office can use to enter in new addresses as you get them. This will help you to quickly grow your email-marketing list. Make sure you are offering people the opportunity to opt in or out of receiving emails from you. You do not want to alienate people who do not want to receive email marketing from you. Also keep in mind that you need permission to send these out to your email list—so in addition to collecting email addresses, ask permission to use a patient’s email for marketing purposes.

6. Newsletter Archiving: If you plan to go the newsletter route, see if the service allows you to archive the emails. If not, make sure you are hosting them on your own webpage as all that rich content about you will help with your web presence.

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7. Surveys: Having an email marketing service that allows you to generate surveys and collect data can be a very useful tool to poll current and former patients when you are thinking about adding a new service or potentially a new location. Although there are some service companies that specialize in online surveys, having an all-in-one package can help you streamline your time spent.

8. Success Rate Tracking: Make sure that the service you choose has the ability to give you statistics on your email marketing. How many people received your email, who opened it, and what did they view? You want to see if you are getting a lot of emails that “bounce” because they are seen as spam.

9. Ability to Opt Out: Make sure your email marketing service has an option for people to opt out once they are added to your list. Some services will not allow an email to be reentered once they opt out, which will help ensure that people who just don’t want any more emails in their inbox will not feel harassed.

Overall, adding an email marketing campaign can help you stay connected with current and former patients, referral sources, and give you some additional exposure on social media. This will help keep you “top of mind” should the need for physical therapy arise.

Michael Vacon, PT, is a PPS member and Managing Partner of Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabiliation, LLC in Massachusetts. He is on the editorial board of Impact magazine. He can be reached at mvacon@bluehillspt.com.