Imagine this: In your monthly marketing meeting with your clinic directors and executives, you discover Dr. G’s daily patient volume is low. Regardless of the possible reasons why, executives tell you to immediately run an advertising campaign for her. You already know that won’t solve the problem. Yes, it may bring in a few more patients, but it will only serve as a Band-Aid to cover up a much bigger issue. You explain your concerns but they push back, and tell you run it anyway. Sound familiar?
Yes, we’ve all been there. One of the biggest frustrations I hear from other health professionals is how difficult it can be to convince executives an advertising campaign will not solve the issue of low patient volumes. I’m not sure why, but when it comes to marketing, everyone seems to have an opinion. Or think their way of thinking is best.
To help us all, I asked a few local healthcare consultants to weigh in on the issue. Here are three mistakes they say you’re likely making:
Not digging up what the issue truly is.
John Corpus, vice president of strategy for Legato Healthcare Marketing, says you need to ask yourself how advertising is going to increase patient volumes. He says it’s simple because the answer is in the question. “Low patient volume is likely due to poor image, reputation, lack of awareness or there is a real lack of perceived quality,” he says. “I met with a physician-owned medical group, where the star physician had only three reviews on his Healthgrades profile. All three were less than flattering. Instead of advertising, he needed to manage his reviews and encourage and/or incentivize satisfied clients to post positive reviews on his public profile.”
John notes that lack of awareness regarding actual services and capabilities is another common cause of low patient volumes. “I assisted a retail health clinic franchise with its business development. The parent health system wanted to advertise more, but what the franchise really needed was to reach out to employers, face to face. Most employers located in the same complex and across the street did not even know that the clinic existed, and that is after one year of being open.”
John adds some issues arise because providers have a real lack of quality. He worked with a health system that acquired a large, well-respected primary/specialty medical group. In the first three months of ownership, the 40 physicians referred a total of two patients to their new owner. “The physicians knew their new parent was the low-quality provider in the area and they kept referring patients to the ‘quality’ hospital across the street from their practice,” he said. “We helped the system understand that they had to improve the quality of their employees, employee satisfaction and patient satisfaction before any type of advertising.”
So, how can we help our executives and/or directors understand these issues? How we make them see the bigger picture?
Asking the wrong questions
Linda Pophal, health care marketing communication expert with Strategic Communications says executive push-back is a tough one to handle. “What I typically do any time I’m presented with a solution or tactic is attempt to direct the conversation back to strategy by asking a number of good questions,” she says.
Linda suggests asking these questions immediately:
- Who is our target audience? Who are the decision-makers we’re attempting to influence?
- What are the outcomes we’re looking for and how we will measure success? (e.g., through referrals, increased visits, etc.)
- What background data and/or information do we have to give us some indication of the likely success of the requested effort? For instance, Can we tell how many “new” vs. returning patients we have in our system/clinic? Can we tell how/why the new patients come to us? What drives them (e.g., just moved to area, insurance coverage changed, etc.)?
Linda says the first question can really be one that helps guide the discussion to more relevant ways of achieving desired results. “For instance, I’ve worked with cardiac surgeons who wanted to do general advertising to consumers, but ultimately achieved success by building better relationships with referring primary care providers (many within their own system).”
Laura Baker, Janesville-based marketing consultant, agrees. “A doctor may come to you and say, ‘I need a brochure, I need a newsletter, I need an ad,’” she says. “Instead, ask the physician, Why do you need a brochure? What are you trying to accomplish? What are the issues you’re trying to address with a print ad?”
Lack of trust with the decision-makers
Another big issue Laura says, is the need to nurture and build good relationships with the decision makers. Then, trust will come. “Continue to show positives and spend more time with your executives,” Laura suggests. “Bring case studies and show them proven results as much as you can to help ease their mind. In time, they let go and let you drive strategy.”
Laura says what you don’t want to do is get into a power struggle with your executives. “Instead of opposing their ideas, listen to them intently. Then offer an alternative,” she said. “But piece in their ideas with the better one.” If you really want a seat at the table, you need to build trust so your ideas are heard. “Produce research, numbers and examples. Show them how it doesn’t work, Laura said. If you can’t show how an idea or tactic doesn’t work, do it and then measure it. Then, next time … you have solid proof.”
“I have also frequently looked for third-party information, such as evidence-based practices, that I can share via other communications colleagues and, professional journals, so it does not appear as though I’m simply trying to get my way, Linda continues. “Show them sound evidence to back up your recommendations. It’s really not any different than what clinicians do already.”
Ultimately, this advice can help build credibility and trust so that the next time this type of issue comes up you’ll be listened to. “It’s not an easy road, or one that is quickly traveled, but definitely worth the effort,” Linda adds.
Do you have advice? What has worked for you, what hasn’t? Join the conversation in the comments section below.
This post was researched and written by Trish Skram, media/public relations specialist at Mercy Health System. Feel free to connect with Trish Skram on her Facebook page at Trish Skram “PR Gal” or on LinkedIn.