When you started your practice did you think “I’ll just set up my office, hang out a shingle and the patients will come.”?
It’s been my experience that for an integrative physician, this strategy results in a schedule that is not as full as it could be and income that is inconsistent. That’s a shame because just a few regular activities can change all that and create a steady flow of qualified patients and income.
Patients are the lifeblood of your practice. Apply the RARE System detailed below and your patient flow will be abundant. To do this, there are the 4 key areas where regular action is required. Together they create a firm foundation for a prosperous practice:
Keeping your current patients engaged creates a stable platform from which your practice can grow. It is much easier and less costly to sell additional services to a current patient than to recruit a new patient. While consistent new patient acquisition systems are definitely important, starting from scratch and running after new patients each month is costly and time-consuming, not to mention nerve-wracking. That said, even patients who are open to integrative medicine can tend to use it sporadically, i.e. only when they are “broken” again. Therefore, the challenge is to keep patients coming in regularly.
Developing solution-focused packages, ongoing wellness programs, health education in the form of newsletters, blogs and events all encourage patients to become part of your community. This keeps patients engaged and more inclined to come in regularly. Loyalty programs and special offers to current patients reinforce patient appreciation and make it more likely that patients will stay with you.
Reactivating patients is an area of low hanging fruit that is often overlooked. That’s too bad, because patients who have invested in your services and had a positive experience are more likely to come back. A phone call or letter to a patient who hasn’t been in for a while might be all that it takes. A special offer for a follow-up or a service that helps them maintain their health may do the trick. By following up you also send the message that you care about the ongoing health of your patient. The resulting positive regard is also more likely to trigger a referral.
New Patient Attraction
Whether you’ve been in practice for a long or short time a steady flow of new patients is usually required to maintain a consistent revenue stream. A website that works as a recruiting tool is increasingly important. Many patients who are interested in integrative medicine tend to do quite a bit of research. The internet is often their tool of choice. A web presence that connects with these clients is an essential element in that attraction process.
Speaking engagements are another effective way to attract new patients. Look for opportunities where your ideal patients hang out. Natural grocers, yoga and Pilates studios, women’s clubs and business or country clubs can be effective locally. In-office presentations can also work. The participants may not be ready for your services right away, so it is important to find a way to stay in their thoughts so that you come to mind when they are ready, or have a friend or family member who will benefit from your services.
You can accomplish this by getting them to sign up for a free report. To give them incentive to sign up, choose a hot topic for your ideal patient - one that addresses their most pressing health challenge or concern. Once they are on your list, provide some regular communication of value such as a newsletter or blog with articles or health tips. You can also use this opportunity to make special offers that encourage subscribers to become a patient. Your newsletter or blog is also an important part of your patient retention strategy as it also helps keep current patients plugged in.
Print, online and Facebook advertising, postcards and snail mail are also ways of attracting prospective patients. Once you have the free report discussed above you can offer it on your website to capture the e-mail addresses of those who visit your site via online and Facebook ads as well as organic search.
By doing your transformational work with patients and following some of the above steps you will naturally get referrals. A simple sign in your waiting room or at check-out reminding patients that a referral is the highest form of compliment reinforces this.
Referrals from other practitioners are another important source of ongoing patients. Cultivate relationships with referral partners by keeping in touch on a regular basis. Show your appreciation with a Thank You card. Keep the referring practitioner up to date on your treatment. Best of all - reciprocate with your own referral whenever possible.
Other aligned service providers can be a good source of referrals. For example, we have found that organic hair salons attract clients who are chemically sensitive. These are my husband’s ideal patients.
Since patients are often paying out of pocket for integrative treatment, they expect a higher level of service than that received in a typical medical office.
The feeling a patient gets from the first time they call your office to their ongoing interaction with you and your staff creates their experience. That experience can add to the health benefits that they receive by working with you – or work against the goodwill gained by your clinical skills. Positive feelings reinforce their commitment to your practice and make them feel comfortable referring friends, family and colleagues.
Training front desk staff on how to answer calls from prospective and current patients is helpful here. Scripts of the most common questions work well and make sure that your message is consistent. Also, have your reception staff smile BEFORE picking up the phone. It will create the positive attitude that can be the difference between sale and no sale.
Simple things that make a patient feel considered and cared for are not costly and easy to implement. For example, patients value done-for-you checklists and instructions. In my husband’s office we have found that patients find the instructions in many of the take-home tests that he uses confusing. We have created our own instruction sheets and are adding videos of these instructions to our website. This reduces patient anxiety and inconvenience. An added benefit is that is also minimizes staff time answering questions about the tests.
Patient appreciation in particular enhances the positive experience for patients. Sending a Thank You card for a referral or a phone call after a first visit are easy and low cost ways to make a patient feel appreciated. These are easily implemented systems that your front desk can handle.
Look for other ways to show your patients appreciation. It was after I completed my own round of chelation that I realized in my husband’s office that we were missing a huge opportunity for patient acknowledgement. After completing 20 IV’s I felt that I should receive something to commemorate this important milestone. We now have a gift bag with a card acknowledging the patient’s significant investment in their health.
Consistency is Key
Practice building can be likened to the work that you do in getting a patient back to health – it is a marathon not a sprint. Aim for a minimum of one activity in each of these key practice-building areas each month. If you do one a week, the tasks are very do-able. The cumulative effects will be significant.
Many of these activities can and should be delegated. Your highest value is in generating revenue by providing services or converting leads into patients or additional services. Lead generating content, mailings, event planning and phone calls can be done by others.
Putting it All Together
As an example, one month’s activities might include:
Week 1 – (Retention) Phone calls to past patients
Week 2 – (Attraction) Speaking engagement
Week 3 – (Referral) Lunch with a potential referral colleague
Week 4 – (Experience) Staff training, patient appreciation program
Implement the RARE System regularly and you will soon find that your schedule is rarely open.
Wendy Bauerschmidt’s experience has been earned by growing her husband’s successful functional medicine practice in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Along the way, she has encountered most of the opportunities and pitfalls of marketing and managing the operations of a growing integrative medical office.
Wendy’s passion is helping integrative practitioners get more patients and manage their office and overhead so that they can help more people and change the face of health care while earning a healthy income. She specializes in creating outstanding patient experiences, developing solution-focused packages that sell themselves and training front desk staff to become a marketing asset.
Wendy holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from SDA Bocconi in Milan, Italy. Her corporate career specializing in “high touch” servicing systems prepared her to create high-performance, patient-focused environments that are key ingredients to success in the new integrative medicine paradigm. Wendy invests heavily in coaching and marketing mentorship to stay on the leading edge of what is working in today’s competitive marketing environment and how it is best applied to integrative medicine. Her website is www.IntegrativePhysicianSuccess.com.