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Medical Practice Business And Marketing Articles

Article #A - Oct. 2008

“How to Recruit Your Patients Into Marketing Your
Medical Practice For You Without Them Even Knowing”

It's free marketing done for you.

You already do it without knowing it--every day in your office.  The way you interact with your medical patients defines the extent to which your patients will be willing to go for your benefit.  If you don’t like the car salesman, it’s highly probable you won’t buy the car. 

This doctor-patient interaction I discussed in my last newsletter with regards to maintaining patient loyalty to your medical practice.  Certainly, implementing tactics you find that keep patients returning to you for their medical care is a foundation stone to what we are diving into today.

Right now!  Today!  You're reborn into the medical practice marketing mind-set.  Why? Because you’ll soon realize that what you will read below is, without a doubt, the most powerful force in marketing---called network marketing.  It’s applicable to what’s commonly called the spread of information by word of mouth, the community grapevine, gossiping, conversational mix, and interactive chat, among others.

In order to understand how to entice your patients into marketing (promoting you to others) your medical practice for you, you have to dig a little deeper into your patient’s emotional triggers. 

By implementing marketing strategies which psychologists have long written about, you will be in a position to give life to your new, unsuspecting, partners in the business marketing process.  I have no intention here to give you the idea that deliberately coercing patients to do what you want, like using the hypnotic process, is either desirable or ethical.  It isn’t.

What I am implying, is for you to use strategies of natural persuasion that Dave Lakhani describes in his book, “Persuasion: The Art Of Getting
What You Want.”  

Following our own reactions to a natural stimulus usually of a social nature--gesture, comment, situation, suggestion, or implied meaning—is an effective, highly productive, means of creating a subconscious obligation to respond in a favorable manner. 

When a friend invites you over for dinner, don’t you secretly sense a strong desire to reciprocate?  When you are presented with a very nice gift on a special occasion, do you think about how to repay them for their
unique generosity?

Marketing Strategies that work time after time:

  • Gifting: The unexpected gift.

  • Recognition: Every human seeks this.

  • Reciprocity: Desire to pay back a good deed.

  • Familiarity: Close identity with a common interest.

  • Over-delivering: Doing more than you need to in order to
    create obligation.

  • Storytelling: Connecting with people who have had a
    similar experience.

  • Exclusivity: No one else does what you do.

These are a few of the ways you can quickly and easily create a voluntary obligation in patients to jump right in to assist you even when you haven’t outright asked them to do so. 

The other side of the coin is to outright ask them for a favor.  It works extraordinarily well when the person has already had an experience (other than good medical treatment and care) around you, like the seven factors listed above which moves them into a position of saying yes. 

Mind you, either directly asking your patients to spread the word about what a great doctor you are, or making that fact so obvious to the patient because of experiencing those unique qualities of yours, they spread the word without your direct request. 

The latter strategy is by far the most profitable to you.  That’s because when a direct request for a favor is made, the immediate impression is that your practice is not doing so well.  You can dispel that by always giving a sensible and credible reason for asking for the favor.

“Would you mind referring your family or friends to my practice, or mention my services to the people in your office?  I’m trying to increase my practice in order to have the income to fund my kid’s education.”  It’s clear, quite credible, and something one can easily relate to themselves.

How do you persuade patients to market your medical practice in a practical sense? 

1.  Recognition:

Everyone responds to being recognized, be it in big ways or small ways.  I know that marketers and business owners can increase their incomes 200+% by obtaining their clients birthday dates and sending every one of them a nice birthday card, hand addressed and signed, with a real stamp on it. 

You have that data in the patient’s medical records, so why not use it.  You can bet that there isn’t one physician in a thousand that does this---you would be going one step more for your patients than anyone else does. 

Do you believe your patient would be surprised—and maybe even remember she’s due for her annual checkup, or, at least, their doctor is thinking about them.  Think of a few other ways you might be able to do this. 

Collect their email addresses when they come in, on the new patient form, or patient update info form, and email them a digital birthday card, or Thanksgiving, or Valentines, or Easter, or Halloween cards.

Another very creative marketing tactic I ran into recently beats them all.  The business owner, whenever he discovered that one of his customers had done something worthwhile, or participated in a sponsored event, or volunteered with some organization or charitable event, created a complimentary short article about what his patient had done.  A photo of the customer (client) was included when possible. 

Taking this idea into a physician’s office, think of the effect it would have on your patients ego and self esteem, not to mention your other patients who read this in your office handout, on your office bulletin board, or in your newsletter you send out to subscribers.  Any good deed needs a pat on
the back……right?

2.  Gifting:

Don was a much respected physician in my area of practice.  Once or twice a year he invited all his patients (and their babies/children) who conceived by In-Vitro fertilization since he had begun his practice in town to a catered party lasting all day---and all free. 

Although he never would tell me what it cost him to do this, it was quite clear his practice was growing by leaps and bounds continually.  The word spread, he got all the referrals.

Other methods of showing your thanks to your patients could be something as simple as having a bowl of free goodies at the checkout counter in your office, or every once in a while doing the same thing with a bowl of key-rings, or pens, or whatever—of course they all would have your name address and phone number printed on them…….right? 

Those kinds of things send a message of thanks to your patients even though they are cheap and unessential.  Holidays are a great time to give out freebies pertinent to that holiday tradition.  How many doctors’ offices have you been in where you noticed this being done?  OK, I know, pediatricians are way ahead of us on that.

Another especially effective tactic using direct mail (USPS) is to send your patients on occasion---holiday, significant event, or any other event you create for sending it---a lumpy piece of mail.  Lumpy mail always gets opened because curiosity can’t be beaten down when one needs to satisfy the urge about what the heck is in that envelope. 

By including something that is useful in that mailing (inexpensive gift), in that envelope, along with your special deal you might be offering your patients, or segment of your patient population (like...for men only) will undoubtedly get responses. 

You might include a coupon for a free office visit or free medical procedure you perform, if they refer one or more other patients to your office.  And follow up with a nice personal thank you note for referring those people.  Keep brainstorming this idea.

3.  Reciprocity:

Whenever does something special for you, especially if it wasn’t expected, it generates the desire to pay them back.  It’s a human social instinct which happens often without thinking. 

For example, as noted above, sending a birthday card to a patient of yours when he hasn’t been in for a checkup for a long while shows your thoughtfulness and respect for them when you have no medical reason to do so.  But, there is a reason you would do this. 

It’s a very subtle way of saying, “You remember me? I remember you and wish you the best. And, while you are thinking about that, remember you are due for your next appointment---call for an appointment.  You see how respectful I treat you, so it’s time you repay the favor.”  It works!

4.  Over-delivering:

The act of providing services that go well beyond the ordinary and expected services is a quite noticeable aspect of any business. 

The fact that a person or business takes the extra time to provide services, usually free, beyond the verbal commitment agreed upon or expected, and has a habit of doing so every time you deal with that person or doctor, it becomes a bond between the business (medical office) and the customer (patient) that only occurs when this action happens.

Finding anyone today in any business who actually over-delivers on their time, services, or products is a rarity. 

Have you ever personally called up your patient 7 days after they left the hospital to find out how they were doing? 

If that happens, it commonly is delegated to your office staff who are the least capable of determining what constitutes a dangerous symptom, problem, or complication as well as being the least aware of what happened to the patient in the hospital which could become a problem when they get home. 

I recently consulted on a medical malpractice case involving the death of a post op patient.  A week after an uncomplicated abdominal hysterectomy for myomas the patient called the doctor’s office explaining her difficulty breathing, was told to continue her allergy meds, get rest, and call back the office or go to the emergency room of the hospital if it got worse. 

It was assumed she was anxious and the symptom was simply a part of her asthma type symptoms.  She expired of an acute pulmonary embolus on the way to the hospital the next day.  If the doctor had been on the phone the first time, do you think the doctor would have picked up on the real danger? 

Speaking directly with your patients a week after hospitalizations is something most physicians don’t do, unfortunately.  If you do that as a standard of your care, you are over-delivering. 

Publish a medical newsletter, handouts that you wrote, reminders of appointments that are due, helping patients with bus schedules or transportation problems, walking disabled patients out to their car to prevent muggings and falls, calling to remind patients of their appointment dates and times, answering the phone on the second ring always, all are small ways of over-delivering for your patients.  Each one adds up!

5.  Familiarity and Storytelling:

In the higher successful levels of marketing circles personalizing your communications with customers is one of the most dependable means of developing trust among your clients (patients).  That’s easily done by treating your patients like a long lost friend.  Be transparent.  Tell patients what’s happened to you in your life so they can relate to similar happenings
in their own. 

Patients understand doctors have lots of stress and accept the fact that sometimes you treat them gruffly.  They are willing to overlook the issue, but only if you give them a reason for it.  Robert Cialdini, PhD., has documented in his research and book, “Influence: The psychology of Persuasion,” how critical it is to persuasion tactics, to present a “because……” reason.

When you share your life with your patients, it creates a much more intimate rapport and trust.

6. Exclusivity:

When patients learn that you provide services in your practice that other doctors in the community don’t, you elevate your reputation not only among your peers but also among your patients.  Your expertise, knowledge, and practice are perceived as top quality.  You can add another chevron to
your sleeve. 

Among patients of yours, bragging about how great a doctor they have is common.  Other doctor’s patients hear what you do and how you treat your patients, and will switch their care to you whenever a disruption occurs in the office of the doctor they are seeing at the time. 

Patients love to be a patient of the best doctor in town.

With each of these factors, among others, you create your own publicity in a devious but effective way. Everyone wins without costing you much money or time in the process.   

If you prefer to directly ask your patients for help or referrals, make very sure you follow it with one of those, “because………..” explanations.  In addition, be sure you personally thank them for each referral they send to you—preferably in handwriting.  

Always let all your patients know when you have completed training courses, educational seminars, or special events.  Tell them what new treatments or procedures you can perform for them if needed as a result of the new expertise you’ve attained.  They are elated to know you are keeping on the cutting edge of your profession. And, you will quickly see the results of your medical practice marketing strategies.

The author, Curt Graham, is a highly experienced business and marketing expert, copywriter, and entrepreneur who has been published in various media over 50 years while in medical practice and after.

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Word Count = 2182

Keywords = marketing, marketing strategies, marketing medical practice,  marketing tactics, persuasion tactics, medical newsletter, medical malpractice, newsletters, network marketing, business marketing 


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