Marketing an ASC: 7 Strategies to Reach Your Patient Base
1. Build a website. The first step of a marketing strategy should be creating or updating the practice website. Independent spine surgeons and groups must have a website regularly updated with relevant information to appear in patient searches, said Briley Cienkosz, senior marketing director of Laser Spine Institute.
"You need a place where potential patients can go to become educated about your treatment offerings," she said. "Your website will have a huge role to play in practice marketing."
The website should include information about the surgeon or surgeons in the group, services provided, conditions treated and the practice location. Once the website is in place, you can move ahead with additional social media and marketing initiatives.
2. Market to the patient. For many surgery centers, taking the retail marketing route of putting up billboards or running television, radio and newspaper ads are avenues best left for facilities offering procedures such as cosmetics and LASIK. But this doesn't mean there aren't marketing mechanisms worth exploring, said Rajiv Chopra, principal and CFO for The C/N Group.
Consider ways you can connect directly with your prospective patient base. For example, see if you can put documentation in your physicians' offices about your ASC and explain why it's a good option as an alternative to the hospital, which may be the other facility some patients have ever received surgical care.
You can take a similar approach with businesses with which your ASC directly contracts. In areas of the business where there is information about insurance and benefits, see if you can provide documentation about your ASC there.
"Pull-oriented marketing for ASC's may take on greater importance over the long term. With more of the payment being shifted to the patient, if you're on a high deductible plan, you'll start seeing some patients question why they have to get [their procedure] done at the hospital if there is a less expensive alternative," Mr. Chopra said. "It's getting the patient to ask their doctor about having their procedure done at the ASC."
3. Incorporate videos and photos of the ASC, treatment offered. On its website, an ASC can put up virtual tours, detailed information about procedures as well as expert advice and commentary from the center's physicians, said Bill Rabourn, managing principal at Medical Consulting Group. He also recommends splitting off the different specialties of an ASC to offer even more detailed information about procedures and treatments.
"I think we all know the better the patient is educated, the better the patient will be from an experience standpoint," he said. One of the things the Medical Consulting Group has done for clients is to create a virtual tour of an ASC as well as videos of procedures. This allows patients to see the physicians "in action" before they ever step foot in the center.
4. Target the right customer. Look at the factors that drive volume in your center, Mr. Chopra said. While the patient is the ultimate consumer of surgical services, remember that the physicians are your customer because by and large they control where patients go for their care.
"I think you've got to step up you efforts to market your center to physicians," he said. "That's the basic blocking and tackling. Explore the factors that influence a physician to come to your site of service as opposed to another one: Efficiency is critical, quality, staff, equipment, access to the schedule. Highlight those areas and that's how you establish a good dialogue with a physician and their office."
5. Engage with social media. Using social media to interact with physicians and patients is crucial these days. Create a social media page that allows patients to dialogue with one another about past or upcoming surgeries or general health topics. Social media channels you may consider using to start the conversation include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.
"Patients communicate in a forum and ask each other questions," Ms. Cienkosz said. "The conversation happens naturally. It's a great marketing effort and it takes very little internal resources to keep up."
Laser Spine Institute doesn't moderate the discussions; they flow organically. However, posts will be removed if they are threatening or violate HIPAA.
6. Think of the bigger picture. Online marketing is not only a great way to attract and retain patients, but also as a way to attract new providers.
"This may be one way in which I say, 'Not only do we have a great facility, we can help educate your patients,'" Mr. Rabourn said.
If you can show a physician how your center can help him or her be successful, you have a much better chance of that physician joining the group. Part of that is providing a hassle-free process for referrals. A physician will recognize an ASC that provides patient forms, detailed directions, contact information and educational materials on its website will ultimately help deliver a great patient experience.
7. Explore co-marketing opportunities with practices. Take advantage of opportunities to bring your ASC some good publicity by working with your physicians and their practices. For example, one mechanism Mr. Chopra has seen work well at an ASC with GI is to work with local newspapers during colon cancer month.
"We're getting articles in the paper about colon cancer screening and colonoscopies and then have one of our doctors featured in the article and then also get the ASC featured," he said. "That's more PR marketing than purchase advertising."
These efforts can help drive patient volume. "It's reactionary — the patient thinks, I need to get a colonoscopy done, I don't want to go to the hospital, the surgery center seems less threatening than going to the hospital," Mr. Chopra said.
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