5 Tips to Revive an ASC's Patient Base With Direct Marketing

1. Focus your media buy. Unlike hospitals, surgery centers typically aren't targeting a broad range of patient needs. Centers should instead identify a narrower patient market to pursue through local media outlets and advertising, said Scott Christiansen, CEO of CORE Medical Marketing.

If a surgery center would like to target a particular age group, for example, it would need to determine where in the community that group lives and which media outlets they consume. Even a center on a limited marketing budget can consider billboards, print publications, TV and radio, he said. A center can distribute its budget to the advertising departments of local media outlets, for example, and compare each outlet's proposals to determine the most cost-effective route for marketing.

"What I hear from smaller facilities is, 'I can't compete with a hospital's marketing budget.' But you don't have to, because you're not trying to be everything to everyone," Mr. Christiansen said. "You have to figure out what is it that you can win, because you know you're really good at what you do."  

2. Use direct mailings throughout covered regions. Some have questioned the effectiveness of direct mailing to every person in a given region, but Lateef Mauricio Abro, COO of NOVA MedMarket, still finds the method highly effective for gastroenterology. A surgery center he worked with spent $3,000 per month on direct mailing campaigns with letters to 5,000 people. The surgery center usually received around 50 respondents needing their services.

"The competition in direct mail is relatively low for specialists," Mr. Abro said. "There's a really high return on investment. All they really need is to get one patient."

This group does direct mailing for three months every other quarter and takes advantage of bulk mailing rates to connect with every residence within their geographic area.

3. Write a local newspaper column. Specialists looking to expand their practice through direct-to-patient marketing can write a column in a local newspaper about general health or specialty-related issues, framing themselves as an expert in these topics. Readers from around the community will become familiar with the column and call your practice when an issue arises.

If an opportunity in the local newspaper isn't available, explore magazine and other print source opportunities. "Most local newspapers accept articles of 400 to 750 words of a general nature that have an interest to their readers," said Alan Guinn, managing director and CEO of The Guinn Consultancy Group. "Magazine articles are normally 750 to 900 words in length, and may include photos."

The publication may also have a space to include a short, two-inch advertisement for your practice. "The individual physician can either opt out the article to a writing expert or assign the task to a PA or office manager, reviewing the final content of the article for validity and applicability," Mr. Gunn said.

4. Personally contact lost patients about their experience. When patients don't return to your physician's practice or surgery center after their initial visit, contact them directly to gather feedback and ask them to return.

"Offer some sort of incentive, such as a thank you for their feedback, and ask them if they would return," said John Emmanuel, a creative marketing consultant. "This could be a discount on their next visit to the center."

You can find some of these patients online — those that leave negative messages on your surgeon reviews or Yelp. "[Physicians] should respond to bad reviews posted by patients on Yelp and Google Plus," said Mr. Abro. "They can offer an explanation and ask the patient to call in to rectify the situation. This may prompt the patient to follow up on their negative comment, with a positive testimonial."

5. Be smart with your budget. Surgery centers interested in hiring a marketing firm should focus primarily on the firm's specialty qualifications when making a decision. A firm located in the same town may offer more generalized branding services, for example, but it likely won't have experience in implementing direct-to-patient marketing strategies and driving business to surgery centers.

"If you go with a local marketing firm, you risk spending all of your budget on branding, and there's no budget left over for more proactive patient acquisition and physician referral tactics," Mr. Christiansen said. "In today's world, you need a specialist who knows the business of marketing and the business of medicine."

More Articles on Turnarounds:
5 Weekly Banchmarks for ASCs to Track
5 Trends for Physician Perspectives of US Healthcare
5 Strategies to Reduce Human Resources Costs at Surgery Centers

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