8 Ideas on Public Relations Programs for ASCs Without Large Marketing Budgets From Central Maine Orthopaedics

A few years ago, Auburn-based Central Maine Orthopaedics, which includes a surgery center performing 2,000 procedures per year, devised a plan to stop spending money on advertising and start focusing their attention and resources on relationship building.

Jeff Wigton on ASCs"It really paid off," says Jeff Wigton, director of operations at Central Maine Orthopaedics. "We decided to hit the ground running. We e-mailed 4,000 to 5,000 athletes in Central Maine and we were able to pull together a program without any advertising. We see that now when we are out in the community, people know who we are. They know Central Maine Orthopedics and they have heard good things. It's a different approach than sinking all our money into advertising."

Here are eight tactics Central Maine Orthopaedics uses to build a strong public relationship program and market their center without spending advertising dollars.

1. Engage with local businesses. Michael Cox, CEO of Central Maine Orthopaedics, sits on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in his community, and CMO participates in Chamber events. Forming relationships with other businesses in the community grows CMO's professional network and reputation.

"We position CMO as a large community employer and show the level of care we are able to provide is really something to be proud of," says Kelly David, head of public relations and marketing for Central Maine Orthopaedics. "Dr. Cox sends congratulatory notes to businesses that deserve accolades and we stay in contact with them. The more connections we make with our community, the more likely people are to recommend our practice to their family, friends and colleagues."

The Chamber of Commerce in Auburn is very active with several members promoting and interfacing with local businesses. "We want to be on the forefront of peoples' minds, so that when there is a large employer with injured workers or someone who needs surgery, we want them to think of CMO," says Dr. Cox.

Dr. Michael Cox on surgery centers2. Form a relationship with referring practices.
Central Maine Orthopaedics has a physician-to-physician marketing program to strengthen relationships with referring physicians and their practices.

"Our physicians go to central referring practices and visit those physicians," says Ms. David. "They bring breakfast or lunch for the office staff and talk to administrators about their referral process. We ask how we can make the process easier to them; we are constantly reviewing the process to make sure it's working."

After interviewing the office staff, the group either focuses on what works or fixes what doesn't. Ms. David says the group tracks which physicians have visited referring physicians and how the visits impact referrals to gauge the success of their program.

3. Give community lectures.
Surgeons around the country have begun giving community lectures about health and wellness. These lectures can focus on general health or specialty-related topics, such as arthritis or sports injuries for orthopedic surgeons.

"We've done knee and spine seminars, which were really helpful," says Ms. David. "Our data shows this is something that has gained popularity and can bring patients into the practice."

Since CMO keeps track of how patients learn about their services, they have found many people who attend these lectures decide to schedule an appointment. "Our lecture success rates are almost as high as primary care physicians in terms of driving patients into the center," says Dr. Cox.

Kelly David on ASCs4. Invite people in for an open house.
Organize an "open house" event and invite people onsite to visit with physicians and see your facility. CMO held an "open house" event as part of an "After Hours" series featuring several local businesses, but ASCs can host similar events on their own as well.

"These events really give people a chance to look at the ASC and get to know the practice from the inside out," says Ms. David. "This community is really unique because it's so tight knit; people always want to know what is going on, so getting an inside look at our physicians and facility is really special to them."

Consider how people will move through the building and where they will stand during presentations about the center. Figure out how to introduce your facility to them and highlight the unique qualities of the center during the event.

5. Hold a fitness or wellness event.
Coordinate a healthcare-related event and use local resources, such as the newspaper or hospital newsletter, to promote it. CMO held a free public event last year called "Hit the Ground Running" where physician speakers discussed how to become better runners.

"We sent out email news blasts as a collaborative effort to promote this event," says Ms. David. "We had around 300 to 400 people attend. We are doing a similar event this fall focused on cycling."

In addition to the physician and healthcare experts, CMO plans to bring in well-known industry experts on cycling to present at the event. "We put our best foot forward as a good community citizen when we work on these events," she says.

6. Participate in charity events.
Supporting others in the community — especially if you're in a small community — is an effective method of forming new relationships. Participate in charity events, such as United Way projects or food pantries to build a strong reputation in the community.

"We have done a lot to give back to our community, including cleaning up a camp for disabled children and getting it ready for the winter," says Ms. David. "Some of our physicians went to the camp and helped. Those are ongoing relationships we have maintained throughout the year."

CMO has also developed a foundation — Maine Orthopaedic Foundation — for benevolent giving. "We do projects that align with our core values in keeping the community healthy, such as fitness and wellness events," says Dr. Cox. "We also do giving on an annual basis to not-for-profits who are trying to get the community up and going."

7. Engage with patients on social media.
One of the quickest ways to build and maintain relationships with current, former and potential patients is through social media. People of all ages are engaging on Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites looking for information and interaction with medical professionals.

"We interact with current patients on social media to get their feedback and we're able to pass that information along to our staff," says Ms. David. "We can either congratulate our staff on a job well done or fix a problem that was brought to our attention."

CMO updates their social media on a daily basis with original and linked content relevant to their followers and patient base.

"We sometimes put CMO-focused content on our social media, and sometimes we put information from other sources as a way to have a back and forth conversation with others," says Ms. David. "We want them to have a warm picture of us. I don't hang my hat on social media — it's not the end-all, be-all — but it's a good way to introduce our surgeons to the community and stay engaged with our patients."

8. Keep websites relevant and updated.
Build a quality website and keep it updated with news from the ASC, healthcare industry and blog posts to drive traffic. There are a few simple steps you can take for search engine optimization to ensure your website appears first when people search the ASC online:

•    Include key words associated with the center, such as specialty, services and healthcare initiatives;
•    Upload photographs onto the website;
•    Regularly update content on the website;
•    Include links to outside resources on the web.

"We have monitored the numbers on our website and changed our SEO plan to make it more effective," says Ms. David. "We are making our blog more interactive and informative to really tie everything together. Now we pop up more quickly when people search our name or something like 'joint replacement in Maine.'"

Be sure to include information potential patients will appreciate once they click through to your links, such as physician profiles. "Anecdotally, people want to know who their physicians are," says Ms. David. "They are going on the website to check them out. This has created a web of touch points with a real tangible relationship to our community."

More Articles on Surgery Centers:

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8 Trends in ASC Payor Rates & Contract Negotiations

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