8 Tactics to Boost ASC Patient Volume in Competitive Markets

Daniel GoldbergConsolidation in the healthcare industry continues to grow, but there are still opportunities for the most entrepreneurial-minded physicians to maintain autonomy and experience success with ambulatory surgery centers.

"It seems that most of the groups that are being absorbed by hospitals are the ones that need the financial and human resources services that hospitals can provide," says Daniel Goldberg, Founder of Gold Medical Marketing. "However, many physicians still want to maintain their autonomy. When they enter into agreements with hospitals, they give up certain control. The groups that are able to stay independent maintain patient flow by marketing themselves well and properly."

Mr. Goldberg discusses the current trends in surgery center and independent physician practice marketing, and how groups are using these tactics to improve patient flow and preserve autonomy.

1. Diversify marketing tactics. Placing a large majority of resources into a single marketing effort — whether it be the center's website, radio ads or TV spots — might be the easiest way to market, but it isn't the most effective. Successful marketing requires a combination of several tactics tailored to your marketplace.

"If you are putting all your eggs in one basket, you are missing a significant portion of your audience," says Mr. Goldberg. "Some patients find information online, others prefer print and others are listening to the radio. If you use only one tactic, then you're only reaching one group."

2. Expand website information. The standard website with just the services an ASC provides won't cut it in today's competitive healthcare environment. ASC websites that include the name of physicians and their expertise are much more attractive for patients seeking out quality care. Additional content, such as educational materials and photographs of the center help patients feel more comfortable before their procedure.

3. Embrace new technology. It's not enough anymore just to have a website — or even to practice good search engine optimization techniques — to reach your core patient base. Social media and ongoing online presence is great, but the most successful groups are moving into new online marketing techniques and developing things like mobile apps.

"They are embracing these new technologies as opposed to just the typical SEO marketing," says Mr. Goldberg. "They are staying ahead of the trends and seeing how new technology can benefit them."

4. Develop a mobile app. Smart phones are becoming ubiquitous and people are using mobile apps to stay connected with their favorite businesses and services — including medical providers. It's not overly expensive for ASCs to hire a developer to customize a mobile app for their center to connect them with patients.

"It can be a symptom checker, remind patients of appointments, send out newsletters and allow ASCs to stay in touch with patients," says Mr. Goldberg. "It's a perpetual line of communication. There are mobile apps for telehealth and telemedicine as well where patients can use Face Time for video conferences."

Video conferences can be difficult for specialists, especially if the specialty requires physical examinations, but Mr. Goldberg believes that's the next wave of app medicine.

5. Think locally before globally. Many multispecialty ASCs put the cart before the horse, says Mr. Golderg, and think nationally before considering their local market. Multispecialty centers seek to reach a broad set of patients with potentially different demographics for each specialty.

"Become a part of your community," says Mr. Goldberg. "Hold seminars and reach out to community advocacy groups for partnerships. Seminars are great ways to bring people into your facility and expose them to your center. There is nothing wrong with marketing statewide or nationally, but don't do that at the expense of your local market."

6. Attract patients for physicians. Independent surgeons are in high demand to perform cases at various hospitals and surgery centers in any market, but especially in urban areas. ASCs can differentiate themselves by creating a steady patient flow for the physicians, and pretty soon the physicians will compete for OR time at the center.

"The traditional model is for ASCs to market to the surgeons, but surgeons are more apt to come if the center already has a volume to provide them," says Mr. Goldberg. "If the ASC is marketing themselves and has an abundance of patients, the surgeons will be banging the door down to participate in the ASC."

7. Accept cash pay. The market for cash-pay healthcare is growing as more people lose insurance, have self-funded employers or choose health savings accounts. There are people with the means to pay upfront for surgical care and surgery centers could benefit from this patient population.

"The numbers of enrollment in ObamaCare are underwhelming and people are finding ways to circumvent providing insurance to their employees," says Mr. Goldberg. "There is a large market for cash pay, and you can open your doors to these people. Traditionally physicians avoided cash pay because of the perceived status of the patient, but just because a patient is uninsured doesn't mean they are impoverished. Exploring the cash pay model is something I think you will see more of."

8. Post prices online. Even without a full-fledged cash pay program, calculating global fees and posting them online will attract a new subset of patients who appreciate healthcare transparency.

"Price transparency is a very big opportunity and an endeavor you should undertake because patients want to know upfront what their bill will be and what they'll have to pay out of pocket," says Mr. Goldberg. "They don't want to worry about coordinating several EOBs. Hospitals are currently posting prices online for physician fees, but ASCs are able to provide truly global fees because they can control overhead and costs. Transparency has a huge place in the medical industry."

More Articles on Surgery Centers:
6 Statistics on Surgery Center Revenue by Case Volume

Pulling Back the Curtain: How Stony Point Surgery Center Embraced Price Transparency

7 Tips for Effectively Managing ASC Billing Processes

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