Direct-to-consumer relations: 7 marketing tips for ASCs

Businesses depend on one factor above all else — the customer. The abundance or lack of this factor is the difference between a thriving business and a sinking ship.

In the current healthcare landscape, the "customer-is-king" mentality is all-encompassing. Patients today have a wide array of care options and are Nic smithmore educated about these options than ever before. It is important for surgery centers to engage with their customer, i.e. patients, and take active steps to market to them directly, rather than depend solely on physician referrals.

"Is there a need for ASCs to focus on direct-to-consumer marketing? Absolutely," says Nicholas Smith, business development at LEVEL TWO. "The short answer is that it helps control center profitability. In the long term, direct-to-consumer advertising will drive the target patients directly into the center. When you start asking folks to pay out-of-pocket or bear a financial burden, you end up with a savvy consumer. So an ASC's best strategy would be to get the message out and stay in front of their prospective patients."

ASCs may not have the money or resources to have large marketing departments, however that does not mean they have to bow out of the direct-to-consumer marketing completely.

Here are seven direct-to-consumer marketing tips for ASCs:

1. Choose your strategy wisely. Surgery centers can reach their target market through a number of different mass media and digital platforms. Pay attention to the type of media consumed by the community. "Depending on the market, we would suggest mixing the budget between mass media and digital approaches. This is the method that will light up the telephone lines and lead to trackable ROI," he says.

2. Get your management company onboard. If your ASC is co-owned or managed by a management company, it is important that the company is supportive of all direct-to-consumer marketing efforts. "This type of marketing gives a center control," says Mr. Smith. "The center can control patient flow. If a doctor leaves, it doesn't necessarily make a huge dent if you are actively pursuing new patients on your own."

3. Gain buy-in and commitment from the ASC board. According to Mr. Smith, having support from the board from the get-go can help surgery centers formulate a marketing plan as well as ensure its implementation.

4. Don't expect immediate results. "The marketing effort should be profitable between six and nine months as volume begins to stabilize," says Mr. Smith. However, it is important to remember that DTC marketing may yield different results for different specialties. For example, marketing efforts for a bariatric program could take that amount of time to bear fruit due to the insurance mandates that the patients need to be put through. On the other hand a spine program could produce positive revenue in two to four months.

"Sometimes profit can come even quicker as the marketing program can help attract new doctors to the center, who will bring an already existing patient pipeline," he says.

5. Treat each service line like a brand. Patient experience and customization is key to a winning marketing strategy, especially online, notes Mr. Smith. Customize landing pages and content for different specialties on your center's website and tailor it to the patient population specifically seeking information about those procedures.

"Patients are coming in for different procedures and while deciding where to go for surgery, they will search for their symptoms or condition," he says. "Boasting about quality indicators doesn't mean anything to patients. However, if they find a custom landing page for their condition and your solution for that, they know what you can do for them."

6. Avoid piece-mealing a program together. Avoid redoing a website "because its time," says Mr. Smith. Instead, treat each piece of the DTC marketing strategy as part of larger whole — each piece has its own purpose. Ensure that the campaign is consistent across all communications.

"Imagine fighting a war where half of your troops are attacking the wrong target or using the wrong weapon or attacking at the wrong time," he says. "All marketing methods need to be tied together to create a full-spectrum marketing strategy."

7. Don't look for a cure-all solution. Hiring one marketing person internally and thinking that will solve all your marketing problems is a common mistake ASCs make, according to Mr. Smith. Advertising or marketing is an authentic and objective look at what is happening at your facility and what needs to be done, which is why hiring an external marketing expert is most beneficial for surgery centers.

"Internal employees who are paid by your center may not be able to be completely honest about the changes that need to be made at your center, whereas a third party organization  will have no such qualms," he adds.

More articles on ASCs:

Reshaping adversarial relationships into partnerships: How payers are heading to the ASC team
5 key changes in CMS guidance for ASC surveyors
Baptist Health proposes surgery center, urgent care center in Florida

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