15 Points on Marketing for Ambulatory Surgery Centers

The following article is written by Jared Leger, RN, CEO of Arise Healthcare.


The statements made in this article are the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of the publication or publisher.

 

Here are 15 points ambulatory surgery centers should consider when marketing their facility.

 

1. Be aware of legal concerns. Although many ambulatory surgery centers do not do much with marketing, it is a highly effective way to attract more surgeons and patients. Keep in mind, however, that marketing poses a variety of legal challenges, mainly stemming from the prohibition against inducing referrals from physicians or patients. Before embarking on a marketing campaign, it's important to get advice from an experienced healthcare attorney who is knowledgeable about this area in particular.

 

2. Focus, focus, focus. Make sure your marketing strategy is focused and you know your audience. For example, if you want to reach out to physicians to use the center but not necessarily become investors, emphasize the efficiencies, such as a faster turnover time, and the advantages for the patient, such as lower out-of-pocket charges than at the hospital. On the other hand, if you want to reach out to potential physician-investors, add a discussion of the financial benefits of being a partner at your ASC, focusing on profitability. Be specific. You might even provide statistics on the profitability of each type of case.

 

3. Use press releases. A great way for a facility to legally promote a physician is to use press releases, which are a step removed from advertising. A hospital or ASC is barred by law from purchasing ads on behalf of physicians referring to that ASC. But sending out a release does not involve purchasing an ad, so you do not face concerns about making payments on behalf of the physician. The release would mention a physician in the context of the ASC. For example, the headline might say: "Acclaimed orthopedic surgeon now performing out-patient knee replacements in such-and-such ASC."

 

4. Use quotations. A quote adds emphasis to your message. We quote the ASC administrator and the showcased physician in our releases. For example, last month we sent out a release about outpatient spine surgery. In the text, the physician and the administrator discuss the evolution of technology that allows spine to be outpatient and the advantages of doing it in the ASC setting.

 

5. Disseminate releases widely. Send the press release to local media outlets and appropriate industry associations along with a photo of the physician. News outlets often publish at least a portion of the release verbatim and feature it either in print or online. (However, we have not yet been asked for an interview, based on a release we have sent.) Also be sure to feature the release on your company's website and provide it to your physicians to feature on their websites, too. Having multiple points of information improve search-engine optimization, increasing your exposure.

 

6. Stress cost savings to patients. Marketing should always focus on the cost savings your ASC provides patients. Since patients pay a percentage of the full charge, ASCs typically cost patients much less than an HOPD. Make it specific. We say patients pay 40 percent less than at the hospital, though savings are probably even higher. The figure we use is based on ASC and HOPD rates published by Medicare and followed by many private payers.

 

7. Consider advertising. We have not used billboard advertising because it is expensive, but ASCs in other markets have done so for such purposes as welcoming physicians to the center. Radio and newspaper ads can also be useful options, particularly for announcing events.

 

8. Watch out for misrepresentations. Especially when highlighting clinical results, be careful not to misrepresent the facts. For example, if a bariatric center's ad reads, "All our patients have lost 100 pounds each," the center could be accused of misrepresentation if a particular patient does not have this result.

 

9. Market to physicians' schedulers. We provide quarterly luncheons for schedulers at the practices of affiliated physicians. To ensure effectiveness, focus on staff members who directly interface with the surgery center. We attract attendees to these affairs by giving away door prizes that are worth about $100 each. Our attorney tells us the door prizes are legal as long as they are not based on the volume or value of referrals. For legal compliance, prizes are chosen randomly in a lottery-type drawing. Attendance at these meetings has been rising and now we have close to 20 schedulers coming.

 

These luncheons are a great opportunity to highlight the center's benefits to a captive audience. We bring in our management team, someone from our nursing staff and our own scheduler and provide a PowerPoint presentation on the center. For a new facility, the PowerPoint might cover the issue of in-network vs. out-of-network coverage, the patient guidebook, how to contact the center and phone numbers of various center staff. For an existing center, the presentation might highlight a newly hired scheduler or our low infection rate. Then we open up the meeting for questions and comments, which is important because it's one of the few times schedulers can interact with our management team. The comments we get can be invaluable, such as ideas on how we could improve our operations.

 

10. Provide brochures to physicians' offices. We create a brochure about the surgery center that our physicians' practices can hand out to patients they send to the center. We don't cut corners with the brochure. It is an attractive, glossy production, written by an outside marketing writer. The front page displays our logo and a color photo of the ASC. The inside is packed with useful information such as phone numbers for the billing department, the center's financial hardship policies and instructions for pre-op prep. We put an easy-to-understand map on the back.

 

Enough brochures are dropped off at the physician's office to last about 1-2 months. When the office runs out, they can call us for more. We even put a business card from our vice president of marketing toward the bottom of the stack to remind them to order more. This gives us an excuse to send our vice president of marketing over there to talk to them. In a direct conversation, we are more likely to find out problems that need to be fixed as well as new opportunities.

 

11. Don't bother cold-calling unaffiliated physicians. Cold-calling physicians who have no existing relationship with the ASC is not a good use of our marketing vice president's time. However, he does identify potential ASC physician-partners or utilizers and asks the medical director or a physician-owner to reach out to them. In addition, physician-partners are asked at their quarterly their meetings to suggest other physicians who might use the center. They also consider new markets and new business opportunities that can be passed on to the marketing VP.

 

12. Send speakers to service clubs. It's really not a bad idea to have one of your physician-partners talk at a meeting of the Elks or the Lions Club. The ASC does not have to spend anything, which addresses the aforementioned legal concerns about paying for referrals. It can be a nice arrangement, but we believe it makes more sense to have the physician speak inside the very facility that people would be using. This allows us to showcase our operation, which is, after all, sitting empty on evenings and weekends when potential patients are free to visit.

 

13. Seminars for patients. Patient seminars are a great, inexpensive way to legally market the ASC and its surgeons. After hours, our surgeons can meet interested patients in the ASC lobby and talk about a specific procedure or disease. Topics can range from knee pain to advances in minimally-invasive spine surgery or laparoscopic hysterectomies. The center can serve breakfast or provide snacks at little expense. To announce these meetings, we might place an ad in the local newspaper saying something like: "Come and hear Dr. Smith talk about advances in the treatment of knee pain."

 

14. Free patient screenings. Hospitals provide free screenings all the time, but ASCs generally don't do much of this. That's too bad, because it is a great opportunity. Our ASCs have hosted several free screenings. For example, to mark prostate screening awareness month in September, one of our centers will be giving these tests away. We will bring in a lab company to provide prostate specific antigen screenings for an at-cost fee and one of our urologists will provide a free prostate exam. To address any concerns that these tests are an inducement for patients to use our facility, we do not impose any obligation to use our center and we characterize this as "community outreach."


15. Marketing a new procedure. When introducing a new procedure, the ASC may use marketing materials prepared by the manufacturer of the medical device for the procedure. For example, a large gynecological device company provides postcards on its endometrial ablation device. When one of our ASCs began offering this procedure, we obtained a large quality of the postcards and mailed them out, using a mailing list we obtained from the local chamber of commerce.

 

Learn more about Arise Healthcare.

 

More Articles Featuring Arise Healthcare:

10 Top Priorities of Surgery Center Physicians

6 Creative Ways to Engage Surgery Center Physicians

Grow Pain Management Through Diversification, Expansion and Marketing

 

 

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