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ASC branding: 7 tips to leverage low-cost online resources

There is no doubt that we live in a hyper-connected world where Google holds the key to most questions. In this age, does it make good business sense for ambulatory surgery centers to ignore the World Wide Web?

According to orthopedic surgeon David Geier, MD, probably notGeier.

Dr. Geier recently started his own practice after serving eight years as director of MUSC Sports Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

"I think that faced with competition from hospitals, an ASC could use social media to create brand awareness for their center," says Dr. Geier. "Create familiarity and establish a relationship with patients and consumers, educate the public and show them what your center can do so that the public chooses surgery centers as their destination of choice for medical procedures."

Here are seven tips for ASCs to successfully build and leverage an online brand:

1. A website is a must-have. Aside from engaging the public through original, educational content, a website provides basic information to potential patients such as directions to the center and frequently asked questions, says Dr. Geier. No matter how many social media platforms an ASC uses, a website provides a home base, which is essential. "Even if you use Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram you want to drive traffic back to your website so they can get information regarding your center. Far too many ASCs have static websites or don't have a website at all," he says.  

2. Set up a blog. Blogs are an effective tool for educating potential patients about ASCs as well as the procedures that can be performed in an outpatient setting. Surgery centers can also set up websites to serve as blogs, and dynamic sites that continually have new posts and where readers can leave comments tend to attract more visitors. According to Dr. Geier, using a blog as an educational tool rather than an advertising space is key for driving patient volumes. Many ASCs make the mistake of trying to promote their center too hard without delivering any value to the customer.

"Provide education and information rather than the hard sell. Talk about procedures, what the procedures entail as well as the anesthesia techniques used at your center. Focus on providing value for the patient or consumer," says Dr. Geier. "That will have a better effect on driving volumes rather than just saying 'come here for your surgery.'"

It's also important to consistently put up new content. Dr. Geier suggests that centers ask different staff members to write articles for the blog every few days to ensure content remains fresh.

3. Create buy-in among ASC staff. "It's tricky to create buy-in because staff members tend to think it's not worth the time investment," says Dr. Geier. Their reluctance stems from the logistics of creating and managing an online brand — who will write the articles, who will upload them and who will monitor Twitter and Facebook, for example. One way to overcome this is to involve everyone.

"One person doing all the work is not as effective as everyone pitching in," says Dr. Geier. "Get a doctor to write an article, then get a nurse and then an anesthesiologist to write articles. That would be really impressive and people would see that the center as a whole is committed to educating patients. It would impress me as a patient to see that multidisciplinary approach."

4. Manage expectations. Building a brand and creating awareness online is a slow process, says Dr. Geier. When a surgery center starts to increase its online presence, it won't lead to an increase in patient volume right away, and it's important to communicate this to staff members to ensure they continue pushing the center's online brand.

5. Engage current patients. Dr. Geier says ASCs can also engage existing patients in the social media strategy. "Mention it to existing patients and get them to use their personal Facebook or Twitter accounts to say they had their surgery at your facility and ask them to describe the experience. Or get them to sign a waiver and record a 15-second video that you can use as a testimonial," he suggests.

6. Fix customer service issues before building an online brand. ASCs need to make sure that all customer service issues are taken care of before engaging with potential patients online. Make sure that cases run on time and that operational issues are fixed so that the center can capitalize on word-of-mouth, says Dr. Geier.

"You don't want to start building your brand and then find that people have come and had a bad experience," he says. "News about bad experiences will spread even faster than news about good experiences."

7. Develop a concentrated online marketing strategy. Cost cutting is certainly a focus for surgery centers, especially in the current healthcare climate, and social media is the best low-cost marketing strategy currently available, says Dr. Geier. ASCs need to establish websites, set up blogs and use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

"ASCs can use social media to explain to people why they should have their surgery at an ASC rather than a hospital outpatient department," he says. "Educate them about the value that ASCs provide."

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