Communication is the keystone of any practice. However, many of us consider patient communication to involve purely face to face relations during a practice visit. In reality, once a patient leaves your practice, your competitors are communicating with them on many other levels and suddenly, it’s “game on!”
If I walked up to you during a lecture break and asked you, “Do you communicate with your patients?” what would you say?
Most likely, “Well, yeah – of course I do! How else could I practice?”
If I followed my question up with, “How frequently?” what would you answer?
Remember that your own patients aren’t really your patients. You don’t own them. You rent them. And while you’ve got them, others are going after them
My point? “Buy one pair of glasses and get a year’s supply of contact lenses for free!” won’t sit well with most patients who have just left your practice and paid AUD$800 for their year supply of contact lenses. And of course, once the patient finally gets home and checks their email or watches TV, they are bound to see even more messages from your competitors.
Communicating with patients is something that starts before they enter your practice (web site or telephone call), happens while they’re in the practice, and should continue after they leave. Done consistently and effectively, you can be in the enviable position of having your competitors’ messaging work for you!
An example of that would be the car you currently drive. Let’s say it’s your first Mercedes and you simply love driving your car. When you watch a commercial for a lesser quality car, you undoubtedly feel a sense of pride of ownership for your Benz and receive affirmation for your astute purchase. Your communication plan goals should be exactly the same. When patients hear your competitors’ ads they should think, “Oh, that’s nice, but I’ll stay with my own practitioner, Mrs. Jones. The offer I’m hearing is white noise and not by any means enticing to me.”
Sing your practice’s praises
Firstly, make sure that the core message you send out is part of every message you send out. If you’re all about great service, hammer that point home relentlessly. If outstanding clinical expertise is your claim to fame, say it over and over again. Don’t talk about a large inventory on your website and low prices in follow up mailings. Choose one feature you can claim as yours and own it!
Secondly, set up a plan to communicate the above message at least once a month. Remember that your own patients aren’t really your patients. You don’t own them. You rent them. And while you’ve got them, others are going after them. Don’t want to “touch” your patients monthly? That’s fine. Just know that others will do it for you or more accurately, for themselves.
New media marketing
Email is one great tool to stay in touch with your patients. A very short paragraph or two in the form of an email “newsletter” works great and is easy to implement. The same applies to social media sites. However, ensure the content is fresh and relevant. Nothing communicates, “I don’t really care” than content that was last updated 14 months ago. Remember, with social networking sites, communication should be a two way street. Make a point to readily invite patients to communicate back to you.
The telephone is another great way to stay in touch with your patients. For example, set up a system to call patients following their contact lens fitting and ask them how they are enjoying their new disposable lenses. Be careful to not phrase these types of questions as, “So, are you having any problems with your lenses?” I can assure you, if patients are having problems, they’ll tell you.
While you should continually hone your in-practice communication skills, bear in mind that during the one hour consultation in which the patient is sitting in front of you, there are another 8,759 hours of communication time available between their current appointment and when you see them next year. Get your share of communication bandwidth in those hours and your practice will thrive because of it.
Dr. Gary Gerber is the founder and president of The Power Practice (www.PowerPractice.com), a practice building and consulting company with a mission to make doctors more profitable and efficient by introducing innovative strategies and techniques.