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HomemibusinessBuilding Loyalty Through Patient Communication

Building Loyalty Through Patient Communication

Practice growth requires meaningful communication with your patients, the responses of which can be measured and analysed to provide insights for further improvement.

Traditional methods for growing practices are failing… but why?

Optometry practices by in large, have not changed their marketing strategies in two decades, with the exception of some advertising on Google and Facebook.

Typically, practices rely on a combination of exclusive brand offerings, in store sales events and, frame and lens packages. These offerings and promotions are primarily pushed via letter box drops, direct mail, websites, email marketing, SMS/phone recalls, and more recently, Facebook and Google advertising.

The ultimate intent of recalls is to ensure the ongoing health of your patients’ vision

All the aforementioned can be labour-intensive and costly… which necessitates the question: do these strategies work?

Measure Return on Investment

Rather than seeking new approaches, human nature tempts us to look for evidence that confirms the value of current behaviour. However, when it comes to achieving business success, it’s essential that we actively challenge current norms in order to highlight our shortcomings and evoke the more effectual path… the adage, “we’ve always worked this way” must not apply.

A simple formula that you can use to assess your current approach to building business is to calculate the value each patient brings to it (see below).

Being aware of the real dollar value each patient brings to your practice can be invaluable when considering your return on investment in marketing as it will help you decide whether you’re spending enough, too much, and whether you need to change your marketing strategy.

It’s also important to drill down into the demographics of each patient you attract (age, gender, location, profession etc.) and compare them to the demographics of your patient catchment area. The information gathered from a demographic analysis will provide greater insights about the patients you are reaching and, on the other hand, those you are overlooking. Are you only attracting older people within a community that primarily comprises students or young professionals? Do you need to change your ‘language’ or the marketing tools you’re using in an effort to reach that missed target audience?

Analyse the Demographics

As well as looking out for those you’re missing all together, take the time to analyse the patients who are not coming back after their first visit.

Anecdotal evidence tells us that, on average, an optometry practice entices around 20 per cent of its patients to return by sending out recalls. This means that approximately 80 per cent, or four out of five, of the patients your practice has seen before, are not coming back.

Yet marketing text books all tell us that maintaining existing customers is easier than attracting new ones… With this in mind, it is essential to understand more about each of these patients who are not coming back. Why don’t they make a repeat appointment and what can you do to change this behaviour? How can you achieve more meaningful patient connections?

Review Your Approach

When reviewing your practice’s communication strategy, remind yourself of the intent behind the piece and whether you’ve achieved that. Is it really focused on what your patients need, or, are you simply spamming them via every medium in order to satisfy the, “we’re doing everything we can” notion?

Many practices time their recalls with the end of the health insurance company year, however when you think about it, that strategy is entirely practice – and financially – focussed. “Come in and have your eyes tested before you lose your rebate” does nothing to reinforce the real reason for an eye examination – to maintain your patient’s sight.

Other practices send out batches of generic recalls according to each patient’s available Medicare-subsidised one or three year examination interval. While this may be timely, again, it does nothing to communicate directly to the patient about their specific needs or take into consideration their eye health status or stage in life.

When it comes to the mechanics, most practices issue recalls via a personalised letter, direct mailed postcard, SMS and sometimes Facebook message. Unfortunately, letters and direct mail pieces often end up in the bin with the ‘junk mail’ or, at best, tacked out of sight, out of mind on the side of the fridge. SMS messages, emails, and Facebook messages quickly get lost in a long stream of e-communications.

Emphasise the Health Benefits

The ultimate intent of recalls is to ensure the ongoing health of your patients’ vision. If you find your current approach is not highly effective in securing repeat business, handle your recalls differently – in a way that effectively communicates with your patient – and they can be extremely successful.

Firstly, it’s important to target your recall message according to the demographic and preferably, the eye condition of your patient. If your patient is a student, you could talk about ensuring they maximise their studies by looking after their eye sight. Young professionals will be interested in the concept of blocking blue light while your professional presbyopes may be unaware of the progressive spectacle or contact lenses available for the office. If the patient is over 50, you could draw their attention to age related macular degeneration, a woman who is reaching menopause may be interested to know that you’re able to help her manage dry eye disease.

Manage the Mechanics

Once you have the message organised, it’s time to consider a more effective mechanism for delivery and appointment making.

These days most of us organise much of our lives online – we simply prefer it that way.

According to a 2015 study by the Australian government, younger people (those aged 18–44) are the most active digital citizens, with 100 per cent admitting to having an online presence.1 But older Aussies (those aged 65 and over) aren’t too far behind, with 68 per cent telling researchers they too have embraced the digital life.

In this digital age, consumers are online and researching everything prior to making a buying decision, (though unfortunately, they’re also self-diagnosing through Dr. Google). When searching for service providers online, we’re most often drawn to those that have ‘Book Online’ functionality.

That’s because ‘convenience’ is a major driver in the decision making process – we want to be able to make arrangements at a time and place that suits us, without the need to interrupt our working day, wait on hold, or engage in idle conversation with a receptionist. People looking for an eye examination want the same level of service, so it makes sense to be available anytime and have a web presence your customers feel they can trust.

Practices that invest in communicating with patients through digital channels – and get it right – will connect and engage more effectively than ever before.

The Power of Digital

If you look at corporate optometry groups verses independents, the former has invested heavily in marketing, online appointments, digital recalls, and other online tools to make it easier for their customers to engage with them. However, until now, these tools have been much more challenging – financially and logistically – for independent optometrists to access.

The digital age has presented independent practices with the opportunity to engage with patients at a personal level with information that is specific to their eye health needs, and in a timely fashion.

There are a few platforms around so it’s important to take the time to assess the functionality of each, along with ease of use, and affordability for your practice.

Offering the ability for patients to book appointments online 24/7 is just the beginning of what you should be looking for. Check that they can book according to specific eye health needs as well (i.e. paediatric care/glaucoma/macular degeneration etc.)

The ability to issue digital recalls specific to individual patient’s eye health will enable you to connect at a more meaningful level and encourage engagement, while post consultation surveys enable your patients to provide the practices with immediate feedback that can be used to further improve services.

The ability to attach valuable, reputable healthcare content to any patient communication – whether it be about your patient’s eye health or a particular service – will enable you to educate your patients and build your reputation as an eye health expert. A platform that enables you to recommend other allied healthcare providers in your patient’s local area will be seen by your patients as a value add, and will also help build your own practice as other practitioners reciprocate.

Importantly, in an age where we’re all using multiple platforms to manage different aspects of our business, it’s important to find a platform that can be fully integrated with practice management systems like Optomate and Sunix.

Finally, platforms that provide live reporting will enable you to measure responses to specific campaigns – whether on Facebook, via email, SMS, web-based or print – so that you can acquire a clear picture of how each marketing strategy impacts particular demographics and make adjustments accordingly.

Digital marketing is a powerful tool for practice building, but it’s not a set-and-forget strategy. Actively managing your digital platform, trying new strategies, and assessing the impact, will give you insights into customer engagement that will enable you to acquire new customers and help you retain them over the long term.

Klaus Bartosch is the CEO and Co-Founder of 1st Group, which developed the MyHealth1st platform. In just one year, 60 per cent of all independent optometrists in Australia joined the platform. MyHealth1st platform is now available to independent optometrists in New Zealand.