Many pediatricians depend on word of mouth marketing to get patients into the office, and some don’t consider much patient outreach at all. With the current pandemic making everyone’s “normal” different, you might not think it’s a good time to consider outreach and marketing for your pediatric practice -- but with volumes down and lots of time on your staff’s hands, it’s not only the perfect time to up your patient outreach and marketing game -- it’s crucial for your practice’s long term health.
Reactive vs. Proactive Patient Outreach
A pediatrician’s office is typically a very busy space, or as Dr. Katherine Schafer, D.O., of Bloom Pediatrics in Michigan puts it: “We are usually bustling around amid the cacophony of children screaming and protesting our efforts at keeping them healthy, [a sound] which has been quickly replaced by hearing the tick-tock of the clock (not as in the video sensation that has come upon us) and the rap tap of my feet.”
In other words, it’s an unusually quiet time in many pediatric practices across the U.S. Rather than scheduling patients days or even weeks in advance, you may be struggling to fill your staff’s schedules with patients. This is why practices need a “paradigm shift” to proactive rather than reactive patient outreach practices, according to the Pediatric Management Institute’s Paul Vanchiere.
What does proactive outreach look like? Here’s some tips:
- Patient recall is perhaps the most important outreach strategy for your practice. Check your database for patients due for well visits, vaccines, controlled substance checks, et cetera.
- Phones should still be in constant use. Instead of fielding calls, instruct staff to call patients instead. Bonus: if you are struggling to keep a full staff busy in an empty office or from home, this is a great way to do so.
- If a patient cancels or no-shows, this is not a lost appointment but an opportunity to reschedule.
Reminder: don’t undersell yourself. Now is the time to consistently bill for phone calls, portal messages, emails, and televisits. While these visits might seem brief, perhaps not a “real” visit, they are billable hours important for your practice’s revenue and cash flow during a time where volume is not as certain.
According to PCC’s head of sales Mark Johnson, a solid patient outreach strategy is not “...[j]ust one and done. There is a belief that people are more likely to take action based on the 'avoidance of pain' than the potential of pleasure. Therefore, the possibility of something resulting in the absence of pain can be a motivating factor. So practices need to be honest, while being creative in their messaging in order to drive a response.”
PCC’s Amy Wolston adds that you can overcome “reasonable objections [to visits] by outlining your flexible scheduling options, i.e. telehealth visits or drive thru well checks.” By being flexible, providing options for remote care (telemedicine, portal and email messaging) and making the process as painless and transparent as possible, parents are more likely to be reassured enough to schedule the appointment.
New Normal, Modern Marketing
Outreach strategy might be a new frontier for your pediatric practice, but whether you’re aware of it or not, you already have a marketing strategy. Whether you’re a web-savvy #tweetatrician or a recent upstart practice who relies on word of mouth, marketing is the communication from your office that says, “We’re open, we’re here to help, and here’s how we’ll do it.”
While word of mouth reputation and calling existing patients are great ways to get patients in the office, the most valuable marketing tool for pediatric practices in the current circumstances is patient recall and maintaining the trust your families have in your work. You can communicate to patients who are nervous, wary, or overdue for appointments by using digital marketing. Essentially, digital marketing is a marketing strategy that allows you to share your practice’s strengths, goings-on, and invites new and existing patients to visit, all through digital communications such as social media, email, and your website. Here are some of the things to consider when marketing online to your community:
- Engage with your community on social media. On platforms like Facebook and Instagram, you can share photos, updates, and unique ways your practice is helping keep kids well during this challenging time.
- PCC’s Chip Hart notes that this is the perfect time to take on projects you may not have had time for before -- this could be anything from updating your website to painting the reception room.
- Tidy up your website. Even if you don’t have time for a website overhaul, add messaging to communicate to your patients about new hours, visit options, and to reassure them you’re there for them. Make sure the site is mobile-friendly and make use of AAP handouts.
- Consider advertising. For example, you can create a Facebook ad quickly through their platform Facebook Business Manager. Google Ads are also a great way to make sure your practice comes in first when a parent searches for a pediatrician in your area.
- Stay local. Chip Hart recommends searching for yourself on Google, on Doximity, and even Pokemon GO! to evaluate the scope you have online.
- Be clear about your hours, availability, and visit protocols. If circumstances change, send out a message to let your target audience -- parents and families -- know.
- Address fears around COVID-19. For example, connect with parents wary of in-office visits by communicating your safety measures -- e.g. “We’re accepting one patient at a time in the office, which is sanitized after each visit.”
- Provide alternatives and options: “Patients can now access their pediatrician through our new telemedicine service or through drive thru visits in the office parking lot.”
- Get creative. Some PCC clients have used their quiet office hours to organize raffles for patients active on their social media, shared creative projects such as princess hot dogs, or shared videos of providers welcoming viewers to their parking lot exam rooms.
- Phone a colleague. What are your neighbors and colleagues across the country doing? How did they get started with telemedicine, with drive thru immunizations, with virtual well child visits? You can also access similar conversations on forums such as the AAP’s SOAPM listserv, the PMI Business Impact forum, and for PCC clients, PCC Talk.
Why is Outreach and Marketing Communication So Important?
Simply, outreach and communications with your community are crucial for your practice at a time when visit volumes are dropping, on par payments for telemedicine are uncertain, and families and businesses across the country face difficult economic circumstances. Keeping your volumes constant with outreach, even if numbers are not consistent, helps keep your revenue going and your business in good health. Honest, transparent communication helps your families recognize they are safe and in good hands, and that preventative healthcare is more important than ever.
The good news is, there are many ways for a practice to engage in outreach and marketing -- and while your own creativity in a difficult time may surprise you, there is no need to reinvent the wheel to get your message out to families. Just as your practice has many tools to reassure patients and parents, there are many resources available to you to ensure your practice gets kids the healthcare they need. Check out PCC's collection of helpful resources and business management tools on our COVID-19 resource page!