Patients are becoming more selective when choosing where to receive their health care. This is particularly true for specialty care, including dermatology, where many procedures are elective. Now more than ever, patients are consulting multiple sources before deciding on which provider is best suited to meet their specific care needs.
Information gathering can take many forms. For example, individuals may ask their primary care physicians for referral suggestions or seek recommendations from friends and family. They may sift through online practice reviews or scan social media posts. They may even look for online blogs written by practice physicians or see who participates in nearby health fairs and offers coupons and discounts. The main goal of this research is to find a reputable organization that makes them feel cared for and valued.
Meeting the Needs of the Discerning Health Consumer
As patients increasingly become more informed as consumers, dermatology practices must step up their efforts to improve communications and expand touch points. Those organizations that are ahead of the curve tend to incorporate certain key best practices into their daily operations. The following paragraphs contain a number of tips to consider when evaluating how to best meet the needs of your current and future patients.
Frequently communicate with patients outside of appointments. While providers have traditionally limited patient communication to the onsite visit, regular interactions between appointments can leave a lasting impression and enhance the patient experience. Effective communication strategies during these periods include:
- Automated reminders for annual check-ups and wellness activities;
- Newsletters that offer tips for addressing common health concerns or avoiding illness; and
- Targeted emails, texts, or flyers that share information about special offers or opportunities.
To increase the likelihood of reaching a patient and receiving a positive response, communications should occur using the patient’s preferred method, whether that is text, phone, email, or regular mail. An organization can capture information about preferred methods in its electronic medical record (EMR). When that information ties directly into a practice management system, an organization can more effectively and efficiently funnel the necessary communications to the right patients at the right time. Communication outside of patient appointments may also help reduce loss to follow up, ultimately helping your practice management in the long run.
Tailor information to the individual’s needs. Well-timed, relevant information keeps a practice top of mind, but be careful of how often outreach is conducted. Numerous communications can become noise and be disregarded. This results in a mental fatigue for the patient and a loss of resources (time, money, man hours) for the practice. For example, instead of sending repetitious communications about dermal filler therapy to a broad audience, a practice can focus communications by running a report to see which patients regularly receive these kinds of treatments. When the organization is ready to have a promotion or sale on these treatments, it could then send targeted communications to those patients in their preferred method. This ensures the message reaches the appropriate individuals at a time when making an appointment could financially benefit them, increasing their likelihood of a positive response.
Recognize and cultivate referral sources. Although patients actively seek information on their own before making care choices, they still rely on input and referrals from primary doctors. Therefore, having strong relationships with key referring physicians in your area can be valuable to maintain a consistent pipeline of new patients. With the right marketing technology, practices can easily see which providers are referring the most patients. More specifically, they can identify the providers referring patients who actually schedule a procedure. Using this information, a practice can reach out to the top-level referring physicians to make sure they have all the information they need to keep recommending the practice. This may include leave-behind cards or education materials and pamphlets that include the practice’s name, website, and contact information. Dermatologists may also consider providing information on a practice’s specialty (eg, medical vs aesthetic) and products and procedures (eg, available filler brands) may also help primary care physicians connect prospectice patients.
In addition to encouraging referrals, building rapport and establishing communication channels with community physicians can improve patient care across the continuum. By developing two-way communication pathways, practices can foster more collaboration and enable smoother care transitions for patients.
Monitor data to re-aim and refine outreach. While the previously mentioned strategies are important, the most critical component is to periodically review data about patient on-ramps to understand how individuals are hearing about the practice and responding to communication materials. This review ensures the practice is engaging in effective outreach and prioritizing communication tactics that produce the greatest return on investment. Without analyzing the data, a practice could pursue strategies that might not yield the best results, leading to lost staff time and monetary resources.
Organizations can access this kind of data by reviewing reports generated by marketing tools. The best tools involve minimal setup and integrate directly with an EMR and practice management system. They rely on referral information that patient-access staff enter into the patient’s record. When tools are designed to require staff to input this information before completing patient check-in, it not only enhances the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the information but also improves office workflows. When costs are entered into the system, the practice can more precisely quantify each intervention’s return on investment to allow for even more strategic outreach efforts.
Smarter communication underpins a better patient experience. Organizations that actively and effectively communicate with patients and nurture loyalty can foster a more positive patient experience. By capturing and analyzing data around how patients learn about and interact with the practice, organizations can deliver high-touch, relevant, and timely communications. Not only will these interactions set the practice apart from its competition, but they will drive patients into the practice and preserve loyalty, ultimately increasing the organization’s bottom line.
Ms Gibson is the vice president of client success at Nextech, a fully integrated health care solution for electronic medical records, practice management, and revenue management.
Disclosure: Ms Gibson is a full-time employee of Nextech.