Attracting new patients is important for every medical practice, but especially so for gastroenterology (GI) practices moving forward from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some GI practices saw a 90 percent drop in endoscopy procedures during the first wave of the pandemic. Now, medical professionals are working towards fully reopening their practices. For many clinics, the first step is attracting new patients.
Top 7 Patient Outreach Approaches for Attracting New Patients
While retaining current patients is important to sustaining a GI practice, attracting new patients will be critical in restoring both procedure volume and income.
1. Identify your target audience
Understanding your current patient demographics, such as average age, gender, location, and occupation, can give you insight into which types of marketing strategies and channels might help you attract new patients. Identifying your target audience can shape your online patient outreach efforts, such as advertising on Facebook or other social media platforms.
2. Establish an online presence
According to Becker’s Hospital Review, 72 percent of respondents to a recent survey said they use the internet to find healthcare information. Another 50 percent said they use the internet to find a new physician and to research the quality of a physician. Clearly, having an online presence is essential to attracting new patients.
To establish an online presence, create a modern, easy-to-use website that is informative and professional. Be sure to build a website that is responsive, which means it works as well on a smart phone as it does on a desktop computer with a widescreen monitor.
3. Start a blog
Regular blogging adds fresh content to your website and gives your patients valuable information to read every time they visit. Blogging gives you a chance to establish your practice as leaders in GI care in your community. Blogs also provide an opportunity to use keywords that search engines use to help people find your website.
Blog topics can cover the gamut, from simple overviews of various digestive disorders to discussing the latest research results. The American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) publishes a blog that tackles a wide variety of topics, such as “Dispelling Misinformation on COVID-19 Vaccines,” virtual events to support colorectal cancer screening, and even official statements about social issues.
For best results, include a “Share” button that makes it easy to share your blog on social media. The easier you make it to share your blogs, the more people you can reach.
4. Stay active on social media
Social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, is a powerful marketing tool. Whenever someone “likes” or shares your posts on social media, everyone in their social media circles see it. This exposure can direct traffic to your social media page, to your webpage, and eventually to your door. The trick is to keep your social media posts relevant to your target patients.
Choose a social media platform that your target audience is likely to use. Consider Instagram if your target audience is female and between the ages of 25 and 34, for example. Marketing on Facebook may give you an edge when trying to reach older patients, as 68 percent of those ages 50 to 64 responding to a Pew Research Center survey and nearly half of those 65 and older said they use the social media platform.
5. Embrace advanced technology
Today’s consumer embraces technology, perhaps even more than do their doctors. In a 2007 survey, for example, 80 percent of respondents said they prefer to receive lab results electronically. Healthcare providers that avoid improving their electronic health information sharing could potentially lose patients to technically advanced clinics. In fact, 40 percent of respondents to a 2015 survey said they would be likely to recommend their technically advanced doctor to others.
Invest in a patient portal that allow patients to schedule appointments online, view their lab results, request prescription refills, and leave messages for their doctors. Opt for after-hours virtual visits. Consider upgrading the technology within your clinic, and advertise these upgrades on your website. Look into electronic check-in via an iPad for patients to use upon arrival, for example, or offer complementary WiFi. You might even splurge on a massage chair to make every visit more pleasurable.
6. Connect with your community
Community events are great patient outreach opportunities. Participate in your community’s annual celebration, for example, or hold an online seminar on eating healthy for optimal gut health. Host online contests in which you offer prizes and giveaways, or volunteer at school events. Patients appreciate the opportunity to learn health information and always love the fun of contests.
Hold gastroenterology-specific events at your GI clinic. Take advantage of health observance events, such as:
- Rare Disease Day, held on the last day of February
- IBS Awareness Month in April
- Gastroparesis Awareness Month in August
- GERD Awareness Week, held the week of Thanksgiving
- Constipation Awareness Month every December
7. Encourage online reviews
When choosing a healthcare provider, nearly 70 percent of people consider a positive online reputation to be very or extremely important. To attract more patients, encourage your current patients to share their experience in an online review. After each appointment, send your patients a follow-up email that thanks them for their visit and encourages them to review you online. With the patient’s permission, you can post these reviews on your practice website.
Be sure to monitor your online reviews, though, as negative comments can repel new patients. If your practice has negative reviews, evaluate and address the most common reasons for the complaints. Some review sites allow businesses to respond feedback; replying to both positive and negative reviews can show that your GI practice cares about their experience.
Fortunately, most online reviewers leave positive feedback for their doctors. A recent study found that most patients rate their doctors very highly, with 61 percent giving 5-star reviews and only 23 percent giving 1-star reviews. When patients did leave negative comments, only 4 percent of complaints were about medical care. The other 96 percent of the comments focused on inadequate communication, wait times, and disorganized operations. The most common complaints include scheduling difficulties, disagreements with staff, feeling unheard, not getting enough time with the doctor, waiting too long, and confusion with billing and insurance.
Your patient outreach efforts should assure patients that they would be getting the best medical attention and care possible. Make it clear that you are willing to communicate early and often through text messages, phone calls, and emails.
Attracting new patients can help your GI clinic restore patient volume and profits. Remember to keep an open mind when it comes to patient outreach, as what works for one practice may not work for another.