March 6, 2014

Marketing a healthcare practice

Marketing can help you to build a practice, run it successfully and ultimately make a profitable exit. Jason Borody, Managing Director of Vividus Marketing, talks about opportunities, challenges and how the internet has made communications a priority for the healthcare sector.

The internet has opened the door to change in the healthcare industry, with marketing and communications playing an increasingly important role in medical practices.

“We’re all growing more dependent on the web and social media for information,” says Jason Borody, Managing Director of Vividus Marketing. “The majority of people seeking healthcare advice now look online, so they’re selecting and engaging their healthcare professionals in a completely different way. For example, general practitioner (GP) referrals to specialists are increasingly being influenced by patients who are doing their own research. They’ll often tell their GP which specialist they’d like to see or ask for a list of suggestions so that they can make the final decision for themselves. These days, a website with search engine optimisation is a basic requirement for most healthcare providers.”

Self-promotion is particularly important for providers who rely heavily on call-backs, such as dentists, optometrists and audiologists, and for anyone setting up or expanding a practice. But there’s more to marketing than getting new patients or clients through the door.

“It’s also about managing your reputation and building trust,” Borody continues. “For example, if someone doesn’t feel they can trust their doctor’s advice they are less likely to follow through with a recommended treatment plan. And everything about the practice can influence how they feel, right down to the reading material in the waiting room. If it’s all outdated, they might wonder whether other areas of the practice are also outdated, including the prescribed treatments.”

Marketing can also help practitioners to make a successful exit from their business. “Even the busiest practice will be worth more if you’ve built it into a sellable brand,” Borody explains.

Unique challenges

While the fundamentals are the same as for any other business, marketing a healthcare practice presents a few unique challenges. “There are more legal and regulatory requirements, so it’s important to be aware of the relevant guidelines,” says Borody. “And, more generally, practitioners who spend many years studying their chosen profession have less time to learn about good business practices. Even practice managers are more likely to have a background in nursing or accounts than marketing and communications.”

Many practitioners employ an outside specialist for web development or graphic design but, once the website or the email marketing is in place, they may decide to do the writing and administration themselves. “This is fine if you have someone within the practice who will take responsibility for the job and has the skills and resources to do it well,” says Borody. “Newsletters and blog posts need to be updated regularly if you’re going to look professional and there’s a lot of work involved in that. If this is left to someone whose priority is working in the practice, it can easily slip to the bottom of the pile.”

As Borody points out, every healthcare practice is a business that needs to be run as a business. “Like any other business owner, healthcare practitioners want a certain lifestyle while they’re working and when they eventually retire,” he says. “Strategic use of marketing can help them to achieve their professional and personal goals.”

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