Medical practice management is filled with unique challenges. But there's also a unique marketing advantage that practices have -- at least traditional, insurance-based practices. When your practice accepts insurance, the insurance plans you contract with, and even patients' employers, become a potential funnel of patients. The key is to be sure your practice is able to take advantage of it. Consider the process a patient will likely follow when looking for medical care. If the patient needs a new primary care practice, they'll almost surely start with their health plan's physician directory. Even if they ask for recommendations from friends and family, they will still want to confirm that your practice is in their network. And even if the patient needs a specialist and gets recommendations from their primary care physician, that in-network confirmation will still be crucial. Despite how critical it is for patients to know whether a physician is in-network for their plan or not, payer directories are often inaccurate. Any mistake in a directory can mean that your practice misses out on a patient that would have come through your doors. Some errors are particularly damaging -- like leaving a physician out of a plan altogether, displaying an obsolete or inaccurate location or phone number, or showing "not accepting new patients" when the physician is, in fact, accepting new patients. It seems logical that payers should want these directories to be accurate -- and they probably do. But it's harder to keep them updated than it might seem, and that means errors are common. Even if it's not technically your practice's responsibility, payer directory accuracy is too important to leave in the payers' hands. Someone on your practice should periodically check all payer directories, to be sure that they're sending patients to you and not passively turning them away with incorrect information. Besides the basics of accurate information, many payer directories now offer the opportunity to enhance your listings with photos and other information. Take advantage of it! It's your chance to stand out versus the competition in the best free marketing resource around.
(c) Michael Jung-fotolia.com Summer's here! If the change of the season has you thinking about reading on a beach, a back porch, a dock, or a hammock, we've got the reads that you need. Judy and Laurie have both published new books. They're both easy reads packed with intriguing case studies of real practices -- the furthest thing from a dry textbook. And you'll find they're full of practical ideas you can readily implement to make your practice run more smoothly and profitably. (We'll understand if you want to wait until fall for that.) In celebration of Judy's latest edition of Secrets of the Best-Run Practices (released just in time for summer), we've got a special offer. Buy both Secrets and Laurie's book, People, Technology, Profit: Practical Ideas for a Happier, Healthier Practice Business, and we'll send you a $5 Starbucks card you can use for the perfect cold (or hot) beverage of your choice. Here's how it works: Buy Secrets of the Best-Run Practices (3rd Edition) Buy People, Technology, Profit: Practical Ideas for a Happier, Healthier Practice Business Send us proof of purchase: your emails from Amazon or other retailer, or even a photo of the two books will work (email "info" at capko.com) We send you your $5 Starbucks card! If you bought either book in 2017 and can provide proof of purchase, that works; you don't have to buy them at the same time. And if you want to buy the books for someone else (like your practice manager), you can tap into the promotion up to three times. This promotion runs through Labor Day 2017 -- you must purchase both books by then. Prefer ebooks? Visit this page for the ebook version of this promotion. Questions? Feel free to contact us.
Whether you've got the deductible reset blues or have simply resolved to keep your schedule as full as it can be in 2016, I've got some ideas to share in my new webinar, "Five Tips to Fill the Schedule in 2016." It's free (sponsored by Kareo). Some highlights of what will be covered: Reputation management -- why it's more valuable and powerful than ever, and also easier than ever; The key segment of reputation management that must be your top priority -- and most reputation management experts never even mention it; How preventive services can help you cope with the deductible reset this year -- and for years to come; How embracing technology can become its own form of (painless) marketing, even as it gives your practice other big benefits. Of course, if you sign up, you'll have access to the recording a day or two after the presentation, so don't hesitate to register even if you think you might not make it for the live presentation. (But I hope you can join us live, because I really look forward to your questions and comments.) Here is the sign-up link.
Another day, another news story spotlighting the problems with physician database information -- and the impact those inaccuracies can have on patients. This time, it's the federal NPI number database that has been revealed as less-than-perfect, as described in this story published last week by the Cincinnati Enquirer/cincinnati.com. The Enquirer's investigation found that "tens of thousands" (!) of records contain errors. If you've heard me speak on this subject or follow this blog, you won't be surprised to hear that, surprise surprise, I'm not surprised. Databases are challenging to maintain accurately -- it's much harder than you might think. Errors are easily introduced and, often, hard to detect. Even when the people managing directories work hard to keep them current, it's still likely that errors will occur. And then when directories depend on other databases and directories for their listing information ... well, that's going to magnify the problem, and make it much easier for an error to be introduced in multiple directories downstream before it's caught. Once that happens, the errors become the responsibility of people who are unlikely to catch them. While the Enquirer article points out many reasons the problems it uncovered with the NPI database are bad for patients -- all valid and worrisome -- these errors are, of course, bad for practices, too. Anything that can lead to a misunderstanding or misinformation that is relied upon by a patient, fellow practitioner, or payer is a potential problem for a practice. And the article also points out that a physician's NPI number can even be hijacked for fraudulent purposes. As with so many other issues related to directory data, the accuracy of NPI numbers and their associated information seems like it surely ought to be the responsibility of the people running the database. But many of the problems that can occur in a directory are too difficult for operators to catch with 100% accuracy (or even close) -- and the stakes are too high for your practice for you to leave the accuracy of your own information to chance. (According to The Enquirer, in this case,
Paraphrased from my Management Rx blog: The New York Times reports that the federal government hopes to fix a problem that many citizens complain about: inaccurate health plan directories. When health plan directories are incorrect, patients can wind up unintentionally receiving services out-of-network, which usually leads to unexpected, significant out-of-pocket costs. The administration is naturally concerned about the impact of directory errors on patients, but out-of-date directories are a huge problem for medical practices, too. Out-of-network errors mean the practice probably is paid less, and the patient may blame the practice for not catching the costly mistake. Patients may share their disappointment with others, via word-of-mouth or even publicly via a review or rating. And besides out-of-network errors that everyone would like to avoid, practices lose even more when they're not listed at all by a plan they participate in, or they're listed with the wrong address, wrong specialty, or wrong status (i.e., accepting new patients or not). When these errors occur -- and they're common -- the directory is turning prospective patients away from your practice. You can read the rest of my post at the Management Rx site. But the short version is, health plan directories are such an important source of information for prospective patients, medical practices can't afford to leave their accuracy to the insurers alone, even if the government gets involved. And on the plus side, health plan directories may be your single best source of new patients, and fixing and enhancing your listings is free! It's rare to find a marketing effort that can be so easy, so effective, and free. My practical, step-by-step ebook on the subject -- "The Quick Guide to Online Physician Reputation Management" -- will empower you or a staff member to take control of all your online directory listings, and start seeing the benefits of being easier to find online. It's just $6.99, but you can download a free sample at Amazon to try before you buy. (If you don't have either a Kindle device or the free Kindle reader on another device, you can also purchase a PDF version for the
If you've been among the practice managers and physicians ignoring the 'fad' of physician ratings sites, hoping they'll just fade away eventually, there's bad news for you in last month's JAMA: more people than ever are aware of the existence of physician ratings sites. And more people than ever are using them. As has long been the trend, though, patients aren't flooding sites with rants of disgruntlement; positive views continue to heavily outweigh negative ones. The most important take-away from this new research? If you haven't started taking control of your listings on ratings sites, the time to act is now. Hiding won't help ... and taking charge is easy, once you learn a few key steps. Interested in learning more about online reputation management? I will be publishing a new Management Rx ebook on this subject in the next few weeks. To be notified (and take advantage of free review copies if you're interested), sign up here: Subscribe to the Management Rx interest list by Email
We often post here about the opportunity directory sites present to get extra exposure and add inbound links (great for SEO) to your website. Recently, we learned of a hospital system that is not just taking advantage of free directory listings by fleshing out physician profiles, they've actually partnered with the team at Vitals.com to get even more value out of the site. This hospital works with the team at Vitals.com to upload correct information for its hundreds of doctors -- to ensure that all its physicians are represented and appear with accurate contact information, background, specialty and insurance information. What's more, they use call center phone numbers for each physician that are assigned only to Vitals.com profiles, so that they can track exactly how many calls come in via the site. Web click-throughs are also tracked, using Google Analytics on the hospital's own site. While this extensive relationship with a directory may be overkill for (and beyond the reach of) independent practices, it speaks volumes about the changing internet directory landscape. When a major hospital system -- with a dedicated team of marketing professionals on staff -- chooses to rely on a directory as a critical marketing source and partner with them, it suggests that this form of internet marketing really has come of age. This hospital understands that a significant number of prospective patients will visit online medical directories every day for physician information. Practices cannot afford to online physician directory and rating sites for the same reason.
Did anyone else catch the recent This American Life episode called "What Doesn't Kill You?" It featured a story about comedian Tig Notaro and her four months of sheer hell -- which included a harrowing, life-threatening bout with C. difficile, a breast cancer diagnosis, and the unexpected, accidental death of her mother. Ms. Notaro turned the experiences -- amazingly -- into a highly personal comedy set that has come to be regarded as a legendary performance. There was much to love in the segment. But, there was one small aspect of it that really made me the practice management consultant in me wince: the hospital survey that was sent to Notaro's mother after her death. Notaro made great comic lemonade out of the survey that asked her deceased mother if her hospital stay was comfortable, and if all procedures were clearly explained in language she could understand (Notaro's mom was unconscious during her entire visit, and died at the hospital). But, the comedy reflected the pain that the survey caused. We're all for surveying patients -- it's a wonderful way to learn what you need to know to improve your operations, and many patients will feel that you care more about them just because you asked for their feedback. But, a mistake like mailing a survey to a deceased patient is really inexcusable -- especially because it's so easily avoided. Did the hospital's database fail to either track or remove deceased patients? If you're mailing or emailing surveys or newsletters and tips to your patients to improve your practice and build on your patient relationships, good for you! But, be sure you have processes in place to segment your lists and exclude specific patients from mailings that might upset them. And be sure you have a routine in place to clean your lists periodically to remove patients who've moved or passed on.
MarketingProfs has a nice summary of how important it is for any small/local business to monitor, own and, if necessary, "clean up" its listings in online directories. For medical practices, this is doubly important, because of the increasing number of medicine-related directories and ratings sites that are pulling from licensing and other databases -- databases that are often outdated. Moreover, patients often look for listings online while on-the-go -- for example, using mobile phones. Keeping tabs on this information helps insure all the places you're listed relate to the "real" you -- i.e., the real identity of your practice. It doesn't have to be time-consuming. Work on it over a few weeks, one site at a time, until you get all your medical site listings and main yellow pages directories claimed and cleaned up. Then be sure you have Google Alerts set up so you'll receive notices when pages are launched or updated containing your practice information -- so you can fix any erroneous data. (Find Google Alerts here.)
Media exposure can be a helpful tool for building and expanding your reputation -- by sharing your expertise, you can market yourself and your practice without "selling" and without outlaying cash. However, it can be challenging to make reporters aware of your expertise and willingness to contribute to their stories. HARO -- Help A Reporter Out (www.helpareporter.com) -- solves this problem for both reporters and sources. HARO connects reporters with qualified interview subjects through its website and thrice-daily newsletter service. Reporters submit questions and general information about the pieces they're working on, and the newsletter circulates all the opportunities to subscribers. There are multiple medical questions every day -- with outlets running the spectrum from small local newspapers and targeted magazines (e.g., by medical specialty) to national websites and print publications. Best of all, the newsletter comes to you, and a quick scan (just a few seconds) is all that's needed to see if there's an appropriate opportunity for you.
Marketing via social media has many advantages for small businesses of all types. It's a non-salesy way to connect with customers at lower out-of-pocket cost to start up than traditional advertising. No wonder so many medical practices are exploring how they can get started with social media -- and no wonder that so many 'experts' are at the ready to tell physicians how they should get started. Usually, the advice begins by offering an entry point to begin using the social web. "Start by creating a blog," the advice might read. Or, "Facebook reaches more people and it's easy to create your presence." However, what this advice sometimes fails to consider is the personal connection that is the key to social media success. Users of these networks already know what engages them and what doesn't. Non-users who jump into social media as a marketers first, though, tend to stick out like sore thumbs. It's not that there's anything that mysterious about using social media -- after all, Facebook has 700 million users precisely because it's easy to use! -- but there is a certain flow to how people use it that's important to understand. So, before you try social media as a marketing tool, try it first as a user. For example, before starting a Facebook page, set yourself up with a Facebook account, and subscribe -- i.e., 'like' -- different organizations to see how they interact with their followers. (A few examples we like in medicine: Children's Hospital Boston, MacArthur OB/GYN, Kaiser Permanente, One Medical Group.) Another way to put your toe in the water with blogging: start out as a commenter. This is a great first step for would-be bloggers -- and, in addition to building your online reputation, comments on other physicians' blogs can give you links back to your website. The range of blogs published regularly and inspiring comments is as diverse as the population of physicians: something for everyone. Some lively medical blogs you might want to check out include Dr. Wes, KevinMD, Movin' Meat, Pharmalot, Diabetes Mine, Buckeye Surgeon -- plus, we'd naturally love to have you comment
So many physicians and practice managers we talk with feel stumped by web marketing. With so many elements to consider -- your website, SEO, advertising, social media, and more -- it's no wonder it can seem overwhelming to tackle it all at once. But, the good news is, there are little things you can do to market yourself better online -- even if you don't yet have a website. One of the best, easiest, fastest ways to immediately kick your marketing up a notch: take 20 minutes to check and update your company information on four places -- Yelp, Healthgrades, Vitals and Avvo. Listings on these increasingly popular rating sites are absolutely free. In fact, in the case of Healthgrades, Vitals and Avvo, you're likely already listed, based on publicly available licensing information. By claiming your profile on these sites, you can make sure your profile is listed correctly, add phone number, and even upload a picture. If you have a website, you can add that, too. People visit these sites every day, so be sure you're showing up properly. What's more, by fleshing out your profile with your link and photo, you'll stand out versus the majority of physicians in your area, who most likely won't have taken the time to polish up their profiles. These sites also feed into Google, so confirming and updating your information will also improve the likelihood that people can find you when they search your specialty. By keeping an eye on these sites, you'll also be able to respond to any criticism from patients that deserves attention. For example, one practice we worked with recently was receiving high ratings for its doctors, but office staff were consistently rated lower for friendliness and helpfulness. The practice was able to learn from this feedback and adjust staff roles to address the issues. Yelp even allows you to respond to negative reviews on its site with a posting of your own -- which can be an opportunity to repair a relationship (or, at the very least, show other visitors that you do care about patient feedback).
Over the past year or two, Google has increasingly emphasized local web pages in its search results -- potentially a real boon for medical practices who have amassed detailed information in Google. One of Google's primary tools in delivering local results is Google Places, a profiling system that pulls information about an organization from all over the web. Google collects information about the organization algorithmically (searching individual firm websites, plus directories for categories like doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc), but also relies on business owners themselves to verify and flesh out their Google Places profiles. What's more, besides providing the opportunity to verify your data, Google Places allows you to add custom details like a description of your organization (you can even upload video!). Best of all, Google Places profiles are not only free, they help you obtain better results from Google searches for people searching for your type of practice in your local area. Here's an example of how the Places records boost results -- note the two doctors with pink flags at the top of the search for "gastroenterologist san francisco," and how much more visible they are compared to the other listings: Clicking on the "place page" link takes you to the doctor's Places page -- which draws the practice's contact information (even providing a map), reviews and other information (including a link the the physician's profile on Vitals.com -- all the more reason to make sure that data is accurate, too!). Having this profile online can be a great boost and timesaver for your practice -- helping patients find answers to questions about your location, hours, etc., without needing to contact you. (This is particularly useful if you don't have a website.) And, if you have a website, having links back to your site from multiple places on Google can only make it easier for more people to find your site. Best of all, this opportunity is absolutely free, and really easy to take advantage of. If you haven't claimed your Google Places record, set aside some time -- just 15 or 20 minutes will be plenty to get started -- to
Do you know what's being said online about your practice, or your specialty? With millions of blogs, forums and websites hosting articles and discussions on every topic under the sun, it can seem impossible to keep up with (or even to find) the conversations that matter to you. Fortunately, there is a free tool that offers a simple way to stay on top of web news and discussions related to your practice: Google Alerts. Just visit google.com/alerts, enter as many search terms as you like (create a separate alert for each subject you'd like to track), select the frequency of alerts and provide your email address. Google will then email you links and article abstracts for everything published related to your keywords -- like magic! Not only will this allow you to stay on top of web topics related to your practice, it will also provide you the information you need to join the conversation. For example, if a medical blog talks about a topic related to your practice, you can visit the blog and comment -- which is also a great way to introduce you and your practice to people who may be readers of the blog, and also gives you a link back to your website.
Whether you're contemplating expanding your practice, starting a new practice, or simply wondering what your practice's profit potential might be, your profits depend on your understanding of local patient demographics. With a host of free online services available, it's easier and less expensive than ever to understand your area's demographics and how they might represent threats or opportunities. You need to know how well your area is being served by your practice-type! One very useful website is www.city-data.com that supplies wide-ranging demographic information on thousands of communities. Among the most telling information is the population and growth trends of your service area -- where your patients come from or nearby areas new patients could come from. Often service areas are defined by geographical barriers, valleys, rivers, etc.. When we work with medical practices, we find that compiling data from the various communities in their service area (and other areas of interest) in a spreadsheet is invaluable. First, we take note of these population demographics: total population, population growth, income and, naturally, any demographic segment particular to your type of practice, such as women, children or the elderly. Next, combine the separate community data so that you can have a single figure for "service area" for each demographic segment. Now that you've compiled data to define the demographics of your service area, you can compare how your service area compares to nearby or similar-sized areas anywhere in the country. Is there a relatively high, low or average number of your practice-type in your service area when compared to similar other regions? You'll need to employ your first-hand knowledge to help you define the "service areas" that compare to yours. Be mindful of population density, income and geography and you should be able to identify at least two competing service areas. You can plug these data from their respective communities into your spreadsheet to calculate the same measures you have for your service area. Now that you've become somewhat of an expert on the population, it's time to gather information on the physicians. You'll goal is to find the number of physicians (FTEs)