Primary care is the front line of the health care industry
It’s not just where conditions are diagnosed and treated; it’s where a doctor’s business policies and practices have to adapt to changes in the industry. And, much to the pain of doctors who can’t stand the word “marketing,” this includes communications.
Primary care is a volume business
Years ago, 50% of med students said they wanted to become a primary care physician. Today, the number is 20%.
Since the advent of HMOs in the 1980s, when insurers implemented cost-control and patient-management practices in exchange for contractually defined monetary benefits, primary care docs have become like public school teachers: too much work, too little time, no room for error, and no end in sight. Obamacare has only intensified the situation.
No question, primary care practitioners have taken it in the teeth.
The communications opportunity
But in business terms, the volume of consumers that primary care providers must serve also means that the field is a dynamic business area where many people can be influenced and informed through all different forms of marketing communications.
If primary care physicians can be a bit more marketing conscious, they can do more than create a coherent identity around their practice and a strong base of patients. They can redefine and reshape what primary care medical practice means.
The new message for primary care marketing: We’re in this thing together.
Primary care physicians (which includes physicians, PAs, nurses, and front and back-office staff) need to send the same message that health care insurers keep trying to send: Healthcare is like home improvement. It’s a DIY world where you learn about it, invest in it smartly, and it feels good and pays you back over time.
By this model of thinking, primary care professionals are like good contractors. They’re incredibly valuable, trusted, experienced, high-quality professionals who are there to educate, diagnose, point things in the right direction, and help make things better. It’s not their house. It’s yours. But they know how it works better than you do.
The old model of patient communication in America was paternalistic: Follow the doctor’s orders. End of discussion.
The new model is participatory: Get the right doctor, get smart, and stay healthy.
4 Tips for Primary Care communications development
So let’s express in real terms the idea of self-reliance and the spirit of savvy consumerism that primary care doctors should be developing though their communications.
Use DIY content marketing. In-office and out-of-office communications should focus on consumer-oriented conditions and problems, boiled down to a handful of actionable items. 5 Things to Cut Out of Your Diet. 7 Things That Keep Kids Under 7 Healthy. And so forth. It’s basic, but content like this – in the form of brochures, email, and waiting room videos – establish a drumbeat of self-empowerment through knowledge.
Make the doctors and staff human. When patients need care, they want to know who’s doing the caring. Personalized bios for staff is a good first step.
Leverage doctor-rating sites. The migration to Healthgrades and other doctor-rating sites has been slow, but more than 250 million consumers use Healthgrades each year. It’s time to start uploading information and encouraging patients to rate their experience – even before they leave the office.
Make patient communication a priority. Patients are powerful consumers, and the goal is to make them smarter and more involved.
So the use of email and text messaging to confirm appointments, notify patients of changes, and remind them how to prepare for office visits is important. Post-visit, asking for feedback through surveys enables participation and gives the practice data to use as proof of performance.
If you’re feeling the sting of not knowing where to turn for health care marketing counsel, contact us. We’ll be happy to buy you a beverage.