Word-of-Mouth Referrals Are Still The Best Way To Grow Your Medical Practice
Updated: Mar 25
In today’s high-tech world, you have probably already integrated all sorts of exciting new procedures and technologies into your medical practice. It is only natural that you want to spread the word about these new abilities to build your practice. Chances are, you have been approached by companies offering to increase your SEO, handle your social media, do internal marketing to your current patients, and develop an advertising campaign for you. Is it necessary to hire one of these firms to help you promote your practice? I believe that there are steps you must take before you make the decision to spend money promote your practice. (Click here to learn more about what those steps are.) Once those steps are completed and you are ready, I have good news for you. There are internal things you can do to promote your practice that are free and do not cost you anything except some time and effort.
While it is important to have a Facebook page and maybe even a Twitter and Instagram account, if you focus all of your marketing energy toward those platforms you might not be reaching everyone. Not only does an entire generation of potential patients not actively use social media, but many others still prefer to find new doctors through real-life referrals from others. In this sense, word-of-mouth patient referrals are very much alive and well, and they can either help or hurt your business, depending on the experience that your previous patients have had. Step 1 in expanding your medical practice is increasing word of mouth referrals.
Now that I have electronic medical records, I can easily search my database to find out how new patients are finding me. I was not surprised when I ran a recent report that 80% of my new patients came from a word of mouth referral from another patient. I spoke to the Allergan business development people who have access to data from thousands of cosmetic medical practices and they said that this is true for the busiest cosmetic practices. They explained to me that the cost of acquisition of a new patient is about $250 per patient when you advertise. Word of mouth referrals are free! This is the reason that you must make sure that your patients are having a great experience in your office and that they are experiencing good outcomes.
Here are my tips on how to increase positive word-of-mouth referrals to help increase your earnings from your medical practice. This advice is geared towards dermatologists but is applicable to all medical practices.
1. Train The Receptionist And Use Secret Shoppers
The first exposure that a patient has to your staff is with the receptionist. The impact of an engaging phone call or being greeted upon walking in the door can dramatically affect the patient’s overall experience and perception of the medical practice. It seems obvious that you need a good front desk person, but how to you insure the quality of the experience and the interaction with the patients? I can explain it in one word- TRAINING! In my Skin Type Solutions Franchise Systems business, we train the front desk staff using scripts, role play and other interactive ongoing learning. It is vital that your receptionist is educated on the type of procedures that you do and the preparations that the patient should take before their appointment. For example, patients are furious if they arrive for Kybella injections to remove submental chin fat and no one explained to them that they will have 2 weeks of swelling after the procedure. When this occurs, the patient must make a second appointment, your schedule is thrown, your income goes down and the patient has a poor impression of your office. Having a standardized methodology to make certain that your staff gives the required information is key. Once your receptionist is trained, I recommend having a “secret shopper” call the office and ask questions to make sure that the front desk staff is answering questions properly and courteously. Also have a secret shopper come in as a patient and evaluate the entire process from receptionist to cashier.
2. Improve Patient Satisfaction
It is a fact that your patients are going to talk about their experience in your office. In the past, studies showed that a happy patient tells one friend and an unhappy patient tells 3 friends. In this day of social media, one unhappy patient can tell thousands of people. The easiest way to get patients to speak and think highly of your medical practice is to value their time, give them great medical care, and make certain that a well-trained staff educates them about what to expect from their appointment and treatment plan.
3. Train the Medical Assistants, RNs and other staff
Once the patient is in your practice, they will have questions and concerns about their diagnosis and treatment plan. The doctor usually does not have time to educate the patients in the manner that they would prefer. In addition to providing staff training, Skin Type Solutions Franchise Systems uses a software based methodology to provide patients with education about their skin issues and treatment plan. After the doctor confirms the diagnosis, patient information is emailed or printed with the touch of a button. This information includes a detailed skincare regimen with exact instructions on which products to use and what order to apply the products. Using a standardized system to educate both your staff and patient allows the staff to correctly advise the patients and provide consistent and correct patient information every time. This quality control will be appreciated by the patient and lead to increased trust and an improved patient/ physician relationship.
4. Increase Patient Compliance to Improve Outcomes
The best way to increase patient referrals is to quickly improve the patient’s medical concerns with a minimal amount of side effects. Acne treatment is a great example. Most acne medications are drying and irritating. They can take 8-12 weeks to clear acne (and sometimes longer.) Patients often stop using them or use them incorrectly because:
They cannot tolerate the side effects
They get impatient
They think the medications are not working
They do not understand that the mainstay of acne treatment is prevention so they are using the medications only on the acne lesions rather than the entire face.
They are not using the proper skincare products such as cleansers and moisturizers that will help reduce the irritation of the acne medications.
The acne example illustrates a main point. Patients will not get better if they are not compliant with the treatment plan- in fact they may get worse. Improving patient compliance depends upon many things, but the main factor is education. If your staff does not take the time to properly explain the acne medications, how to use them, how to combine them with cleansers and moisturizers, and which cleansers, moisturizers, sunscreen and makeup to use; the results will be less than optimal. Doctors who provide patients with the customized Skin Type Solutions Skin Care Regimens report that their acne patient heal faster and experience fewer side effects. I believe the increased clearing of acne that is seen is due to improved compliance due to better education and few side effects.
Skin Type Solutions is not a skincare brand; it is software that educates your staff and patients about their skin’s issues and treatment plan. If you choose to sell skincare products in your office or online, you can provide your patients with a simple and convenient way to find the right products in their regimen.
6. Differentiate Yourself By Providing Options that Other Doctors Do Not Have
This is important in the cosmetic dermatology world where it seems that everyone is now injecting Botox, Dysport and dermal fillers. Offering unique treatments designed for the patient’s Baumann Skin Type is one way that we differentiate ourselves in my practice. Only physicians who have been chosen to be a Skin Type Solutions Provider are authorized to use the Skin Type Solutions software that diagnoses the Baumann Skin Type®. They can then offer customized treatments such as prescription medical facials™ designed for each of the 16 Baumann Skin Types. Patients often tell their friends that they should come in and have their skin typed which is a great way to generate word of mouth referrals.
4. Ask for Customer Referrals
If a patient has made a point to tell you how much they appreciate your medical care, let them know that you’d be happy to see their family or friends. You can also offer a gift for referrals. We give our patients a gift certificate when they refer a friend.
The Bottom Line
Before you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a marketing plan, make sure you are maximizing your word-of-mouth referrals. Most potential patients are still going to ask their friends and family for recommendations when they’re looking for a new doctor. You can easily increase your word of mouth referrals by increasing patient satisfaction and outcomes thru improved staff and patient education and adoption of proven standardized methodologies to help provide consistency in your practice.
Developed by world-renowned dermatologist, Leslie Baumann, MD, the Skin Type Solutions® Franchise System is an educational, science-based skincare store that implements a simple and reliable system to maximize skincare product sales and improve patient compliance and results.
Based on Dr. Baumann’s patent-pending Baumann Skin Typing System, this first-of-its-kind retail model provides dermatologists with the scientific methodology, training, and education necessary to prescribe effective, customized skincare regimens utilizing multiple brands of products that have been independently tested and approved by Dr. Baumann. To learn more about what Skin Type Solutions can do for your dermatology practice, visit the STS site here.