Practice Marketing: Filling Your Book

There are several strategies practices can take to fill empty time slots and increase bookings.
Filling Your Book

“A lot of them say they want new patients and I say, ‘Is that what you really want? Or do you just want to be busy?’” she says. Maley surveyed the patients of hundreds of doctors throughout the U.S., and her results showed that 25% of patients came from the Internet, 30% were current patients and 45% found the practice through word of mouth. “If doctors put their entire budget into Internet marketing, they’re missing 75% of their patients,” she says.

To pinpoint your most effective marketing efforts, she recommends combing through your schedule and looking at the last 40 to 100 surgeries or big-ticket items. Identifying these patients and how they heard about your practice will provide valuable insight into your desired patient base and best marketing strategies.

Dr. Williams agrees that keeping existing patients happy is easier than trying to attract new ones. In the past, he focused his marketing efforts on the Internet, but he has changed his ways. “I’ve altered my strategies in the last five to ten years,” he says. “I’ve found that the best thing you can do is take care of your current staff and patients. For a long time we thought it was about optimizing SEO, but we’ve found it’s not about that.” Ten years ago 5% of his marketing budget was dedicated to the Internet, today that figure is 1.4%.

In an effort to fine-tune his marketing budget further, Dr. Williams—who has been in private practice for 22 years—recently analyzed 40 patients who completed surgical procedures that cost $5,000 or more to learn how they came to be in his practice. Five were new patients and 35 were previous patients, or a family member or friend who was referred by a current or former patient.

“I think many patients are right under our noses,” he says. “But you have to work for them. You have to work for every piece of your practice.”

Dr. Williams also works hard to promote a productive and happy culture among employees, because staff conveys unspoken feelings—both positive and negative—to patients. Staff members in his practice take part in annual goal-setting sessions, set mini-objectives during daily huddles and receive awards and recognition when they excel. It’s not unusual for Dr. Williams to recognize staff with a $50 gas card or to let them off an hour early when they achieve a goal. “When we hit a goal we celebrate,” he says.

Though consumers may follow rational steps investigating physicians for their cosmetic surgery procedures, Dr. Williams notes that the final decision is still based on emotion. That means every patient needs to feel cared for and appreciated.

To make sure his schedule is filled with patients who are serious about their desire for cosmetic surgery, he charges a $150 consultation fee that is applied to the surgery if the patient decides to go forward. While charging a consultation fee may be a good way to avoid cancellations and weed out those who are not serious about booking a procedure, Lewis cautions that it’s not possible in some communities. “In some markets you can’t charge a consultation fee because no one else in town does,” she says.

In addition, she discourages doctors from focusing only on big-ticket or specific procedures. “You have a better chance of turning a prospect into a patient by getting them in the door,” says Lewis. “Not everyone is a candidate for a $25,000 facelift, but they may be a candidate for an $8,000 eyelid surgery or a $500 peel.”

Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer based in Chicago.

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