Do you know how your patients find you?

If you’re an organization, practice, or facility that requires patients – someone for whom you can bill services – do you know how your patients find you? Hospitals, physician practices, imaging centers, nursing homes all need patients in order to not only survive, but also thrive.  The way the current system is established, the majority of providers are compensated based upon the volume of business.  But many consumers have an option when it comes to where they want to receive their care.  For example, if you’re a patient who requires orthopedic knee surgery, you generally have a choice among surgeons, hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities. 

A patient who lives in a major metropolitan area such as Atlanta has many excellent choices about where they choose to receive their care.  There are a plethora of orthopedic surgeons, hospitals, and rehab centers – many of which provide great care.  The market is very competitive.  This is a definite win for the patient; but what is the effect for providers?  In a cluttered market, it has become increasingly challenging for providers to distinguish themselves and their services. Which leads us to the matter in question – Do you know how your patients find you?

Did they ask a friend for a referral (known as “word-of-mouth” marketing)? Did they see or hear an advertisement on TV, radio, billboard, or in the newspaper (traditional marketing)? Or, did they search online for information on a topic/disease or search for a physician (digital/emerging media)? As a marketer, these questions pose a formidable challenge.

Every day, my team is faced with managing the aforementioned dynamics.  Where does our target audience(s) receive our message? Do they see us on TV, read about us in the newspaper or online? Or did they “hear” about us on a social business/networking site via their peer and interest groups?  For most of our marketing campaigns, we collect data points that frame our marketing dashboard.  A variety of metrics and algorithms enables us to track sources of referrals from most marketing channels.  However, for digital and social business marketing tactics, we are often able to track an entire pathway of a patient from point of entry (into our call center system) through discharge.  This in turn yields net revenue reconciliation on a per patient basis.  

Facebook has received a mountain of visibility the last few weeks due to its recent IPO.  While the long term stock value remains to be seen, one thing is certain – the trove of data it is compiling on its users.  What provider wouldn’t be interested in geo-targeting an ad to someone who is actively seeking an orthopedic physician for a consult or surgery? What if we could target specific groups of people with relevant messages at critical points during their specific decision making progression? Does a billboard have the capacity to generate a specific message to each viewer that reads it – with a possible solution to his or her particular problem at the right time?

It’s a very exciting time to be a marketer.  Due to the rapid influence of social technology in the patient decision making process, there is a movement to “hyper-localize” campaigns – using search, directory listings, and websites to drive individual users toward meaningful calls-to-action. BrightWhistle, an Atlanta based technology company, is helping to lead the way in healthcare for this type of campaign pathway management with a suite of digital products and solutions. Results from these highly targeted marketing mediums are definable and metric driven, something which at times, poses a challenge for more traditional marketing channels.

What does research tell us about our industry? According to an April 2012 survey by PwC, “Social Media Likes Healthcare”, about one-third of consumers is using “the social space as a natural habitat for health discussions.”  This includes sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, as well as the breadth of specialty community based health oriented sites (PatientsLikeMe and HealthGrades).  It’s where increasing portions of audience groups are – seeking, learning, and enabling them to formulate educated healthcare related decisions.  The question remains for providers, are WE where our patients are?  Is a strategically placed billboard on I-85 or a radio spot on Q100 enough to help a patient make an erudite decision; or do we need to be immersed in the conversations on social sites with our patients? 

Right now, I believe the answer is both.  Traditional marketing provides the visibility and top of mind awareness that is important for an enterprise.  However, we are amidst a shift in budgets to digital platforms when it comes to executing marketing tactics that are proving to bring new patients through the door.

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