The challenge to find new patients

The private healthcare sector is going through a period of rapid change post-Covid, as Simon Marett discussed in Independent Practitioner Today in April. Here he looks at how this is presenting new challenges for independent practitioners.

Consumer behaviour is changing quickly, competition in private healthcare is increasing, and practitioners are now thinking seriously about marketing, often for the first time.

Marketing is a term that is often misunderstood in healthcare, but it is a vital function for any successful healthcare business or clinic that wishes to grow. 

Often the biggest challenge that a clinic faces is finding or acquiring new patients. 

In this feature, I will cover some of the main considerations and marketing ‘channels’ that are open to practitioners when they are looking to grow their patient base. 

Finding new patients is not as easy as you think

It is not uncommon for a private healthcare clinic to underestimate the time, resources and effort it takes to acquire and build a base of paying patients. 

We often get approached by clinics who have gone through the Care Quality Com­mission application process, hired staff and built the operations and then just expect paying patients to turn up at the door. 

But, in our experience, private healthcare just does not work like that, and it takes planning, effort, and investment to build a patient acquisition strategy to attract new patients.

What marketing options/channels should I consider?

Marketing has become highly sophisticated over the last ten years and the number of options available to practitioners can be bamboozling. 

Alongside the traditional marketing channels of print advertising, events, sponsorship and direct mail, there is now a multitude of digital channels to consider including:

 Digital display advertising;

 Social media advertising;

 Paid search;

 Retargeting; 

 Digital sponsorship; 

 Search engine optimisation (SEO);

 Email marketing. 

All these channels can be good options for healthcare practitioners, and they need to be explored, tested and assessed to find the right blend that works for your clinic. 

Here are some of the digital marketing channels and activities to consider:

Paid search/pay per click (PPC) – spending money on a text advert to appear when someone searches for a type of treatment, condition or clinic that you specialise in. A good option to drive new traffic quickly.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) – investing time, energy and resources in content creation such as blogs, articles and videos so your website appears high up on organic searches. This is not advertising, unlike PPC, but it can take months and even years to see the results.

Digital display advertising – creating a digital advert for your clinic to appear on certain websites to help promote your healthcare clinic or service. 

Social media advertising – like digital display advertising, this involves identifying a certain demographic on a social media platform – such as Facebook or Instagram – and paying for your advert to appear on a prospective patient’s feed.

Email marketing – Creating a database of prospective patients – I will cover this in subsequent features – and then emailing them directly to promote your healthcare service or clinic. This is often done via a customer relationship management (CRM) platform like Mailchimp, Salesforce or Hubspot. 

Retargeting – tracking prospective patients that have visited your website previously and placing advertising on their devices that ‘retargets’ them and reminds them of your service.

As this hopefully demonstrates, marketing a healthcare clinic or service is not as straightforward as you may think and it is often worth talking to a reputable marketing consultant or agency for advice before you start. 

The risk of diving into marketing without the right level of research or advice is that you can quickly waste valuable budget that does not deliver the results you are hoping for. 

Any good marketing agency or expert should be discussing tracking and return on investment with you and ensuring that for every pound spent, you are generating more than a pound in revenue.

A key point here is that every healthcare clinic is different and competing in different fields of medicine, so marketing activity that may work brilliantly for one clinic may not work for another. 

The starting point for any conversation about marketing should always be around what the clinic is trying to achieve and then developing a marketing plan, budget and blend of channels to hit those goals. 

Simon Marett (right) is founder and director at Ellerton Marketing

Ellerton Marketing is providing a free 60-minute business ‘health check’ for Independent Practitioner Today readers and can help guide you through some of the key steps you should be thinking about when it comes to marketing your clinic and acquiring new patients.