Getting new patients on board

Simon Marett focuses on how independent practitioners can overcome the major challenge of converting a casual inquiry or first-time visitor to your website to being a fully paid-up patient.

‘Onboarding’ is a term now commonly used in business and healthcare circles and relates to the action or process of familiarising a new patient or customer with one’s products or services.

As we covered in April’s article, one of the biggest challenges a private clinic will face is finding or acquiring new patients, as it takes planning, time and often a little financial investment to attract them.

You may have decided to advertise in local newspapers or on social media or invest a little budget on Google Ads to build awareness of your practice and drive new visitors to your website.  

Once a new patient or prospect has found you, how do you then ensure they proceed to the next stage to book and pay for an appointment? 

A failure to take a close look at this onboarding stage of the patient journey can result in wasted effort and budget, as patients will just ‘bounce’ from your website and explore alternative options.

Overcoming the payment barrier 

By far the biggest challenge that a clinic will encounter is the payment barrier and persuading a new patient to commit, book and pay for an appointment or consultation.

An initial consultation with a private consultant will often cost several hundred pounds, so how do you go about persuading a potential new patient that your clinic or healthcare service is right for them? 

In the US and in other countries, it is common practice to pay for private healthcare, but consumer attitudes and behaviours in the UK are different because of the existence of the NHS. As a result, patients are not often used to nor comfortable with paying for private healthcare and require a great deal more convincing to move to the next stage.

Onboarding options

Marketing in private healthcare is becoming more sophisticated and complex, but the good news is that healthcare practitioners have a good number of options and channels they can explore when onboarding new patients. 

Every healthcare clinic is different and will operate in a field of healthcare where consumer behaviour will vary, so it is important to point out that there is no single perfect formula that can be applied across every practice.

Approaches and ideas need to be explored, tested and assessed to find the right blend that works for your clinic. 

Here are some onboarding approaches to consider:

Live chat 

Browse through several healthcare websites and you will find various forms of ‘Live chat’ pop-ups. 

From automated, pre-programmed chatbots to medical secretaries offering human real-time ‘chat’ functions, live chat can be a cost-effective way of engaging new visitors on your website to make an inquiry and for you to answer their questions.

Free ‘discovery’ calls 

New patients will often want to find out more about a clinic or practitioner before committing to a paid consultation, so creating room in your diary for a series of short ‘discovery’ or introductory calls can be an effective way of onboarding new patients. 

These can be done by the doctor, but it is now common practice for a well-briefed practice manager or medical secretary to host these calls with a view to converting inquiries to paid consultations.

Online symptoms checker

This can take time to plan and implement and will need a little help from a web development team, but can prove to be an excellent long-term investment. 

Encouraging new visitors to complete a short survey relating to the symptoms they are experiencing can quickly highlight the options that are available to them and how you can help.

Introductory webinars 

The pandemic saw a huge surge in the number of healthcare webinars as patients moved online to have their questions answered. 

Organising a 30-minute monthly webinar for new patients can be a time- and cost-efficient way of giving new patients a chance to meet a practitioner and find out more about a clinic before committing.

Free downloadable guides 

Every healthcare website should include a useful overview for patients about symptoms, conditions and treatment options, but not everything needs to be freely available. 

More in-depth guides or specific content can be for ‘registered’ visitors only and downloadable if patients provide an email address and sign-up to a newsletter or monthly update. 

This gives your clinic the opportunity to contact them again in the future about your services and how you can help them.

As this hopefully demonstrates, there are a good range of options or approaches available to healthcare practitioners or clinics when it comes to onboarding new patients. 

These may take a little time and effort to plan and implement, but once embedded into a clinic’s workflows and processes, they can prove to be a very effective way of converting new visitors or inquiries to paid patients by helping them along their journey.

As with any other aspect of healthcare marketing, it is often worth talking to a reputable marketing consultant or specialist for advice before you start. 

They will have tried and tested these approaches before and will be able to offer valuable advice and guidance that may save you time, effort and money by helping you avoid the pitfalls and common mistakes. 

Ultimately, this will come down to generating a positive return on investment, ensuring that you’re tracking and analysing results and selecting the approach that works for your clinic or practice.

Next month, we will take a look at tracking the steps in a new patient’s journey and why making a good first impression is vital for any successful clinic. 

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

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