Reach out to connect with patients

In 2023, there is still so much that you can do in order to be found by potential private patients. Medical marketing expert Catherine Harriss shares this check list as an aid to doctors who need to increase their reach or those starting out in private practice.

Your online profile should be on your website and under your control. 

Many an hour of my life has been wasted trying to track down all those responsible for online portal profiles – which do have a purpose and I will get onto these – but everything should be placed on your website, that you own and that you have control over.

Your profile should be written as if you are talking to a friend who isn’t medical. This is not a place for the ego, but instead should be informative and understandable. 

The more people understand, the more relevant you become to them, hopefully. Those profiles that consist of lists of what you have achieved mean nothing to a new visitor, but in a context, with simple explanations, they mean so much more.

You need to market yourself

I totally understand that this goes against the grain as a doctor, but I am not talking about bragging here. 

I am saying that you need to spread the easily understandable word about what you do and how you can help to show that you exist and your experience could be helpful to the right person.

In a series I wrote for Independent Practitioner Today readers in 2014, I mentioned that press releases via the private hospital PR department along with local articles in newspapers seemed to be the mainstay of private practice marketing. 

But in my experience, these only ever fell short of what was required. Interestingly though, in 2023, these same press releases online can provide valuable backlinks to your website to aid your rise up Google.  

Online articles and large portal websites can also help by linking their Google reputation to yours. The rise of hyper-local journalism means there are increasingly local news websites that focus only on local news.

Visibility online 

These, too, can be excellent places to be present and any links from these websites also help to improve your visibility online. 

Interestingly, these hyper-local news websites are increasingly followed by those who were brought up in that same area or want to keep contact with ‘home’, so your reach is often national through a local site. 

Facebook groups and pages, Instagram, too, along with Pinterest and Youtube could all have a role to play with how you manage and supply information to your ideal potential patient. 

It is still the same today, in the conversations I have had with patients, that being found everywhere and keeping up with a consultant’s news is more important than ever. 

Rather than marketing, you are informing people of what has happened instead by providing good news stories. We all love a story with a happy ending.

What’s the relevance?

70% of adults say they trust recommendations from family and friends and we all understand how this works.1 However, online relationships are being built now that stay only online. 

I have found that potential patients for my clients have met via social media and, several online conversations later, they book in. 

The newly booked patient is booking after taking advice from someone they have never met but has shared their experience through conversation online. 

This vital communication helps them to understand everything else that they have read about you.

I have witnessed many conversations after posts have been published, many discussing the surgeon or doctor involved. The vast majority have been positive and where the very few have been negative, immediate steps have been taken to explain, help and understand the issues being discussed. 

Yes, it’s public, but this is how it is now. More than ever, it is important to know what is being said and to control the conversation too. 

Marketing? Or selling?

The definition of marketing, according to the American Marketing Association, is the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communication and delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, client, partners and society at large. Selling is marketing but marketing is not selling.

Therefore, for your practice, this means you provide information and conversation about you, what you do and how people benefit in addition to talking about other things that they might find interesting.

Every second, 13 new users are starting to use social media for the first time. People are joining conversations everywhere. Never more so, it is important to be the leader of your tribe.

Marketing content

Over the past few years, I have witnessed businesses fail overnight. The common denominator has been that they all used only one social media site and only this. 

While they weren’t in the medical world, they were directly affected by an algorithm change in Facebook and, overnight, hardly anyone saw their posts. Within weeks, they had gone into liquidation. They had no website and subsequently no business.

I have also heard of content being deleted by Facebook without authorisation from the owner. 

These situations to me are a classic situation of putting all your eggs in one basket. While I have found that one channel may fit better than another with the target audience, I always insist that all content has a place on the website. 

So, even if that channel is Instagram – also owned by Meta – or Facebook or Pinterest, all the content that appears should originate from the site or copies stored on your website via posts and testimonials.

Tribe communication

Becoming a leader for your tribe is important. You are developing a way of business whereby you actively provide information about what you can do and how you can help.

With increasingly amounts of information provided, more people find you or you become more accessible and, over a period of time, you are seen and perceived to be knowledgeable, interested, concerned and helpful. 

Moreover, people can see the results of your work, which is invaluable.

You are supplying information that people wamt to find, that cannot be found elsewhere. But you are also showing your humanity and your realness, which, in turn, makes people want to come to you.

It is time-consuming and needs correct management so that you are seen as a leader and seen to be more knowledgeable than your peers in the same specialty. 

The dissemination of information online makes you easier to be found and, for those seeking information, they can rapidly find you online.

By making yourself more accessible through online methods, your online status rises and you are soon seen as the person to go to.

Are others using social media?

69.64% of small businesses use social media. This is a rise from 12% back in 2014. 

How it is used has also changed: 63% of customers expect companies to offer customer service support through their social media and quick answers too. 

I have seen a rise in the number of people asking questions using direct message (DM) via social media channels and helped daily with directions to the correct person to provide the right information for them. 

Running social media is time-consuming but effective and worth the investment. Eighty per cent of consumers say that brand familiarity – knowledge of the brand – makes them more likely to buy on social media. 

Buying – or rather booking – an appointment on social media

I have introduced booking systems and they have been game-changers. 

The majority of the bookings came through in the evening or early morning, indicating that the accessibility of booking was seen as helpful and providing all the information needed. 

Having access to available dates enabled the decision to be quicker and easier and stopped the inevitable backwards and forwards calls to establish a date. This is valuable time saved.

For this to happen, much forward planning of available information was required, but combining social media with a button linking to the booking system on the website increased the number of bookings. 

It was a game-changer in each instance.  

Make things easy for your ideal customer: give them the information that they need and the resources to have the control of being able to book a date that suits them. 

If Amazon has refined the checkout system to the smallest number of clicks to make a purchase, do you not think that there is a reason for this? We all want online transactions and decisions to be easy and quick.

Humanising social media

Remember that people are looking for help and advice and they will reach out to those who speak a language they can engage with. It is a shocking fact that the average reading age in the UK is nine years of age. 

Whether it be factors related to their problem or results relating to their problem, they all need help in generating conversation about you and your service and, most importantly, fully understanding the issues.

This means that the conversation needs to be continued on a regular basis, not just occasionally. It needs to be nurtured frequently using words that all can understand.

About you

Your private practice can’t grow any more than you allow it to. The last thing you want to do is to waste opportunities too. Where you are now is a direct response to what you have done and what you have not done.

People are using smartphones and tablets as well as other computers to access information far more than ever before. It is expected now more than ever that they can search for a solution and then take action to help their problem.

More and more people are going to use this vehicle to seek the information they need. Indepen­dent practitioners who have made a commitment have redeemed the benefit. 

Your role is to examine where you are in this market and actively do something about it if you want to change.

Catherine Harriss is (right) the founder of Multi­Works Marketing