INTERNAL MARKETING FOR THE HEALTHCARE PRACTICE
[Understanding Old and New-Wave Patient Relationships Management]
By David Edward Marcinko
By Gary L. Bode
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency – Bill Gates
Most medical practitioners equate marketing with advertising. Advertising is only the most expensive, and often least effective, facet of services marketing. Internal marketing and patient relationship management, on the other hand, is the most cost effective, time effective and most dignified form of medical marketing. Internal marketing and PRM within your practice occurs continuously, even if you are unaware of it.
Patient satisfaction opens the door to internal marketing for your practice and comprises the bulk of professional medical services marketing. We all know practitioners who are only average clinically, that do extremely well. Conversely we all know great clinicians struggling to stay afloat in today’s rapidly changing health care environment. The difference is usually patient satisfaction.
Some patients are delighted with us despite a result we’d rather not have our colleagues see. Other patients angrily leave us, for some trivial reason, despite a great result. Much of this paradox is attributed to the patient satisfaction aspects of internal services marketing and PRM.
Positive services marketing impacts your bottom line dramatically. Your gross fees are a function of marketing. Obviously, any other beneficial practice management programs work even better on a larger gross fee base.
Advantages of increased patient satisfaction include:
- Increased patient retention. Patient satisfaction increases patient loyalty. This translates into more billable services and more retail medical goods (DME) sold per year. All practices lose patients through death, geographical relocation, etc. Nothing can be done about it. However, other patients defect to other practitioners or do not seek additional required treatment at all. If no other patient satisfaction program exists, other than a best effort on a case-by-case basis, the techniques listed later can dramatically decrease that defection rate. Retaining a patient is more cost effective than replacing one. Note that even a 1% improvement in patient retention, an extremely low result, and can mean thousands of extra pre tax dollars available for practitioner salary.
- Increased new patient referral rate from current patients and staff. Not only do you retain the referral potential of the current patients not lost, but the rate and enthusiasm of existing patient referrals also improves.
- Decreased overhead percentage rate. The relative amount of profit increases secondary to improved staff-production, more revenue generated on fixed expenses like rent, and decreased advertising costs.
- A fee premium for being the area’s de-facto preferred provider. Increased patient satisfaction skews the usual price / quantity tradeoff of patient consumerism in your favor. This is especially important in no third party covered services.
- Decrease in the average interval between exams and purchases. An average of one-week decrease between “bi-annual” exams translates out to many additional exams done every year just from an existing patient base.
- Decrease of time in the accounts receivable cycle.
- Decrease in the bad debt rate.
- Improved office morale, less stress and increased quality and joy from practicing your profession.
Internal marketing becomes especially important in a specialty where differences in practitioner skill are not perceived by the public as significant, and/or in an area saturated with other practitioners. For example, the world’s best heart-long transplant surgeon does not have to worry about his location, office dynamics or personality adversely affecting patients. But, a suburban optometrist surrounded by other optometrists, ophthalmologists and national optical franchises, all competing for the same patient base, does.
Another example of positive services marketing through increased patient satisfaction was AIDS anxiety almost two decades ago. Some percentage-of patients were concerned, perhaps just subliminally, about contracting AIDS in the office. If your staff is trained to point out the sterilization controls present, how the office exceeds HIPAA, MSDS and OSHA requirements and how meticulous you are, these patients relax. This “marketing” merely points out to the patient things you take for granted, and, removes one psychological barrier to full compliance. It is not bragging or manipulation. A remarkable positive cycle of benefits ensues for everyone. There is no down side: nobody one is displeased to see you maintain a clean office.
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