Maintaining financial stability and increasing new patient acquisition in a digital world
Clinical technology for orthopaedic surgeons has progressed tremendously over the past two decades. Surgeries that once lasted several hours and required large open incisions can now be performed with arthroscopes, fluoroscopy, and less-invasive approaches. After years of clinical research and outcome reporting, many clinical technologies have become standard in orthopaedic surgery.
At the same time, a massive progression in consumer technology has led to once-novel concepts becoming the new standard. Smartphones, laptops, and tablets now enable patients to access medical information and diagnostic websites instantaneously. Studies have shown that almost 70 percent of all medical journeys begin online, and access to medical information has drastically changed the patient-acquisition paradigm for orthopaedic practices.
Historically, orthopaedic practices have relied on a network of local referring medical practices, and the core marketing strategy was to expand this network to maintain and increase patient volume. However, as the costs of running a private internal or family medicine practice increased and reimbursements decreased, many independent physicians sold their practices and became hospital employed.
The acquisition of private practices has quickly become a major focus for hospital systems. A survey conducted by Jackson Healthcare, a family of healthcare staffing, search, and technology companies, showed that 52 percent of hospital systems were focused on acquiring private medical practices, and internal medicine and family medicine accounted for 80 percent of the intended targets for acquisition. Moreover, acquisition may even be easier than hospitals once thought because 70 percent of all hospital acquisitions were initiated by the private practice approaching the hospital (Table 1).
Once they are employed by hospital systems, physicians are encouraged to refer patients upstream into the hospital’s larger continuum of care instead of referring them to nonaffiliated practices. Thus, if a local practice that was referring patients to an orthopaedic practice for years is sold to a larger health system, those referrals can disappear overnight if the hospital system employs orthopaedic surgeons or partner orthopaedic practices.
This change in referral patterns, coupled with the change in consumer technology, means that orthopaedic practices need to garner patients via direct-to-patient marketing efforts to maintain a successful practice in the coming years. They should adapt their marketing strategies to increase their online visibility and to meet the expectations of today’s digitally savvy patients. The following are four recommendations to do so.
Strategy 1: Have a mobile-optimized website
In 2017, almost 60 percent of all internet traffic came from a mobile device or tablet.
Although most orthopaedic practices already have websites, that does not necessarily mean that the sites are mobile optimized and patient friendly. A mobile-optimized site refers to a website that can detect the source of the traffic (phone, tablet, or desktop) and automatically adapt the layout to respond to the device. This approach is called responsive design, and it is important, as potential patients searching for information about orthopaedic conditions do not want to have to pinch or zoom into content and images on their phones to be able to view sites. The inconvenience often causes potential patients to leave sites and go to others, often competitors’ websites.
Over the past few years, Google has begun penalizing websites that do not make this upgrade by pushing them further down in organic search results (many times off the first page) when searches come from mobile or tablet devices. This means that practices’ sites may not even show up when potential patients in their area are looking for orthopaedic-related information or for an orthopaedic specialist.
Many orthopaedic practices’ websites also lack unique content on orthopaedic conditions and procedures. A simple list of the conditions treated is not enough to make a potential patient feel comfortable with a practice’s experience or expertise. A website should include an individual page for each condition treated and each procedure performed. This will not only help with new patient acquisition but also improve a practice’s organic Google search ranking. The content, however, must be unique and not taken from other websites or linked to outside websites, as doing so actually hurts organic search ranking of a site.
Orthopaedic practices that may view a website redesign as cumbersome should consider the potential revenue lost to competitors who have made the optimization changes.
Strategy 2: Utilize Google AdWords marketing
A properly planned and executed Google AdWords strategy gives a practice the ability to target potential patients in the area who are looking for services at that very moment.
Google AdWords allows a practice to “bid” on relevant search terms in their area. For example, when a potential patient searches for “shoulder specialist in Dallas,” Google AdWords allows a practice to outrank competitors by being shown at the top of the page. Once a potential patient clicks the link, many of the mobile-optimization efforts previously discussed become integral to converting that click into a new patient phone call or request for an appointment.
Google ads represent up to 40 percent of the first page of Google results and are statistically one of the highest digital marketing return on investment (ROI) an orthopaedic practice can utilize. However, the Google AdWords platform can be very complex. Practices should consult with a marketing specialist to determine a strategy, budget, and system for tracking ROI.
Strategy 3: Utilize social media correctly
Practices can also utilize social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, to attract new patients.
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, 67 percent of all Americans get at least half their news from social media. This represents a significant shift from print and television being the primary news sources, but it does not seem surprising considering that the average American adult spends almost two hours per day on social media sites. Orthopaedic practices should share valuable information related to their specialties and expertise on social media.
More important than having an active social media presence is using the outlets to their fullest capabilities. At their core, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are advertising companies that collect data on their users and monetize the data by allowing companies to show ads to highly targeted audiences. When executed correctly, Facebook and Instagram ads can target potential patients based on location, behaviors, purchases, browser history, and interests. Knowing the behaviors of those in need of orthopaedic care can allow for an incredible amount of increased brand awareness, as well as generate new patients through targeted ads.
Strategy 4: Have an ROI measurement strategy
Each of the above strategies serves unique but vital functions; however, it is almost impossible to determine their effectiveness unless ROI is measured.
One of the biggest mistakes orthopaedic practices make when measuring ROI is relying on patients. For example, many practices ask first-time patients, “How did you hear about us?” or have a similar question on an intake form. Often, patients respond with “online” or “the internet.” If a practice has invested in organic search engine optimization (otherwise known as SEO), Google AdWords, social media ads, or digital video—all of which qualify as “online”—such responses will not tell a practice which strategies are having an impact, making it nearly impossible to tell which efforts are truly generating new patients.
Utilizing ROI-tracking strategies that can determine the source of a new patient (Google AdWords, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) and matching that with all billed charges for that patient can have a tremendous impact on ROI and lead to an understanding of the true revenue generated from marketing efforts. In many cases, this includes the use of unique phone numbers, web pages, or website forms.
Daniel Goldberg is the chief executive officer of Gold Medical Marketing, a firm that focuses exclusively on marketing for orthopaedic, spine, and neurosurgery practices.
- NBC News: More people search for health online. Available at: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3077086/t/more-people-search-health-online/#.W3Gi1-hKg2x. Accessed August 13, 2018.
- Jackson Healthcare: Trend watch: Physician practice acquisitions. Available at: https://jacksonhealthcare.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/PDF/practiceacquisitionreport_ebook0213.pdf. Accessed August 13, 2018.
- Pew Research Center: More Americans are turning to multiple social media sites for news. Available at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/02/more-americans-are-turning-to-multiple-social-media-sites-for-news/. Accessed August 13, 2018.
- Global Web Index: Daily time spent on social networks rises to over two hours. Accessed Available at: https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-day/daily-time-spent-on-social-networks/. August 13, 2018.