Hospitals and urgent care centers face many challenges when trying to increase patient acquisition and keep costs low in the process. The good news is that unlike, say, a restaurant, a hospital’s competitors are naturally fewer. A mom and pop diner has to compete with scores of places just like it, some backed by deep-pocketed chain marketing budgets. A hospital, in most markets, has just a handful of competitors.
Yes, you want patients to continually come back for their needs, but your Mission statement probably alludes to keeping them well, and if your hospital bears any risk, to avoid stiff readmission penalties.
Legions of hard-working doctors and nurses and staff dedicate their lives to making people well. So hospitals occupy a precarious position at the intersection of altruism and capitalism, and despite their seeming juxtaposition, the two can — and should — coexist harmoniously.
There are plenty of ways for robust patient acquisition while keeping those costs low. Because let’s face it, with rising delivery costs, employee costs, and ever shrinking margins, hospitals don’t generally have the deep pockets to do a full traditional media campaign. The good news: You don’t need one.
Below are five ways to acquire new patients on a shoestring, but with a 21st century caveat: At all of these events, whether it’s through old-fashioned clipboard and form or attractive sign-up boxes on your website, you need to be collecting names and contact information so you can build a digital relationship with your prospective patients.
And keep in mind that patient engagement platforms like PatientBond — which uses a proprietary psychographic segmentation model — can help keep your hospital in harmony with the competing goals of healthcare by providing real value to the patient in an affordable way through relevant, useful, caring communication focused on them on an ongoing basis. This truly takes the individualized, patient-centric experience to a new level.
1. Focus On Youth
Why? Interacting with youth, for the most part, is a low-cost, high-yield proposition for patient acquisition. Most young people are naturally healthy so, statistically speaking, there isn’t a lot of cost in caring for them. Obviously, there are exceptions, and children’s hospitals bear much higher costs in caring for young people. Hospitals have to play the long game when doing their marketing, and youth fit that bill.
Traditional hospitals can entice young people to be lifelong consumers of your brand by bonding with them early. Offer sports physicals for low or no cost and consider it part of the marketing budget. Make “wellness bags” available at the local schools with age appropriate materials and something to encourage outdoor activity and fitness, like a Frisbee with your hospital’s name and logo. Billboards at the local high school, health fairs, participation in high school health classes, the list of tie-ins to schools are endless. These interactions need to have genuinely altruistic aims and they’ll naturally create a relationship.
Because most young people are not current utilizers of the healthcare system (and may not bring in short term revenue), it is important to use low-cost, but effective, means of engagement. Fortunately, young people are digitally savvy, and digital communications are low to no cost — at least in terms of the channels themselves — a paid staff member or agency may still need to generate and execute the communications.
However, a digital engagement platform like PatientBond can do this in place of a human resource, automating emails, text messages, and phone calls over the course of a patient journey.
It’s important to recognize that all young people are not cut from the same cloth. It’s easy to fall into the trap of stereotyping Millennials as thinking and acting alike, but this is not the case. All patient populations, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or health condition, can be segmented according to psychographics. Psychographics pertain to attitudes, values, lifestyles and personalities, and are core to people’s motivations and communication preferences.
PatientBond has a proprietary psychographic segmentation model that groups people into five distinct segments according to these shared characteristics and amplifies engagement with personalized messaging that resonates with each patient’s motivations.
One psychographic segment, the Willful Endurers, lives up to many Millennial stereotypes: living for the moment; little long term outlook regarding health; needs immediate gratification. However, Willful Endurers only make up 43 percent of the Millennial generation; the other 57 percent approach health in a very different manner. They also require different engagement strategies.
2. Use Social Media
Your hospital needs to go where the patients are. That means Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest and Periscope, and staying on top of emerging platforms. Robust social media programs on some or all of those channels simultaneously (depending on target audience and marketing strategy) will bring in new business from your market and maybe beyond.
Most of these platforms are free, though you need to invest in the employees to make it happen. Keep in mind that each platform is different: Twitter should be used to dispense some daily health or wellness tips or witty observations. Pinterest can focus on wellness and recipes from your hospital’s kitchen. Periscope? Let prospective patients watch your surgeons scrub up for a surgery. Make them part of the process and they’ll be invested in you.
3. Make It Easy
This is a no-brainer that is surprisingly easy to overlook. But if you want to acquire new patients at a low cost, make it easy for them to come. More and more hospitals are implementing online appointment booking. The easier you make it for a patient to come in your doors, the more new patient acquisition you’ll achieve.
Make sure your signage in the community is visible. Everyone if your town may know where the “H” is, but the person driving down the interstate who needs acute care might not.
This is especially true for urgent care centers. Urgent care center patients generally are people who need help now — they aren’t thinking about building a long term rapport. They just need some stitches or antibiotics. You need to make it easy for them to come, get out, and keep wait to a minimum. However, a digital engagement platform like PatientBond can keep your urgent care center top of mind for future needs through ongoing communications after the patient leaves the practice.
4. Show Up
Don’t underestimate the value of having a doctor in the dunking booth, a table at the annual craft fair, or a float in the Fourth of July parade. Part of a hospital’s mission is creating community, and if you aren’t a part of it, you can’t create it.
5. Think Outside The Box
The old adage is that if something is working, stick with it. And it’s true. Hospitals have tried-and-true techniques for patient acquisition at low costs: websites, social media, and health fairs. But also be alert for other opportunities to create relevancy and value for your community.
For example, have the local garden club come and spruce up your hospital’s grounds. And then add your facility to the annual garden tour and have groups come in an admire your beautiful asters. Patients will appreciate the color and beauty and the community will be engaged, all at a fraction of what a legacy marketing company would cost.
Patient acquisition is crucial to a hospital’s mission, but it can also be the most fulfilling part because if you can truly create value and relevance then you can create a brand that is both capitalistic and altruistic.