Three Wise Dames

Marketing in the Life Science Industry

Yes, Doctor, This IS a Business April 27, 2010

“Thank you for calling. Our office hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  We’re closed from noon to 2 p.m. for lunch. If you have reached this recording during normal business hours, please leave a message. We will get back to you by the next business day.”

That’s the message I keep getting when I try to schedule an appointment with one particular physician.  And I have left several messages with no response.

Under normal circumstances, I would have zero tolerance for this total lack of responsiveness and would simply have called another doctor. But in this case, I have already seen the physician for a particular injury, went through the trouble of getting an MRI and would really like to get the results.

Where’s the Disconnect?

Given the practice’s troubling habit of not responding, I should not have been surprised when I called again this morning only to learn that the phone number had been disconnected.

When will physicians really grasp that they are in business and that to stay in business, they need to start treating patients as their customers?  Ok, I understand that doctors went to medical school, not business school.  Still, somewhere in between anatomy and pharmaceuticals 101, were they not taught that private practice requires more than office space and a listing in the phone book?

Running a successful physician’s practice takes the skills and talents of multiple staff members, from the front desk person who answer the phones to the physicians and nurses who provide the clinical expertise.  The one thing each of these people has in common is their interaction with customers—the practice’s patients.

Basic Customer Service

There is much a physician can learn from studying the successful marketing and customer service standards of other businesses:

  • Return phone calls and emails promptly, and always within 24 hours
  • Provide continual staff training on customer service excellence and how to handle difficult customers in a professional and effective way
  • Provide multiple ways for customers to contact you including phone, email and website

These are a few of the simple fundamentals that physician practices must take seriously, especially in today’s tough economic climate where consumers are judicious in how they spend their money. Mastering the basics is also a prerequisite before a practice can effectively implement a marketing or public relations campaign.

For more information on practice marketing, refer to Lisa’s most recent post and Debbie’s post on ‘Practice Marketing is Not Rocket Science’.

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Make Some Noise! April 26, 2010

Are your customers marketing to their customers?

Every contact or interaction customers have with companies or providers of goods and services, are viewed through our marketing lens. The four ‘P’s’ of marketing shape our perceptions. Attention getting [promotion] efforts must be followed with relevance [product], value [price] and accessibility [place] marketing efforts.

Perception versus Reality

Promotional efforts that are consistent and impactful convey the message that a higher caliber of good or service is available.  Inconsistent, bland and lack of promotion conveys a message that the good or service is not available or of poor quality.  The caliber of a good or service is held in the eye of the beholder, not in the intentions of the provider.

As patients we use the same marketing lens to evaluate our healthcare providers.  Each individual within a practice serves as an ambassador, marketing the care a patient can expect to receive.  All interactions a patient has with the practice staff will influence their perspective on the physician’s business, much the same way the physician is influenced through interactions with product suppliers.

Implementing good practice marketing processes will go a long way towards raising the perceived caliber of the practice and patient care.  A review on practice marketing considerations can be found in Debbie’s post ‘Practice Marketing is Not Rocket Science’.

However, practice marketing processes can only be appreciated by the patient once we go to the practice.  First the patient must know to go.

Which brings us to the question – are your customers marketing to their customers?

Intentional effort must be focused on getting the word out that the practice is interested and ready to serve specific patients.  A bare minimum of key messages to communicate include:

  • ‘We are here and ready to serve’
  • ‘We offer the services that meet your needs’
  • ‘We stay current in specialty training’
  • ‘We are uniquely able to serve patients in our specialty’

These are likely messages that are conveyed to patients in the absence of marketing the practice:

  • ‘We are not interested in new patients’
  • ‘We do not offer new services’
  • ‘We are not current in new techniques’
  • ‘We are indistinguishable from all other practices’

Gracious and respectful interactions, good follow through and high caliber patient care constitute powerful marketing.  Patients will reward physicians for this service through provider loyalty, positive reviews and recommendations, and new patient referrals.  But first, the patient must be inclined to seek the physician, and that requires making some noise.

For another perspective on the same subject read Stewart Gandolph’s post found here:http://bit.ly/d0OxNw

Next up – what role can industry play in physician practice marketing?

(c) 2010 pH Consulting

 

Physician, Google Thyself* Part IV April 23, 2010

This is the fourth in a set of posts designed to educate physicians on how their names are being displayed. The education should lead to an evaluation of their current situation and motivation for them to execute basic activities to manage their reputation on-line. Physician Google Thyself Webinar Video on Blip.TV

ENGAGE:

So now you might be asking, “What if someone gives me a low rating or posts an unfavorable review?”

In Barb’s recent post about crisis communications she outlines the importance of actions over words and considering we are talking about health care, it couldn’t be more true.

Is a single bad review a crisis? Let’s put it into perspective using the two primary tenants of social media–authenticity and transparency.

Authenticity:

Is every patient’s symptom/condition easy to treat? Are you a perfect fit for every patient? No, of course not. If someone decides that their experience with your practice was not perfect and they decide to tell the world, that’s their first amendment choice (note: they are breaking their confidentiality on the Internet, not a very smart move from a privacy perspective). Please don’t let one disgruntled patient post discourage you from actively managing your reputation.

Transparency:

If they have a legitimate issue with their experience especially on a “logistical” level (e.g. appointment SNAFU, staff having an off day) then it is worth engaging, privately. If it is a post in an open review field, you could, with full transparency, you post something like:

“Thank you for your honest feedback. Our practice would like to resolve your issue and because of HIPAA privacy laws we are bound to do it privately, please contact XYZ person at our office ASAP. We look forward to hearing from you and correcting our processes to better serve all our patients.”

Best Antidote:

Getting more perspectives–providing lots of good ratings and reviews. Ask your patients to engage on the directories, forums, social networks that have an accurate profile of you (all the stuff you did in Part III). I’d recommend printing a list of rating and review services on the back of your practice business card and handing to especially satisfied patients. Here’s an example from Dr.  Score.** Here’s a post by physician blogger KevinMD from January 2010 which echos this strategy.

A Special Note About Managing Social Media Platforms:

This is an exploding issue that is worth addressing. I will again reference this excellent blog post from Eric T. Berkman from Mass Medical Law Report October 19, 2009. Their first recommendation is to not “friend” patients. I will add by saying if you want to keep a personal presence on social media platforms do so with a strict policy to not connect with patients. You can respond to anyone with a simple message:

“Thank you for your invitation. I value all my relationships highly especially those with patients who have selected me as their health care provider. Due to HIPAA privacy laws, I have decided to decline friend invitations from all my patients. Thank you for understanding.”

Note: setting up a profile for your practice is a good idea if you have a social media strategy as part of your practice marketing plan, but that’s a topic for another day.

Professional networks are very important. Health care professional forums that allow you to keep up with classmates and colleagues is mission critical for managing any successful career.  Linked In is one of the most popular business social networks. Although I am inclined to recommend extending the above policy to patients, I recognize that many patients may start out as professionals in your career network and vice versa. In those cases, I believe as long as you can keep any on-line conversation strictly away from their personal health care issues then linking to them is likely to be a good idea.  If someone unintentionally crosses the line, then use a variation of the above paragraph as a gentle reminder:

“Nice to hear from you. I value all my relationships highly especially those with patients who have selected me as their provider. Due to HIPAA privacy laws, I can not answer your question here. Please contact my office at xxx-xxxx and make an appointment so we can address your health care issue. Thank you for understanding.”

Lessons learned:

  1. You already have a presence on the Internet and you have some control on how you are displayed.
  2. You are motivated to be proactive in increasing traffic to your practice website (or are now convinced you need a site or make improvements).
  3. You’ve made some policy decisions on how to manage social media invitations.
  4. You are not afraid if something bad gets posted because you will a) know about it and b) have a process for managing the situation.

Summary:

Providing quality primary or specialty health care services has always been competitive and health care reform will make it even more so in the coming years. I hope this series has provided you with some knowledge, motivation and peace of mind to efficiently and effectively manage your on-line reputation.

Next: March 2011 Update

Physician Google Thyself Webinar Video on Blip.TV

(C) 2010 eGold Solutions

*************

*Thanks Elizabeth Cooney for the great post title (July 08); great minds think alike.

**Disclosure: There are several customer satisfaction survey tools available and www.DrScore.com is one I am familiar with from my corporate work. In 2007 I constructed a pilot corporate program to measure customer satisfaction amongst a subset of customers in a given specialty. The survey instrument is available in English and Spanish and recently was recognized by ARHQ as a valid tool in measuring patient satisfaction.  Purchasing reports is very affordable at $149 per physician per year.

 

Physician, Google Thyself* Part III April 22, 2010

Image credit: (c) Adam Hart-Davis

This is the third in a set of posts designed to educate physicians on how their names are being displayed. The education should lead to an evaluation of their current situation and motivation for them to execute basic activities to manage their reputation on-line. Physician Google Thyself Webinar Video on Blip.TV

EXECUTE:

Developing a manageable solution is the goal of this post. By the end, you will create legitimate links to drive traffic to your practice website** which is, of course, designed to capture new patients for your practice. Remember:

In Part I where you learned about the myriad of review sites, directories and social networks?

In Part II where you learned how Google works? (Go ahead, take the time read (or reread) the bottom half of this page in particular.

Now put the two pieces together to create legitimate links back to your website which is an important part of the search ranking algorithm. Click on each of the search results you evaluated and determine how much control you have over your listing then insert as much of your standard profile content as possible.

Profile types:

  • Hospital, medical center and academic centers where you have privileges (email to webmaster@)
  • Insurance carriers you accept (email to webmaster@)
  • Clinical associations and societies (check your membership account)
  • Medical Companies that list you as having completed specialized procedure training (email to webmaster@)
  • Health care provider directories (sign up for free account)
  • Rating and review services (sign up for free account)
  • Social media platforms in which you participate (log in and passwords)

Information to standardize:

  • First Name (nickname if applicable), Middle Name/Initial, Last Name, Suffix, Degrees, Certifications
  • Photo: Yes its important. It better be a current image; no bait and switch of your younger self (age equals experience and patients look at the number of years in practice so you won’t fool anyone).
  • Address: provide accurate information so map programs can provide fool-proof directions to your precise location.
  • Have multiple locations? Don’t forget to provide a typical schedule of when you see patients at each location.
  • Phone/Fax numbers: Here’s where you can get creative on return on investment analysis. If you have more then one incoming phone (must roll over to the main line connected to your answering service) consider posting special numbers if you decide to pay for enhanced listings. Check your phone bill each month and count the number of times each line is being used.
  • Link all profiles to your practice website**
  • Clinical Association Affiliations
  • Hospital/Medical Center Affiliations
  • Education/University Affiliations

Monitoring

  • I’ve built a tabbed spreadsheet in MS-Excel to help you get started; please contact me to receive a FREE electronic copy.
  • Keep a log of each site you touch, especially if you decide to purchase low-cost display enhancements.
  • Consider using an free on-line manager (e.g. Keypass) for the LogOn and Password information.
  • Set Google Alerts
  • Present your results with Visiblity on your profile page on your website and/or LinkedIn profile (you have one of those right?)
  • Set a calendar notice to review the searches from Part II to see how they change over time

Congratulations now you have taken control of your on line reputation!

Next: What to do if something bad gets posted…

Physician Google Thyself Webinar Video on Blip.TV

(C) 2010 eGold Solutions

*************

*Thanks Elizabeth Cooney for the great post title (July 08); great minds think alike.

**Disclosure: You have DO have a website representing your practice, right? If not, don’t panic there are many medical website designers with a variety of template and custom solutions. Here’s a supplier exclusive to the health care industry with a nice “teach them how to fish” philosophy. I’ve become familiar with the services of  Practis, Inc. through my consulting roles as a program manager and developing new business.

 

Physician, Google Thyself* Part II April 21, 2010

This is the second in a set of posts designed to educate physicians on how their names are being displayed. The education should lead to an evaluation of their current situation and motivation for them to execute basic activities to manage their reputation on-line. Physician Google Thyself Webinar Video on Blip.TV

EVALUATE:

Nervous? Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t know where to start? Relax, this post is about getting started by pulling your head out of the sand.

To pull your head out we need to start by answering this common question:  “How do I get to be #1 on Google?” That question is like asking “how long is a piece of string?” because the answer depends on what search terms are put into the engine (see suggestions below) and how that engine has mapped relevant pages.

Here’s a nice article on how search engines work and another on Google specifically. Feel free to read them now and come back so that the next section makes more sense.

Welcome back. Now it’s time to pull your head out to search, bookmark and evaluate so to be aware of your surroundings.

1. Search Suggestions: keyword terms to type into all three primary search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing):

Tip: Start with Google and make an appointment with yourself to follow up with another round on Yahoo and Bing on a different day. I would hate for your newly emerged-from-the-sand head to explode when you see overlapping results.

  • Your name with and without degree (MD, DO, FACOG)
  • Your name with degree + your geography
  • Your practice name with and without your geography (you might find other practices with same name in another geography)
  • Your specialty (e.g. ENT, Ear Nose Throat, otolaryangology) + your geography
  • Symptoms (e.g. heavy bleeding) + your geography
  • Conditions (e.g. sinus problems, fibroids) + your geography
  • Unbranded treatments (e.g. hysterectomy) + your geography
  • Branded treatments (e.g. Balloon Sinuplasty) + your geography

Geography: Adding geographic keywords is important (area, city, county–whatever makes sense). Once a patient educates them self on their symptom, condition and treatment options, they are going to look for health care providers geographically closest to them.

Terminology: A trained health care provider knows the official technical terms for your specialty and the symptoms, conditions and treatments available. I beg you to think like a patient and pay attention to the words they use during appointments. If you want to get an idea of what keywords patients are using with high frequency, consider using this free tool from WordTracker.

 

2. Actions: For each of the above searches

  • Bookmark results for future reference (consider setting up a Delicious account so you can access from any Internet-enabled computer)
  • Review the first 30 results
    • Figure out who are the other people that share your name (BTW: thank your parents if your name is unique)
    • Notice how your name and practice are represented on the various listing services and make sure it is accurate
    • Honestly decide if you think a patient will select you based on how the information is displayed
    • Determine how to make changes to your profile for free (e.g. for Vitals start with this physician profile update page). Usually there are some ways to enhance your profile for a small investment; use your best judgment.

Congratulations on pulling your head out of the sand; you are now aware of where you stand today.

Next Up:  Execute a manageable solution

Physician Google Thyself Webinar Video on Blip.TV

(C) 2010 eGold Solutions

******************

*Thanks Elizabeth Cooney for the great post title (July 08); great minds think alike.

 

Baking from Scratch April 13, 2010

Recently a client asked me to design the ‘ideal marketing organization’. Specifically they wanted to create a marketing department that would serve customers and become the go to provider for all customer needs. This kind of challenge only happens in marketing dreams – or with a very forward thinking company. One would expect this type of request to come from a new startup company; however, this client is a large, well-established and respected company.

I eagerly accepted the challenge, relishing the thought of defining a dream team of talented professionals who could implement clear and effective marketing strategic plans.  I was asked to take a blank sheet of paper and from scratch, design a marketing organization with a full complement of the essential members baked into the structure.  No limits or restrictions applied.

At first glance this challenge appears straightforward.  Draw an organizational chart with boxes that contain titles and connecting lines establishing relationships one to another. This part of the challenge is relatively clear cut, but before populating those boxes and setting off to fill the positions, establishing the why and how such an organization is needed is crucial

Why = Goal

Two key business elements must be established to ensure that a marketing organization will be successful.  The first is a clearly stated goal.  It is the why element.  Why is a marketing organization with specific skills, talents and structure needed?  The goal is the accomplishment the team will need to achieve.  The actual accomplishment may be multifocal and many layered, but the goal should be clear, simple and succinct.

How = Strategy

The second element is a sound strategic plan. This is the how element. There are many ways to achieve a goal. Goals can be achieved without plans; however, planning significantly increases the likelihood of success. A sound strategic plan defines the methods to achieve the goal and identifies the essential means to do so. A team of people that can implement the strategy is essential.  The skills and talents of the team are implied in a sound strategy. 

With these two elements in place, the challenge of designing of an ideal marketing organization is straightforward.  Without establishing these business elements first, the concept of defining the ideal organization is half-baked.

(c) 2010 pH Consulting

 

It’s Not About What You Say April 8, 2010

The recent explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia is bringing renewed attention to the mine’s owner, Massey Energy.  Like most people, I realize that coal mining is an inherently dangerous job, and unfortunately, accidents happen.  If that were only the story here, it would be sad enough.

Instead much of the attention has focused on the 3,000 plus safety violations Massey has racked up since 1995. Yet, as of April 7, the home page on the company’s Web site still proudly proclaimed that 2009 was “another record-setting year for safety.”  Hard to believe. (As of today, they finally removed that article from the home page.)

In fact, the company’s statements declaring the importance of safety are in direct contrast to its record of egregious safety violations and the reports that Massey’s chairman and chief executive, Don Blankenship, allegedly told workers to ignore the orders of those who instructed them to construct support beams and ventilation shafts for safety purposes and just “run coal.” It is companies like this that give capitalism a bad name.

The Lesson To Learn

What can healthcare companies learn from this tragic incident?  It’s simple. Always remember that actions speak louder than words.

No matter how many times your top executives express concerns for patient safety or piously proclaim that their mission is finding better treatments or cures for disease, if the company is rushing a drug to market before its full side effects are known, it’s a lie. If they are pushing a device through trials and suppressing negative evidence that would keep it from FDA clearance, it’s a lie. If your hospital touts patient safety, but every staff member isn’t following strict protocols to combat healthcare acquired infections, it’s a lie.

Words vs. Action

Communicators use words.  Lots of words.  We draft mission statements, company vision statements, key messages and yes, even positioning statements.  But no amount of words can take the place of action.

Action is key to reputation.  Doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason—even at the expense of short-term profits—builds positive reputations.  And reputations are valuable.  A good reputation adds to the bottom line and helps companies weather the storms of crisis.  Just ask Massey Energy, whose stock has dropped nearly 12 percent and whose credit rating was downgraded below junk.  If that’s not enough to convince you, then just ask the families of those miners in West Virginia.

 

 
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