ThinkstockPhotos-147093874

The right combination of today’s technologies and traditional methods of marketing will help you find patients and keep them coming back.

Although technology has changed consumer behavior, chiropractors don’t have to completely rethink patient recruitment and retention methods that have worked in the past.

While there’s always excitement and buzz surrounding the latest technology and newest fads in marketing, tried-and-true methods are still in the mix because they are known to work.

If there’s a way to go wrong, it probably involves being completely attached to tradition, or abandoning it entirely. We brought together a group of experts to explain how you can get the balance right.

Time shifting

“Most of the traditional strategies that chiropractors have used are still relevant today,” says Ariel Charytan, vice president of product for Yodle, a client acquisition and retention specialty firm. “Technology can help by automating these interactions to make them more effective and efficient so that the chiropractor or practice manager can focus on higher value activities.”

For example, getting personal referrals is a traditional strategy for bringing new patients through the door. “You could ask every patient to mention your practice to their friends, but this would be time consuming and may not be effective,” Charytan says. “In today’s world, online reviews have nearly as much influence as personal referrals, are more relevant to the reader, and have much greater reach.”

With a technology-enabled patient communication system, you can automatically email patients after an appointment and ask them to post to an online review site such as RateABiz, Yelp, Google, or Healthgrades. “You can also use technology to amplify the reach of these positive messages about your practice by making them a permanent testimonial on your website and sharing them on social media channels,” Charytan adds.

While many of your marketing strategies should remain in place, most of today’s potential patients look for chiropractors online. “Make sure you have the basics of an Internet presence in place, including a professional website that is optimized for mobile search and exposure on local business directories,” Charytan says. “Taking ownership of your online presence—including social media and online reviews—is important for keeping your reputation as a credible business, which can help you recruit new patients.”

Warren Phillips, CEO of HCF Seminars, a marketing education firm, says chiropractors can use new technology to target, capture, nurture, and qualify new patients using other technologies as well. These may include phone and text blasts, landing pages, videos, and online publications. “The cool thing is with some of the latest breakthroughs from the last couple of years such as retargeting, many of these strategies are now even more effective,” Phillips says. “Chiropractors can use these strategies to attract new patients to their events, talks, free evaluations, and nutrition appointments.”

Retargeting works like this: After someone leaves your website, a cookie allows you to promote ads to them about your goods and services on the Internet. “So if someone comes to your site looking for chiropractic care and then visits a blog or social media website, he or she will see your ad for a free consultation on the sidebar,” Phillips says.

Mainstay recruitment strategies

Word-of-mouth marketing and asking current patients to invite their friends and family to patient appreciation days or events continues to be a must for the brick-and-mortar practice. “One of the best marketing strategies is creating an electric and attractive culture that is congruent with the belief system in the office,” Phillips says.

To attract older patients, Drew Stevens, PhD, of Stevens Consulting Group, recommends using print-based methods. In particular, he advises advertising in local newspapers and offering promotions (e.g., contests, sweepstakes, coupons, and giveaways) via mailers in print. “You have to use mixed modalities in a market flooded with information today,” he says. “Regardless of what you do, be sure to switch things up from time to time.”

Other traditional marketing strategies such as complimentary spinal screenings can still be very effective; however, they can also require a huge amount of effort, Phillips says.

Charytan believes that an established and nurtured referral network is one of the best ways to recruit more patients. “If you have a referral relationship in place with other healthcare providers, you can use technology to stay in touch with them and bolster the relationship,” he says. “Set up a system that automatically sends thank-you notes for each referral, and create an e-newsletter with updates about your practice.”

Daniel T. Drubin, DC, president of 4th Dimension Management, and co-founder of Social4Chiros, says the least expensive but most effective way to generate new patients is through public speaking, regardless of whether you do so from inside your office or in the form of a special consultation. “But don’t package it as a class, workshop, or orientation,” he cautions. “Special consultation has more importance in the patient’s mind, so attendance and compliance go up. Most people do not want to go back to class or attend a workshop. Special consultation works best because if you have a ‘class’ and only one person shows up, it is embarrassing. However, one person at a special consultation makes it just that—a special consultation.”

CE 05-15 feature-expertsTechnically speaking

To keep patients coming back, improve your patient communication with customized professional messages. Although appointment confirmations and reminders ensure that patients show up for scheduled visits, making calls and sending emails or postcards are time-consuming tasks, Charytan maintains.

Therefore, technology that automates this type of communication can be extremely effective. But these strategies can have some risks, too. Many patients have multiple appointments in one week. Some automatic scheduling software will confirm and remind the patient for each appointment, which could feel like spam and become off-putting.

To effectively use technology to communicate with patients, you need a solution that can be customized to send reminders based on that person’s schedule and message preferences (e.g., phone, email, or texts). “Many patients manage their schedule online—whether it’s through a shared Google calendar for all family appointments or their own smartphone calendar to keep track of their appointments on the go—so bundling appointment confirmations, sending calendar invites, and SMS reminders will help patients stay on schedule, especially when they have multiple appointments,” Charytan says.

Bob Mangat, CEO and founder of GetChiroTraffic.com, says it’s smart to engage with patients on Facebook or other social media sites because many people use them. Regarding content, he suggests posting non-sales material on general wellness topics that people can use in their daily lives. “Education-based marketing will help you to demonstrate credibility and expertise,” says Mangat, whose company creates customized materials for chiropractors.

Mangat adds that the more online activity you do off your company’s website, the more it will impact your search engine optimization. “Ninety percent of search engine traffic comes from what you do off of your website,” he says. “You should update your website, but more importantly be active on social media websites, too.”

Stevens advises using an electronic strategy to communicate and keep in touch with patients. Some software packages can make phone calls or texts to patients you haven’t seen in a while. Have your message state something like “there is an appointment opening for you” or “we have a new product or service such as weight management or nutritional analysis.”

Retention intention

As with patient recruitment, most traditional methods still work well for retaining patients. “The most powerful marketing and retention tool has and will continue to be the telephone,” Phillips says. “Some calls can be automated or delegated, but there’s nothing more powerful than a personal call from the doctor after the client’s first adjustment. It really sets you apart.”

In addition, Phillips is a proponent of offering care plans upfront. This is a commitment from the patient to the doctor, and vice versa. “This not only ensures retention over a much longer time period, but also allows the doctor to develop a relationship with the patient and, at the end of the day, you’re ultimately selling yourself,” he says. “This gives you a lot of time to create value in the relationship and to educate the client about the amazing benefits of chiropractic care.”

For patients whom you haven’t treated recently, Stevens advises sending a letter or postcard. Simply state that you haven’t seen the patient in a while, and that you would welcome an opportunity to assist him or her with any issues.

As a healthcare professional, you shouldn’t cheapen your advertising efforts. For example: Do not promote your practice with outdoor signage stating that you now offer massage, are accepting new patients, or have a new chiropractor on staff. “You won’t see a dentist or osteopathic physician doing such promotions,” he says. “Ridiculous promotions cheapen the industry.”

Stevens also recommends offering seminars and workshops, getting letters published in regional publications, being interviewed on local radio and television, teaching at a nearby college, or volunteering with community-based organizations. “Nontraditional methods are ways for people in the community to get to know you,” he says. “Most patients won’t travel more than 10 or 12 miles to see a chiropractor. If that’s the case, you have to be a known entity in the community and recognized as a brand.”

Topics do not have to be chiropractic-specific. Instead, focus on subjects related to overall health and wellness such as nutrition, diabetes, or high blood-pressure awareness, reviews of unhealthy fad diets, or even something as simple as manicuring your lawn in a healthy way. “Offering something contrarian will set you apart from others in the field attempting the same strategy,” Stevens says.

A common retention challenge for chiropractors is patients who cancel their maintenance appointments. “If a patient isn’t currently in pain, he or she may be less motivated to keep a standing appointment or come in for a checkup that could be critical for their well-being,” Charytan says. “There’s no chiropractic equivalent to the six-month cleaning in dentistry or the annual checkup with a primary care physician.

“Chiropractors need to work a little harder to stay in front of existing patients. Investing in the education of your patients will help their health and benefit your practice in the long run. Developing a patient newsletter with advice on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle including keeping regular chiropractic appointments can help retention.”

Drubin emphasizes the importance of patients recognizing that chiropractic care is an irreplaceable commodity. “Once a patient starts to feel better symptomatically, the patient will start to feel that he or she can no longer commit to spending so much time at the chiropractor’s office,” he says. Therefore, it’s important to value their time. A patient will tolerate 15 minutes in the hospitality area but any longer of a wait will likely generate irritation. “See them promptly and respect their time.”

Through the ages

Recruitment and retention strategies are similar regardless of a patient’s age, but you should be flexible in how you deliver the messages, Charytan says. “Some of the stereotypes may be true, but the best way to make sure that your messages are reaching all of your patients is to have a patient communication system that can be customized to individual preferences,” he says. “Ask your patients how they prefer to receive messages, and with the right software, you can deliver a message that will reach them every time.”

Phillips has found preferences differ among age groups. If you target businesspeople between the ages of 35 and 50, a Facebook marketing strategy will work well. If you’re targeting clientele over 50, traditional newspaper advertising may be more effective.
The same goes for retention—email and text reminders for appointments can be more effective for people under 50, and for those who are older you’ll definitely have to make personal phone call reminders rather than automated calls.

Drubin finds that promotional messages should vary among different age groups. For seniors he sells quality of life. “They care about how long they will live and that they can continue to do the activities they enjoy,” he says. “Younger patients mostly see themselves as being well, which is why it’s hard to build a practice in a gym. Emphasize to these patients that they can live a better life by protecting their health by being educated about diet, exercise, how to properly lift and bend, and getting enough sleep.”

Marketing and retention are among the greatest challenges in any chiropractic office. “However, using both traditional and breakthrough technologies can grow a practice today more quickly than ever before,” Phillips says. “No matter where you live, or even how many people live in your area, you can still have a massively successful practice by perfecting recruitment and retention strategies.”

“What separates a thriving chiropractor from one who simply survives is the one who is consistent and relentless in patient recruitment and retention strategies,” Stevens adds.

As the experts illustrate, your efforts in community outreach are never finished, while your communication options are ever-expanding with your patients’ increased use of technology. Use digital tools to your advantage while tapping into the needs of patients’ individual preferences, which may include traditional forms of correspondence.

Organic methods of establishing your authority in the alternative medicine field take time but can pay off in the long run. Start by bolstering the tactics that are already working and pinpointing new areas that would be worth your investment.

Be flexible until you achieve your most effective game plan, and don’t settle for subpar results.

 

karen-appoldKaren Appold, an editorial consultant in Royersford, Pennsylvania, is dedicated to regular chiropractic care. She has been the president of Write Now Services, which offers writing, editing, and proofreading since 2003. Her experience includes chiropractic marketing. She can be contacted at 610-812-3040, kappold@msn.com, or through writenowservices.com.