It’s time to get smart about your patient acquisition and retention plan to keep your practice thriving during this turbulent time.

Navigating the uncertain economic climate can be daunting for independent medical practices looking to attract and retain new patients in light of inflation, rising interest rates, and a potential recession. You may have already noticed the first signs of people cutting their spending, like an increase in no-shows, cancellations, unfilled prescriptions, and outstanding balances on the books. It’s time to get smart about your patient acquisition and retention plan to keep your practice thriving during this turbulent time.

The digital patient journey is here to stay

Let’s meet Dan S., a typical healthcare consumer. Dan is looking for a new healthcare provider and starts in the same place he goes to for most of his purchases — online. Dan is one of the 77 percent of consumers who begin their patient journeys online, reviewing insurance coverage, evaluating reviews, and visiting provider websites.

Tactic #1 — Modernize your website

Perform a thorough audit of your practice’s website. Ensure the information on your website is up to date and that current photos are displayed, capturing both the inside and outside of your practice. Double-check that contact information and directions to your office are accurate and easy to find.

Can patients easily book an appointment on your website? People are often busy during the day and want to schedule their doctor visits from the comfort of their couch, usually after the practice is closed. An up-to-date scheduling system simplifies the process for patients while also freeing up your front desk staff to address other tasks.

Do you have a patient portal? Today’s patient wants better control of their health information. Services like digital scheduling, pre-appointment paperwork, and record retrieval reduce time spent in the waiting room, improve the patient experience and decrease wait times at your practice.

Can potential patients find your practice?

Let’s go back to Dan, our hypothetical patient. He began his search for a new provider by typing “local doctor offices” into Google on his phone. This is no surprise since nearly 60 percent of all Google search traffic comes from mobile.

Dan goes on to check the websites of the first three practices to appear in the search results. According to Backlinko, more than 50 percent of all clicks belong to the top three Google search results. In other words, if you aren’t on the first page of search results, you may as well not exist.

Tactic #2 — Optimize for search

High Google rankings don’t happen accidentally — you have more control over where your practice ranks than you might think. This is done through search engine optimization (SEO).

First, make sure your website is mobile-friendly and loads quickly, ideally under two seconds, according to Google’s recommendations.

Next, ensure your practice is listed and updated in local directories and larger directories like Google Business, Facebook, and Yelp. Claim your practice on these sites and standardize your online presence to promote patient confidence and boost your Google rankings.

While stock photos help get a website up quickly, professional photos showcasing your practice, location, and people will help you stand out to search algorithms and potential patients. Add these photos to your online directory profiles to increase your curb appeal to people searching on those sites.

Do you know what people are saying about you?

Now that Dan has a few contenders, he wants to know what kind of experience to expect.

One of the practices has only three stars on Google reviews, so he discards this one — just like 67 percent of other new patients who don't bother with anything rated less than four stars. He starts looking through the reviews for the remaining practices. One of the practices has close to a hundred reviews, and the other has 35, which makes him feel a bit doubtful about how accurate the reviews are. He turns his attention to the practice with more reviews and starts reading, focusing on the most recent reviews first.

Tactic #3 — Control your reviews

Reviews don’t just happen — and when they do, they probably aren’t the ones you want. Take control of the narrative by asking your patients to leave reviews immediately after a visit. Send a form automatically via email or text to encourage a higher response.

Guide where patients should leave reviews since consumers view some review sites as more credible than others. According to research by Tebra, Google is the top site patients look at for practice reviews, followed by the practice’s website and WebMD, with only 16 percent of patients looking at Facebook reviews.

Unfortunately, bad reviews do sometimes happen. In case of a negative review, take action quickly. Leave a response on the site or note that you’ll be following up privately (and if you choose to respond in this way, do actually follow up). People reading reviews are more likely to offer grace if they see that you are aware of and addressing patient feedback.

Content is (still) king

No matter how beautiful your website is and how well-optimized the content is, if it’s not updated constantly, Google will ignore it. Dan was able to find the practice he eventually chose because they kept their blog fresh and interesting, filled with useful content, and updated regularly, which Google “rewarded” with a significant position in the search engine results. Dan also found an article on the company blog about the issue he was dealing with, helping him feel confident in his choice to schedule with this practice.

Tactic #4 — Post quality content frequently

Post articles to your blog about your services, discussing what to expect and why your practice is the right place to address this need. Remember to use plain language and avoid jargon.

Tell potential patients about yourself, the practice’s physicians, and other staff they’ll encounter during their visit. Patients will make connections before their appointment, helping them feel comfortable before they even set foot in your practice. Plus, Google will reward you for fresh, valuable content with higher search engine results.

From Dan’s perspective, his search for a new provider was simple — he picked up his phone, typed in a couple of words, and spent a few minutes scrolling through reviews. Not long after, he booked a visit on the practice’s site and went on with his day, feeling good about his decision. Of course, the practice’s use of an effective website, SEO, reviews, and blogging all contributed to finding a practice that was a good match for him.

If you aren’t already marketing your practice online, now’s the time, especially if you want to survive in today’s challenging healthcare marketplace. Following the tactics here is the best place to start.

Travis Schneider is Co-founder and Chief Corporate Development Officer for Tebra, a leading cloud-based healthcare technology platform. In his role, Travis oversees M&A and strategic partnerships for the organization.

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Physicians Practice | March 14, 2023

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