Definitive Guide to Attracting Patients

Definitive Guide to Attracting Patients

Attracting patients is a key concern for doctors starting out in private practice and for those with established practices who want to increase the frequency of their practice sessions.

How are you attracting patients?

Marketing is essential to the success of any business, including private medicine. While unfamiliar to many doctors, it does not have to be complex or time-consuming. So here are some effective strategies to help promote your business.

Referrals

The most effective way to expand your practice is through word of mouth and via existing patients, friends and family. Are your patients familiar with the full range of services you offer? Are they aware you are actively aiming to expand your practice?

Contented patients will automatically act as ambassadors and refer you to their friends and colleagues. It is also a good strategy to maximise communication with your colleagues – including GPs and specialist consultants.

Traditional marketing methods

With current focus firmly on the innovative world of digital marketing, it is easy to overlook tried and tested methods of promoting your practice.

  • A brochure or simple flyer is a cost-effective marketing tool, which can be handed directly to patients and potential referees or simply displayed in your waiting room.
  • Articles in relevant publications will enhance your reputation.
  • Paper newsletters are another potent tool for marketing your practice; there are many available options once you start thinking creatively.

Check your online profile

Google your name and see what you find. Prospective patients will do this before they book their first appointment. It is vital to take control of your online presence.

Ideally, your website should be prioritised within any list of results. It is not necessary to pay for listings – there are numerous free directories featuring private doctors in London.

You should ensure your details are listed accurately and updated on each one of them. You may get mentioned on websites such as Mumsnet. While you cannot control this, you can engage with the process positively.

Website

A website is an integral aspect of digital marketing and a powerful communication tool – allowing you to monitor, amend and update content as your practice develops. It is often the first port of call for potential patients and a vital component in promoting your unique expertise and services.

Fundamental technical components include:
  1. 24-hour email contact which is highly visible.
  2. well-designed, user-friendly interface.
  3. fully compatible with mobile device access.

Make it easy for potential patients visiting your site.  Ensure your phone number and email are highly visible and facilitate this with a one-click appointment process.

Publish

Blogs are a vital tool in promoting your business and communicating positively with patients. Frequent blogging is a highly effective way of reassuring prospective and existing patients and letting them know what to expect when they book an appointment. By citing existing patients’ positive experiences, using real examples, you can ensure readers will have highly positive expectations.

Social media

Use social media to your advantage as part of your digital marketing strategy. It is a highly-effective way of driving patients to your website prior to booking an appointment.

By posting content related to your personality and practice, you can strategically attract more patients. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are all relevant in this field.

  • LinkedIn is primarily used to network with colleagues and patients;
  • Facebook to interact with patients and to perfect and control your public profile.

Speaking at conferences

Good speakers are continually in demand both nationally and globally. This could be an excellent opportunity to impart your expertise and expand your network.

  • Speaking commitments require careful planning, both leading up and afterwards.
  • Focused research to establish the right event, location and correspondence procedures would be logical first steps.
  • Allow plenty of time for this process.

Events

With careful planning, a successful event can yield productive results and, ultimately, bring you more patients. It does not have to be ambitious in scale; a well-planned social gathering can be very relevant – if you get the initial focus right.

  • Think about your guest list, whether a small-scale occasion or a focused educational event with the aim of referring doctors.
  • Allow plenty of time to choose the right venue and location, appropriate catering and, crucially, allow sufficient notice for your guests to plan their attendance.

To summarise: authenticity is always a good strategy – use the marketing tools you feel most comfortable with – but do not be afraid to branch out.  Good luck.

Talk to us about how we can help attract new patients.  We have a team dedicated to marketing private medical practice and have a wealth of experience for you to tap into.  Call us today 020 7952 1460 or via send us an email at info@designatedmedical.com.

Managing Director Jane Braithwaite regularly writes for the Independent Practitioner Today and her latest series entitled Private Practice Growth Guide is a must read for anyone looking to attract more patients and increase the frequency of practice sessions.

 

 

Are you listening to your patients’ feedback?

Are you listening to your patients’ feedback?

With more private doctors being subject to reviews, Jane Braithwaite, Founder of Designated, highlights the importance of patients’ feedback and gives some excellent tips and advice on handling negative comments.

Patients’ Feedback

Most practices will be receiving patient feedback. This can range from the quiet chat with the receptionist or medical secretary to the – hopefully infrequent – irate phone call or email.

Measuring patient satisfaction and assessing areas for improvement is an important aspect of the Care Quality Commission assessment process, but it should also give you the opportunity to involve all your team members in taking responsibility for improving the patients’ experience.

Feedback sources

Particularly popular forums for online patient feedback can be your practice’s Facebook page or Google My Business account.

Positive reviews here can boost search results, they are easy to request and receive and they give potential patients good insights into your services.

Great reviews can be shared on your website or in articles, but you must ask for the patient’s express permission first to be compliant with GDPR.

On these public channels, there is the danger that a negative review can be widely seen but, if this complaint is handled promptly and professionally, it can often result in a positive outcome. Of course, sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day, and this is where we can help. We can provide social media experts to support you to manage complaints and enquiries quickly and professionally, as and when you need them most.

Many of our clients at Desig­nated Medical request patient reviews on specific medical sector websites such as Doctify, where feedback can be anonymous and complaints can be addressed.

Patients are sent a link to the website’s reviews page, or an iPad app is used to collect reviews at the practice. Similar review options are available on iwantgreatcare.org and My Health Specialist.

Satisfaction surveys

Clinics and doctors may choose to set up and implement their own in-house patient satisfaction survey and choose websites such as Smart Survey or Typeform

The results can be summarised into a report giving a focus for practice imp­rovements and could be reviewed at the monthly practice meeting and an action plan agreed to address any issues.

The ad hoc face-to-face or emailed feedback should also be consolidated to form the basis of your improvement plan, which can be used as evidence of listening to patients. We have a team of experienced administrators to help you create and deliver your unique surveys, and we can tailor our services to support your individual needs.

It’s important that an open and understanding culture be fostered within the team, with no fear of blame being apportioned, so that all feedback is actively shared and acted upon.

Use feedback to grow

Positive reviews should be celebrated too, and a dedicated marketing professional can maximise the potential of good feedback. 

This article is part of a series from the Independent Practitioner Today where Jane Braithwaite writes a regular feature. Download full article here.

Should you need support and advice for your private practice, please get in touch 020 7952 1008, or info@designatedmedical.com.

Ensure your callers can always get through

Ensure your callers can always get through

Jane Braithwaite’s contribution to the Independent Practitioner Today this month is all about the importance of answering calls to your private practice.

NOW THIS is a thorny subject for patients, medical secretaries and consultants alike. Here’s two common scenarios: ‘The patient says she couldn’t get through’. ‘She was a new patient. That’s like gold dust. We need to answer every call’. ‘I just received a complaint from a GP who couldn’t get through to refer a patient’.

How do we answer every call? Is that even possible? How many calls are being answered at your practice today? 50%? 90%? Can you measure this?

Call Answering

TOP TIPS TO AVOID MISSING A CALL

  • Own your phone number. Ensure you have a number for life
  • Measure it to manage it – Monthly reviews of our performance will ensure we continue to focus on this key element of practice management
  • Call audit – Address the reasons why patients are calling and look at ways to reduce the calls that are less productive
  • Technology solutions – Investigate the ways in which your phone system can support the process
  • Voicemail – Ensure messages are returned promptly
  • Appointment reminders – Ensure we include the address and details of how to find us. Ask patients to email to confirm not call
  • Online booking should be embraced by all
  • Call-answering bureaux/call centres – Can be used as a back-up option
  • Patient calls are vital and high priority. It is important to have a culture that treats them as such
  • I will leave you with the famous words of Blondie: ‘Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone.’

Read full article from the Independent Practitioner Today ‘Ensure callers can always get through’

Patient Reviews: they really do count

Patient Reviews: they really do count

Jane Braithwaite regularly contributes to the Independent Practitioner Today and her latest article talks about the importance of patient reviews and the impact they can have on the success of your private practice.

Patient Reviews

Most practices will be receiving patient feedback on a regular basis.  This can range from the quiet chat with the receptionist or medical secretary, to the hand-delivered box of chocolates or the hopefully infrequent irate phone call or email.  But how are you collecting these reviews, measuring your patients’ satisfaction and dealing with complaints?

Top Tips

  1. establish an open team culture encouraging all feedback to be shared
  2. encourage patients to share their reviews on your Facebook page, google and other social media accounts
  3. send patients links to relevant medical websites where reviews are encouraged
  4. share great reviews on your website (having asked the patient’s permission)
  5. set up a monthly or quarterly programme of feedback requests from patients
  6. decide on the best way to collect ad hoc patient feedback from team members
  7. put in place a detailed complaints process
  8. communicate your complaints process openly with your patients
  9. respond to complaints and online negative reviews promptly and professionally
  10. collate all your feedback regularly from all sources, to inform your improvement plan

 

Read the full article  ‘Their views really do count’

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Credit control and how to ensure you get paid

Credit control and how to ensure you get paid

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TopTips2Invoicing and credit control is a time-consuming task in private practice, but it is essential for obvious reasons. Yet it is the area of practice management that is most often overlooked. Jane Braithwaite reports.

Many doctors and medical secretaries are highly focused on patient care, as they should be of course, and therefore billing and collecting the money becomes the lowest priority.

It is not natural for a doctor to switch conversation with a patient from their symptoms and care plan to payment.

Likewise, a medical secretary has often chosen to work in the field of healthcare due to a desire to care for patients and is less comfortable handling the billing side.

Private consultants can sometimes struggle with the contrast between private practice and working for the NHS. It can be difficult to feel comfortable charging for your medical services after years of NHS work, which is ‘free’ to patients.

Robust credit control

But managing payments and debts is crucial for any business and you will not thrive or grow as a private consultant without a robust credit control strategy from the outset.

In a bigger clinic or hospital, there is often a department that handles invoicing and billing. This team will often be more aligned with the finance team and this makes total sense. But in a smaller practice, billing must be handled by the secretarial team.

It is well reported in the business world that cash flow is king, especially in the first years of a new business. This is just as true for a consultant working in the private world as it is for a clinic or hospital.

Delays in receiving payment can put a great deal of strain on cash flow in a private medical practice and we need to ensure this is avoided.

Using good systems will help alleviate and automate much of the process relating to invoicing and collection. It is also key to define good processes and ensure the system is set up to support these processes.

Most private clinics will be invoicing both insurance companies and self-pay patients. They may also be invoicing embassies and legal companies.

You may already have a practice management software system in place, which could also handle billings, reminders and management accounts.

This could also make it much easier to comply with increasing requests from insurers to send billing information electronically using electronic data interchange.

Submitting invoices electronically will also speed up payment settlement, which should greatly help with credit control.

Electronic billing

chasing-moneyThe use of technology is imperative, particularly for invoicing insurance companies.

A good practice management system will link to Healthcode and allow electronic billing. All private doctors should be using this technology, as it ensures that insurance invoices are dealt with very quickly and smoothly.

A good practice management system will also ensure that invoicing self-pay patients is simple and easy.

Invoice templates can be created with pick lists of the most commonly used items. Invoices can be sent to patients via email or by post, if preferred, but I would use email as widely as possible to reduce costs and eliminate delays.

Insurance shortfalls

Shortfalls from insurance payments will need to be dealt with in the same way as self-pay patients. It seems that many aged debts are due to lack of transparency over insurance shortfalls.

Patients simply are not aware that their insurance will not cover the entire cost of the consultation, treatment or procedure. This could be remedied by improving communications with patients.

It might mean incorporating a short discussion about payment in the consultation itself, reworking the written information given to patients afterwards or even following up appointments with a short email to clarify information.

If you are sending invoices to embassies and law firms for medico-legal work, these will be created in the same way as for self-pay patients, but a greater focus on chasing for payment will be needed, as these invoices often take much longer to be paid.

My advice would be to attempt to build relationships with key contacts within the organisation to smooth the way.

Reconciliation

The next step in the invoicing process is to reconcile payments received against the invoices issued. If you are using electronic billing for insurance patients, this process will be easier for you.

Insurance companies will regularly send you remittance advice notes that need to be checked against the invoices on the system.

If self-pay patients are paying by credit card, the payments should be marked as paid on the day payment is made. There is nothing worse than chasing a patient for payment when they have already paid.

chasing-moneyBankers’ Automated Clearing Services (BACS) payments will need to be reconciled with bank statements and that is a harder task than it sounds.

Encourage patients to quote their invoice number when making a payment to ease the process.

Payments should be reconciled regularly so that you have an accurate picture of your current debt. I would suggest that a reconciliation is done at least weekly.

At the end of each month, a report of current debt should be produced and reviewed by key members of the team to identify and address issues early and therefore avoid that debt growing into a mountain of unpaid dues.

Credit control process

Each practice needs to define their credit control process. An invoice sent to an insurance company or self-pay patient may be paid promptly, but quite often this is not the case and the debt will need to be chased.

There will always be patients who do not pay on time and standard protocols to collect payment owed will need to be followed.

A robust monitoring system must be in place so that you can keep track of reminders sent. This can be managed within your practice management system.

A good practice management system will allow you to set up a process for chasing debt, but you will need to define the parameters. You can set up standard template letters to be sent after certain periods of time.

The time allowed may differ depending on your practice. You may feel that patients should be allowed a month to pay before receiving their first reminder.

This might be the case in a practice where you are seeing the patients regularly and have every confidence that they will pay at their next appointment. In another practice, you may want the reminder to be sent seven days after the initial invoice.

Reminder letters

You can set up a series of reminder letters to be sent by email to patients chasing their payment.

These letter templates must be created and while the first might be a very gentle reminder, the third reminder needs to be a little sterner.

Eventually, someone will need to pick up the phone to chase payment and that is not a task liked by most. If a patient is ignoring your letters, then a phone call may be just what is needed to prompt payment.

Again, you need to decide at what stage this occurs. Do you wait one month or three months before taking such a step? What feels right in your practice?

Debt collection

chasing-moneyThankfully, most patients do pay what is owed, but there will be a small percentage who ignore emails, letters and phone calls.

You need to be clear on how you will handle this. Are you happy to accept a certain percentage of non-payment and simply write this off? Or do you want to take this further and involve a debt collection agency. Obviously, this is a last resort, but one you will need to consider.

Whether you are running a large hospital or a small clinic, you have a choice whether to handle invoicing and credit management in-house or to outsource.

In-house billing and collection

Many consultants choose to handle credit control themselves when they first start out in private practice, in partnership with their medical secretary. This can be a workable solution while the practice builds, and needs to be scal­able once the practice becomes busier.

You may need to employ additional members of staff to manage the workload. You may employ a medical secretary and a billing specialist who are able to work closely together but have defined roles. As always, effective and clear procedures need to be in place from the very start.

It is imperative that administrative and financial processes are reviewed regularly and documented to avoid key person dependency. You do not want to find yourself in a situation where someone is sick and no one else knows how the systems and processes work.

There are a number of accountants who specialise in the private medical sector who could help with reviewing and recording your clinic procedures. And while this may seem expensive, it may turn out out to be a cost which repays the investment many times over.

Consultants and their secretaries often find chasing debts to be an uncomfortable task and not one that fits easily with the medical ethos.

You will need to ensure that you and your team stay informed about technological advances so that you and your patients can benefit from them.

On the positive side, handling invoicing in-house means that you have complete control and can feel comfortable that every communication with your patients is made by a member of your team.

Outsourcing invoicing

chasing-moneyMany consultants move their entire invoicing work to an external company, which will send invoices, liaise with insurers and chase payments.

Most of these companies charge a percentage fee for the invoices they process and collect on behalf of your practice.

They can also chase aged debts and provide a variety of management reports such as insurance breakdowns and bank reconciliation information.

Some firms have their own custom software for this, while others integrate with industry-standard practice management software.

The primary advantage to outsourcing billing and collection is that consultants can spend more time concentrating on developing the medical side of the business.

The downside is the additional cost, although this should be weighed against the potential savings outsourcing may provide. Consultants should also consider whether relationships with patients could be negatively impacted by moving invoicing to an external company. As always, communicating regularly with patients may help offset any problems.

Following the tips provided in this article may hopefully mean fewer debts are left to chase.

 

Jane Braithwaite is Managing Director at Designated Medical and regularly contributes to the Independent Practitioner Today publication.

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