The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

The 2024 guide to attracting patients to your medical practice

Get patients in the door with these marketing and patient engagement tips.

how to get more patients

At a Glance

  1. Good patient acquisition for healthcare practices involves a mix of digital and traditional marketing strategies, with digital ads offering quick results and SEO providing long-term benefits.
  2. Budgeting for healthcare marketing varies widely, depending on the practice’s goals and market, with a balance of paid and earned media, online presence, and reputation management being crucial.
  3. Continuously refining the practice marketing strategy, including PPC ads, SEO, and review management, and leveraging growth analytics is essential for sustained practice growth and patient acquisition.

Summary: Tebra surveyed medical practices to find out how they plan to expand their practice, allocate their marketing dollars, and engage patients in 2024. We compiled a comprehensive guide to attracting patients with this fresh data and unique insights.

Attracting patients with marketing

Very few doctors, dentists, or therapists likely went to school dreaming of marketing. But knowing how to get more patients is a necessary — and even fun — part of starting a practice, replacing patients, and expanding into new locations. 

Attracting new patients isn’t usually as simple as running a few ads in the local paper. The most effective programs often use paid digital ads, as well as free — but harder and slower — tactics like search engine optimization (SEO) for their local practice. That doesn’t mean old-school tactics are totally out, though: networking, print ads, and mailers have their place. 

Marketing involves a lot of decisions, from how much to budget to where to spend ad dollars. This article maps out all the basics for how to get more patients into an independent practice, with links to additional resources for exploring a topic in depth.

Optimize Operations

This article will cover: 

  • Budgets for different patient acquisition strategies 
  • Healthcare digital marketing checklist
  • Free tactics to get more patients into the practice 

Core healthcare marketing strategies

Healthcare marketing tactics and budgets for independent practices infographic

Marketing budgets and resources

There’s no magic number for a healthcare marketing budget because it depends on the practice’s goals and market. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some useful benchmarks. In November 2023, Tebra surveyed owners and managers of 106 private practices to find out how they allocate their marketing budgets. About a third spend less than $2,500, another third spend $2,500 to $10,000, and the top 29% spend over $10,000. 

Agency fees are optional, but a good healthcare marketing agency will save time and likely money. They will have insights and data around keyword targeting and optimization techniques that drive down the cost of clicks for medical practices. For instance, they are likely to have an analysis of keyword gaps to target for your specialty locally.

Spending around 25% of an ad budget on agency fees is typical. This typically includes copywriting, design, management, optimization, and reporting. 

How much money is the typical medical practice setting aside for marketing?

Here is what our survey found.

How Much Money Per Year Medical Practices Set Aside for Marketing Activities

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising for healthcare

PPC ads are the most common way medical practices advertise online as they’re effective, targeted, and work for small businesses.

Digital ads, especially PPC, are a great way to get quick wins, like acquiring new patients and boosting profitable services.

Here’s what you need to know about PPC ad budgets:

  • Minimum recommended budget of $1,000/month to be effective
  • Typically requires agency management (as part of that $1,000 budget)
  • 71% of practices report they spend $1,000 to $2,499 on PPC ads

Having a comprehensive, user-friendly medical website and online scheduling tools will make paid digital ads more effective. A convincing website that’s easy to navigate — and provides a painless way to schedule an appointment — will see a higher conversion rate. 

How much independent practices spend annually on digital marketing

How are medical practices using their annual budgets?

Here is how our survey respondents plan to allocate their dollars.

Earned digital media for medical practices

A practice website and blog can attract visitors without any help from paid ads, but doing so takes time and energy. Many practices outsource these to agencies with healthcare marketing experience marketing. 

SEO starting costs can range from $5,000 for a quick site review by an expert to $15,000 for deep insights and a new strategy. While investments can take up to 6 months to really pay off, well-done SEO can deliver for years with continued investment.

Expect ongoing SEO maintenance to cost anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 a month. Search engines want to know a site is current, so prevent gradual drop-offs — and strengthen the investment — with ongoing fresh content. Search-optimized blogs are a great way to do this. 

Here is how our surveyed practices allocate their SEO & content dollars:

  • Blog time: 5 to 15 hours to write and publish 1 per month 
  • 75% of practices spend $100 to $2,499 on content marketing 
  • 75% of practices spend under $2,500 per month on SEO, and 7% spend $7,000 to $9,999

Reputation and reviews for medical practices

Managing a practice online reputation on review sites is the second highest-value activity for practices Tebra surveyed. Here’s what you need to know about budget and time to get reviews for your practice:

  • This can be done in-house with dedicated staff time of 10 to 20 hours per month 
  • 51% of practices spend $1,000 or more on this every month 
  • Automation is also an option, where an integrated system sends surveys automatically to patients after each visit, prompts patients to leave review feedback, directs negative feedback to the practice, and includes a dashboard for tracking and responding to most review sites

Online business listings for medical practices

Over 60 internet sites aggregate health provider info. Practices must claim listings and update them to reflect any new information, e.g., changes in hours or providers. Practices Tebra surveyed said managing this was the third most impactful marketing activity. 

Here’s what to know about online listings:

  • Most providers only keep up with 1 to 3 listings out of more than 55, according to a recent survey by Tebra 
  • 40% of practices spend $1,000 or more, and 32% spend $100 to $999
  • Online listing management can be automated or outsourced
Number of Online Listings and Review Sites Medical Practices Actively Maintain Their Information On

Print advertisements and billboards

Print ads and billboards require the least expertise — they can be designed inexpensively by in-house staff or an agency and reused multiple times. But there are some downsides. It’s hard to track the results. Plus, practices Tebra surveyed ranked their effectiveness as low: print ads and billboards tied for last place out of 15 marketing tactics, with only 3% citing them as their most successful tactics. 

Budgeting basics:

  • Magazine ads start around $500 and may include free design
  • Billboards can cost $2,000/month in rural areas up to $100,000 in a high-traffic city like New York, but many doctors say they can be effective in high-profit specialties such as plastic surgery
How much independent practices spend on print marketing annually

Networking and referrals

Advertising is great but practices cited networking and referrals as their most successful tactic. Getting referrals — from doctors and patients — takes time, effort, a practice patients love, and partnerships with referring doctors. Consider that attending events and tracking referrals may take significant staff time (not accounted for in budget numbers). 

Networking expenses often include health fairs and other events. Expenses include business cards, booth/table signage and decorations, brochures, and promotional items. 

Budgets:

  • 35% of practices spend more than $1,000 a month on networking and referrals expenses and 41% spend $1 to $999
  • 24% spend nothing
How much medical practices spend annually on networking, referrals, patient engagement

Writing a growth plan for a medical practice

Writing a medical practice growth plan may seem a little onerous, but it will be a huge help in planning an overall practice strategy and creating a budget. 

Things to include in a medical practice growth plan

  • The patient volume goal 
  • What services to market and the projected profits
  • Where you want to market. High-cost services like bariatrics or cosmetic surgery might advertise in a wider region. 
  • Budget. It might be best to include a range or think of marketing as a percentage of revenue. Practice growth agencies can be helpful in determining an appropriate budget and forecasting the corresponding return. 
  • Resources. Will copy and design come from staff at the practice, or from an agency?
  • Success metrics. Good data is part of testing ideas and moving money from losing bets to winning ones.
  • Timeline. Include a testing period in the initial launch for a more judicious investment.

Sample pay-per-click marketing healthcare budget 

Pay-per-click advertising is probably the easiest to implement and measure. A minimum budget focuses on basic patient acquisition — for example, searches like “dentist near me” or “urgent care clinic in Small Town, USA.” 

Healthcare marketing example chart

SpecialtyMinimum suggested budget per monthEst. clicks per dayTier 1 suggested budget per monthEst. clicks per dayTier 2 suggested budget per monthEst. clicks per day
Aesthetics/ medspa$750.006-7$1,500.0012-13$2,500.0020-21
Allergist$750.005-6$1,500.0010-11$2,500.0016-17
Bariatric/ weight loss surgeon/ weight loss clinic$750.005-6$1,500.0011-12$2,500.0019-20
Cardiologist$750.005-6$1,500.0010-11$2,500.0017-18
Chiropractor$750.004-5$1,500.009-10$2,500.0016-17
Cosmetic/ plastic surgeon$750.005-6$1,500.0011-12$2,500.0019-20
Cosmetic/ emergency dentist$750.005-6$1,500.0010-11$2,500.0017-18
Dermatologist$750.005-6$1,500.0012-13$2,500.0020-21
ENT$750.007-8$1,500.0015-16$2,500.0026-27
Gastroenterologist$750.005-6$1,500.0010-11$2,500.0017-18
General dentist$750.005-6$1,500.0010-11$2,500.0017-18
General doctor/ primary care$750.007-8$1,500.0014-15$2,500.0023-24
Holistic/ functional medicine$750.004-5$1,500.009-10$2,500.0015-16
Men's health$750.005-6$1,500.0011-12$2,500.0019-20
Mental health/ psych$750.006-7$1,500.0012-13$2,500.0021-22
OB/ GYN$750.006-7$1,500.0012-13$2,500.0020-21
Optometrist/ ophthalmologist$750.006-7$1,500.0012-13$2,500.0020-21
Orthopedics$750.005-6$1,500.0010-11$2,500.0018-19
Pain management$750.006-7$1,500.0012-13$2,500.0020-21
Podiatrist$750.005-6$1,500.0011-12$2,500.0019-20
Sleep clinic$750.005-6$1,500.0011-12$2,500.0019-20
Urgent care/ ER$750.006-7$1,500.0012-13$2,500.0020-21
Urologist$750.006-7$1,500.0013-14$2,500.0021-22
Psychiatrist$750.006-7$1,500.0012-13$2,500.0020-21
Varicose vein specialists$750.004-5$1,500.008-9$2,500.0014-15
Internal medicine$750.007-8$1,500.0015-16$2,500.0025-26
Neurologist$750.007-8$1,500.0014-15$2,500.0024-25

Percentage of revenue spent on healthcare marketing

Another way to think about a healthcare marketing budget is to start with the budget and work backwards. A common formula is thinking in terms of a percentage of revenue. 

Tebra asked what percentage of gross revenue practices spend in a November 2023 survey of independent practices.

Marketing Budget as a Percentage of Medical Practice Gross Revenue

Higher-profit services like cosmetic or bariatric surgery cost more to advertise than dental or family medical because competitive terms drive up bidding (for pay-per-click). They often choose to invest in higher-cost advertisements like billboards and magazine ads, too. 

New practices will also need to spend on the higher end until they attract a base of patients, whereas practices with many happy patients may not need to spend much at all. 

Digital vs. traditional marketing channels

Many practices rely on a variety of traditional and digital techniques to attract new patients

Traditional advertising channels — like mailers, billboards, and print ads — tend to take a bit longer to pay off. People typically need multiple exposures before a name sinks in. The traditional rule in advertising is people need to see an ad about 7 times before they take action. 

Digital advertising may feel more intimidating, but it typically pays off faster. People who see an ad for a dermatologist near them at the exact moment they’re searching for “dermatologists near me” don’t have to remember anything — they can just click. These ads are low commitment, too: practices can spend as little as they want. In cost-per-click ads, the advertiser only pays when a user clicks on their ad. 

One of the reasons marketers have moved more to digital ads than print is accountability: with custom links, it’s possible to track exactly how many patients find the practice via ads. 

As with most advertising campaigns, the most effective method is often a combination of print and digital. 

Tracking the success of a marketing spend

Marketing shouldn’t be a financial black hole. A wise budget means getting a general idea of how much profit each marketing investment earns. 

That’s not as easy as it sounds, but directional information can help a lot. 

For example, some practices ask new patients how they discovered the practice (e.g., billboard, Google, social media, another patient, another doctor) as part of the intake form. Tallying those results monthly and comparing them to the average profit from a patient over a year will indicate whether investments are successful or in need of adjustment.

But to maximize resources, it’s important to track the cost and return of each ad by service and profit. For instance, set up unique links in pay-per-click ads to measure the number of resulting clicks, or use a vanity URL like LAdentist.com/spring in a print ad. For practices that offer online scheduling, tracking how many bookings result from a specific ad with a specific link should be possible. Measure the profit of those bookings and divide it by the cost of the specific ad that prompted them to get the real ROI. 

Manually tracking ads can take a lot of time, but a practice growth analytics dashboard can make it very simple to review the value of each tactic at a glance. 

Healthcare website design and set up

A healthcare website is a key asset for new and existing patients. At its most basic, healthcare website design needs to follow a few principles: 

  • Be designed for the user, with clear, relevant information organized in an intuitive manner
  • Include basic info where users expect it, particularly the practice specialty, address, phone number, and hours of operation 
  • Include social proof like patient testimonials and 5-star reviews

Advanced medical website design includes additional functions to make patients' lives more convenient. Online scheduling is key. It reduces the friction that prevents patients from booking an appointment, especially if it’s after hours or lines are busy. 

Remember: around half of users (but many experts believe more) will probably visit the practice site on their smartphone. The site must be mobile-friendly, both to ensure a good user experience and because search engines count mobile optimization as a factor that impacts search rankings. 

The Intake has a definitive guide to different options and must-haves for medical practice websites and budget.

Finally, remember that a practice’s website isn’t its only digital front door. Many patients searching online will find listings in review sites and provider directories. Google listings, in particular, are an important traffic driver. Claiming and enhancing a practice Google Business Profile is critical in providing accurate info that Google wants to give users. 

How to get more patient referrals

Medical practices have 2 excellent sources for referrals: doctors and patients.

Getting referrals from other doctors is about meeting people and promoting the practice. For a specialist practice, think creatively about the type of doctors most likely to serve the target patient demographic. For instance, a bariatric surgeon who owned a weight-loss clinic told us he networked with orthopedic surgeons because there are often weight-loss requirements before surgery. Established family practices are obvious targets but might already have existing relationships compared to newer ones. 

Some doctors send personal emails introducing their practice specialties, approach, and clinical background. Attending networking events is also a great way to build relationships. And don’t be afraid to draw on your own network of friends and alums. 

Finally, referrals depend on being a good partner and clearly communicating with the referring doctor about their patients. 

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Learn what influences patient choices and behaviors in the Patient Perspectives report.
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Boosting patient referrals requires different tactics — but is worth the effort. In Tebra’s 2023 Patient Perspectives survey, 54% of patients chose “word of mouth” as the top contributor in choosing a healthcare provider. 

The first tactic is the easiest: just ask. Post a sign in the waiting room and provide information about the practice (name, specialties, website, and contact) that's easy for patients to share. Or include the ask in an email newsletter. 

It's also important to claim the practice name online. Make sure all business listings (like Google and Yelp) have accurate information. It’s common for competing practices to buy paid ad searches for their competitors’ names, so many healthcare providers bid on their own names to prevent that from happening. 

But asking for referrals won’t be effective without high patient satisfaction. Automated patient surveys can lead to a higher volume of feedback — positive and constructive — via a system that sends a request after every appointment. 

For a more complete guide to this topic, read about 4 ways to get high-quality patient referrals.

Digital marketing for medical practices: A brief checklist

Digital marketing for doctors and medical practices means checking a lot of boxes. But it’s also a cheaper and ultimately more convenient way of attracting patients than most offline techniques. 

But without certain foundational elements, the whole thing will fail. This checklist covers the basics. 

Healthcare practice digital marketing checklist: Must do 

  • Basic practice website: The practice website is likely the information hub for existing and new patients and the destination for its ad links. It must be clear, complete, and accurate.
    • Practice name
    • Specialty
    • Services offered
    • Address
    • Phone number
    • Hours of operation
  • Business listings: Patients check a lot of places for healthcare, from Google to Apple Maps to Yelp, Facebook, and Healthgrades. Claim and maintain all practice and provider listings.
  • Reviews/reputation management: 77% of patients surveyed say they check reviews before starting with a new practice. They want to see a high number of positive reviews — particularly recent ones. 
    • Monitor all the popular local review sites and respond to reviews both negative and positive
    • Survey patients to make sure the practice provides good care to increase ratings
    • Encourage better ratings and more reviews, e.g., by having office staff ask or call, or sending automated surveys with review links 

A healthcare practice digital marketing checklist: Recommended

  • Online scheduling: This makes it easy for new patients to book an appointment while they’re on the practice website, whether they’re busy at work or researching after business hours.
  • Pay-per-click ads for the practice specialty and location: Since most patients Google practices, pay-per-click can target exactly the right audience when they’re ready to decide. 
  • Pay-per-click ads for target services: These can be more expensive but also more worth the cost before of their higher profitability.
  • SEO: Optimize the practice website to attract search engine audiences. 

Healthcare practice digital marketing checklist: Depends on situation and resources

  • Social media: Maintain a helpful and active social media presence that shows off the practice and engages patients on sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn (particularly for networking with other providers), YouTube, and Instagram.
  • Blog: Blogs are an important support for SEO to help the practice site get found by patients, and can help build credibility and connect with new and existing patients
  • Newsletter: Many practices send monthly newsletters to keep their practice fresh in patients’ minds. 
  • Email and patient recall/re-engagement campaigns: Emailing or texting patients can drive new visits. Mass campaigns based on external events like American Heart Month or singular events like a patient’s birthday or anniversary can boost appointments.
How much independent practices spend annually on social media

SEO for medical websites

SEO is a critical tool for attracting patients. It’s an investment that takes a little longer than ads to gain results but pays off for a long time. Medical website SEO results can last years, especially with fresh content on a semi-regular basis. 

Optimizing practice website SEO isn’t just about figuring out some keywords and writing them a bunch (and “black hat” medical SEO, like keyword stuffing, can actually harm the rankings). Search engines like Google rank on several factors that boil down to good user experience: useful, relevant content delivered in a nice, fast package. 

And that goes for mobile as well as desktop. In an SEO survey of 207 healthcare digital marketers, mobile optimization was the top factor for healthcare SEO. 

Review The Intake’s medical SEO fundamentals to get more patients and grow your practice to establish the basics and SEO checklist to cover everything. 

Finally, local SEO for medical professionals is a really important factor for getting the right patients in the door. Consider using paid ads for terms like “dentists in Grand Rapids” to boost traffic on the way to SEO success

To blog, or not to blog?

Think blogging is just for fun? Not anymore — medical blogs for patients can help practices retain current patients, encourage referrals, support SEO that attracts new patients, and build credibility. A practice blog can also educate and motivate patients to make healthier choices. 

So are blogs a no-brainer?

Not really. Researching and writing blog content can take a lot of time. And blogs aren’t the best fit for every topic — videos, short-form social media content, or infographics might convey the message better. 

But with the right resources — or willingness to outsource — medical blogs for doctors can pull in a lot of traffic from potential patients. Frequent blogs optimized for relevant keywords that link back to the practice’s core pages (e.g., “San Francisco therapy services”) also signal to Google that the practice website is an expert in that topic, which boosts its search rankings.

Getting digital patient reviews (including on Google)

It’s increasingly unlikely a practice will thrive without great reviews. In Tebra’s Patient Perspectives survey, 46% of patients surveyed said reviews were a top contributor when selecting a provider and 93% said they’re at least somewhat important — making them more influential than online insurance directories or the practice website. And that’s not going to change: 62% of Gen Z respondents in the survey won’t even consider a provider with few or no reviews. 

And unlike other marketing techniques, asking for patient reviews can easily be done in house. Have staff ask, post signs, and even encourage them personally. 

Refining a practice marketing strategy

Marketing always changes, and marketing strategies should, too. Refinement has 2 big benefits: 

  1. Staying on course
  2. Small optimizations that can reduce the price or increase the effectiveness of the budget

Here are some refinements to consider: 

Pay-per-click ads: If prices or volume are going in the wrong direction, adjust the targeted keywords. Consider quarterly audits to compare profit against costs. 

SEO: Check SEO dashboard rankings monthly or quarterly to monitor progress and support any set keywords (for instance, a blog about that topic that links back to the relevant page). Though self-Googling is a tempting metric, do so only from an incognito window to avoid skewed search results. 

Print ads, mailers, and billboards: After adding a question to intake to track which channels attracted patients to the practice, tally up the results quarterly to determine which delivered the most patients. Divide the results by the cost. Consider moving money away from the investments that aren’t paying off to double down on the ones that are. 

Reviews: Positive, frequent 4- and 5-star reviews across different review sites are important for reputation management. If numbers are lagging or stagnant month over month, it might be time to consider automating review capture or finding more ways to ask patients during or immediately after their appointments. 

Understanding and operationalizing growth analytics

The more sophisticated a marketing strategy, the harder it is to measure and understand. Tracking analytics is time-consuming but critical to forecasting success and investing well. 

Setting up dashboards is an important part of tracking. On the crude end, tracking might consist of a spreadsheet with some input fields and formulas for comparison. For instance, a practice might track unique website visits every month and include a formula that shows how month-over-month and year-over-year numbers, because numbers don’t mean much without a baseline. Or, tracking might involve charts that break down channel success after entering numbers for organic and paid traffic. 

Basic directional data is better than nothing. Yet creating these spreadsheets and keeping them up to date can take hours of manual work. Adding in revenue information adds a layer of complexity, though the result is much more useful. 

Automated marketing dashboards provide a more sophisticated view of every investment and associated revenue, as well as other indicators (like patient reviews across every site), and may be worth it for the time savings alone. 

In any case, the time spent up front on standardizing the process and cadence will build consistency and efficacy in the long run. 

New patients aren’t the only way to drive revenue

Retaining patients, engaging them in timely care, and minimizing provider downtime can be the most effective levers a practice can pull. The Intake’s in-depth article Patient scheduling and retention tactics that keep your calendar full can help a practice maximize income. 

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Lisa Dare

Lisa Dare is a senior writer and brand strategist for Velocity Partners, a B2B marketing agency. She has written about B2B technology for 10 years, including communications work in healthcare digitization, interoperability, and automation.

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Nadene Evans

Nadene is a marketing expert with years of healthcare journalism under her belt, having researched and published medical content for NurseFly, Vivian Health and other healthcare provider publications. An advocate for independent providers, Nadene helps small practices promote their businesses through digital marketing and great content.

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