After years of struggling through a survival mindset (fewer healthcare professionals, more patients, pandemic restrictions), private healthcare practices can finally focus on growth.
But what does growth even mean?
For many private practices, growth equals patient acquisition. More patients, more appointments, more money.
But acquisition isn’t the only way to succeed. You can focus on retention rates by diving into patient loyalty strategies. Besides increasing topline revenue, you can also work to increase margins by streamlining and automating administrative workflows.
There are many levers you can pull to grow your practice in 2023. In this article, we’ll focus on these 3 strategies:
- Getting new patients
- Keeping the ones you have
- Streamlining office workflows
Here’s how these strategies can help your practice to thrive.
What to expect in 2023
In 2022, patient visits rose to 1 billion from 900 million in 2021. The overall percentage of patient visits declined in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has since grown roughly 10%, with the projection to continue to increase in 2023, according to the 2022 Physician Office Market Report. In fact, 55% of physician offices reported exceeding patient visit volumes in 2022 compared to 2021.
How to get new patients into your practice
Is this what you came here for? You’re not the only one. New patients are likely the top thing practices mean when they talk about growth — getting bigger, serving more patients, bringing on more staff, etc.
There are 4 key areas to focus on to help you acquire new patients:
1. Improve your practice website
A stellar practice website is a nonnegotiable for growing practices. According to Tebra’s 2023 Patient Perspective Survey, 3 in 4 people search online for information about doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers. And 81% of those surveyed say a practice’s website is at least somewhat important when choosing a provider.
“3 in 4 people search online for information about doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers. And 81% of those surveyed say a practice’s website is at least somewhat important when choosing a provider. ”
So whether you focus on it or not, current and prospective patients are checking out your website and making decisions based on what they find there. Here are some quick wins for improving your website:
- Start with simple, straightforward messaging: A little effort goes a long way to give your website some personality. Make sure it’s clear to prospective patients what you do, how to reach you, and why you’re their best choice.
- Add photos: Of surveyed patients, 42% say a photo makes a difference when selecting a healthcare provider. Get friendly headshots of your providers, hire a professional to take pictures of your practice, and include snaps of your team. Photos help prospective patients to understand the feel of your practice and staff before they make a decision.
- Include patient reviews: Reviews are a big part of how patients select new healthcare providers, and 3 in 4 say they are at least very important to the decision-making process. And just having reviews isn’t enough. How many you have, the number of stars, and how recent they are all factor into the decision. Showcase them on your website prominently, and include links to popular review platforms.
Improving the content and aesthetics of your practice website helps to attract new patients once you get them there, but there’s a lot you can do to your site to improve its discoverability.
2. Make your website findable
A great practice website doesn’t help you get new patients if no one can find it. Focusing on search engine optimization (SEO) allows sites like Google and Bing to figure out what you do, who you serve, and where you practice. Then they can serve up your information to the right prospects with the right search terms.
SEO is a long game that can help you get more traffic and showcase your practice website to larger audiences. But there are a few small things you can do to get started:
- Update your website’s title tag and meta description: Your title tag and meta description are akin to your practice signage and front door. It’s the first thing people see on the search engine results page, and it should be written to drive clicks to your website.
- Claim your practice listings: Claim your Google Business Profile and ensure all the information is correct. That’ll help Google display your website for local searches and ensure your prospective patients have all the right information. But don’t stop there. Make sure your information is correct and consistent across the web, including in provider directories, on review sites, on your own social media, and more. There are tons of online practice listings, and improving your SEO rankings means ensuring that information is accurate and consistent across all of them.
On-page SEO (optimizing the content on your site) also plays a big role in SEO, but requires dedicated resources to keep it going. Ensure you have a separate page for each of your services, and consider maintaining a blog for news updates, healthcare tips, and more.
3. Manage your online reputation
Reviews are make-or-break in the healthcare practice world. They’re the fastest and easiest way for prospective patients to learn about your practice and make a decision.
Just to give you a peek into the ubiquity of their importance, online reviews were patients’ top resource in the last 3 patient perspective reports and remained a top resource in 2022. This year, 93% of patients say reviews are at least somewhat important — an all-time high.
Here are some steps you can take to monitor your online reputation:
Ask for patient reviews: It’s important to keep up a consistent flow of online reviews — even if you have plenty of positive ones already. According to Tebra’s 2023 Patient Perspective Survey, how recently reviews were posted is the most important factor in online reviews. It even beat out the average star rating, so don’t underestimate the value of new reviews.
“How recently reviews were posted is the most important factor in online reviews. It even beat out the average star rating, so don’t underestimate the value of new reviews. ”
The best way to get new reviews is to automate review requests as part of your post-visit process. Patients are most likely to provide feedback immediately after a visit.
- Monitor the web: Even if you’re collecting reviews yourself, there are a plethora of places online for your patients to post them. While you may not be paying attention, your prospective patients could be using those reviews to decide whether your practice is right for them — or not.
According to Tebra’s 2023 Patient Perspective Survey, these are the top 5 places patients are likely to go to for reviews:
- Google/search engine: 58%
- The practice’s website: 34%
- WebMD: 31%
- Facebook: 16%
- Yelp: 14%
Make sure you’re paying attention to these sites (and the many others) that could be influencing new patients’ decisions.
- Respond to positive and negative feedback: We’re taught from a young age to “turn the other cheek” when people say mean things, and the internet tells us not to feed the trolls. Despite those platitudes, you should absolutely respond to both positive and negative reviews about your practice.
Many negative reviews can be resolved if you respond accordingly. According to Tebra’s survey, 64% of patients say they would go back to a practice if someone addressed the negative review.
And if you really are dealing with a troll, attempt to resolve it with them first. If that doesn’t work, take steps to have their reviews removed from the review site.
4. Don’t forget about digital advertising and social media
Instead of mailers and flyers (it’s 2023), the best way to target patients in your area is through digital advertising. Paid advertising is an extremely effective marketing tool for local businesses like your practice.
Start by focusing on one of these methods and slowly expand into other areas:
- Paid search: Also known as search engine marketing (SEM), paid search helps place your practice’s website high in the results on engines like Google and Bing. This is an easy method to start with since you can track clicks and make quick adjustments to your strategy. However, it can be expensive in competitive markets.
On a base level, you select keywords prospective patients might use. For example, “gentle dentistry + location,” and when patients search for those terms, your practice will show up above other search results. Price is typically determined by bids against other companies, which is why competitive markets can see higher costs.
- Social media advertising: There are endless ways to promote your practice on social media. According to Tebra’s 2023 Patient Perspective Survey, 73% of those surveyed use Facebook and 48% use Instagram. Both platforms are great places to start.
Facebook helps you target prospective patients using location, demographics, and even platform behavior.
Healthcare practices of any kind should continually work to bring in new patients. While you may be recovering from the winter hustle (or the winter slowdown, depending on your specialty), you should still work to attract new patients. You never know when your appointment volumes may fluctuate or when you’ll be hit with high turnover.
How to engage and retain patients
Acquiring new patients doesn’t grow your practice if you lose the ones you have (or they’re not consistent). Then, you’re just spinning your wheels — spending more money to replace the people you’ve lost.
1. Encourage patients to schedule appointments
Getting patients in the door is one challenge — getting them to schedule and keep appointments is a different animal entirely.
- Make it easy to schedule appointments: Patients are used to the consumer world, where most things are digital and easily accessible online. That includes appointment scheduling: 39% of patients want easier ways to book appointments, and 30% want opportunities to do more online. Streamlining appointment scheduling will take away a big roadblock for patients (talking to someone on the phone), especially with younger generations.
- Send text reminders: Patients prefer text messaging over most forms of communication for reminders. In Tebra’s latest survey, 47% of patients prefer text message reminders to book appointments, and 51% prefer them for appointment reminders. Texting patients will keep the notification from getting lost in emails and ensure they schedule their next appointment.
- Automate reminders: Use a patient growth platform to automate notifications that patients are due for their next visit. You can make it even easier for patients by providing simple ways for them to schedule their appointment, either directly in a text message or via a link to your website.
2. Build patient relationships with engagement
The relationships between healthcare professionals and patients are critical to practice success, but there are a lot of factors that contribute to a good experience. The time spent in the office is important, but it takes time and consistent interactions to build a solid relationship.
Here are some ways you can engage with patients outside of the office:
- Engage with social media: We often think of social media as a way to attract new patients, but it’s especially effective at engaging your current ones. Of patients, 45% would follow their doctors on social media if the practice posted regularly. Share content like health tips, health news, positive reviews, and more to act as a helpful resource for current patients.
- Build targeted email campaigns: Stay top of mind by sending out email campaigns personalized for your patients. Segment your patients by age, health concern, location, etc., to deliver targeted advice, event notices, and more.
- Provide care during the entire patient lifecycle: Patient care doesn’t start and stop in the office. Many treatments require aftercare, and patient outcomes are dependent on it. Sending them home with a printout and a pat on the back isn’t always enough. Instead, follow up using secure communication methods or schedule virtual check-ins to ensure that patients follow their care instructions and don’t have any other concerns.
3. Survey patients for feedback right from the source
A great way to engage patients and improve your practice is to survey your patients directly. In Tebra’s 2023 Patient Perspective Survey, 3 out of 5 patients said what they want most from their providers is available appointments when they need them.
“3 out of 5 patients said what they want most from their providers is available appointments when they need them. ”
If that’s the case for your patients, survey them to see what availability would be most helpful. Would extended weekday hours work best, or time on weekends? Is virtual an option? These types of questions are best to ask your patients directly, so you give them exactly what they need.
Here are some types of questions you can ask to help you improve patient satisfaction:
- Care questions: Quality care tops the list of what patients want most from their healthcare professionals, so it’s important to ensure everyone one of your doctors, nurses, and technicians provides the best. Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about each visit. You’ll also get the best answers when you ask patients for feedback immediately following the appointment.
- Questions about your office personnel: Your administration team is the frontline of your practice, and you need to ensure every patient feels respected and taken care of from the moment when they send a message, call your front desk, or step into your office.
- Process and operations questions: Even when your team is great, if patients have to jump through hoops to book appointments or connect with your staff, that can also cause problems. See how you can improve operations with input from your patients.
Part of growing your practice means encouraging the patients you have to schedule their recommended appointments — and then keeping them. Building patient relationships is a long game, but it’s one that’s sure to pay off.
Streamline your administrative operations
The third key aspect of practice growth is reducing administrative expenses. High expenses can put a damper on your revenue. No matter how many hours you bill, your practice can’t grow if you spend too much keeping it running.
Automate tasks to use staff more effectively
Administrative tasks run the gamut from extremely repetitive (like forms and scheduling) to much more involved (like dealing with insurance companies). When you automate those more repetitive tasks, it saves your administrative team time and can help lower your costs.
Start by automating these administrative tasks:
- Appointment scheduling: It bears repeating: online appointment scheduling is a big draw for your patients. They can do it at any time of the day and don’t have to pick up the phone. However, it’s also beneficial for your office staff. Your team can easily get bogged down when handling appointment scheduling, rescheduling, and cancellations. Moving that online can free up a big chunk of their time.
- Patient intake forms: Paper forms leave a lot to be desired. You have to wait until patients get to the office before they can fill out the information — and then your staff has to enter that information into the computer. It takes up time, leaves room for human error (is that a “G” or a “6”?), and eats away at your profits. Instead, send forms securely online and ask patients to fill them out ahead of time. Your staff won’t have to spend their valuable time entering information into your system, and you’ll have fewer errors.
- Online payments: Mailing a check or sharing payment information over the phone is slow, inefficient, and creates extra work for both your patients and your staff. Add QR codes that link to your payment portal to print statements, and text or email secure links to your online payment portal along with your electronic statements and payment reminders. Enabling secure online payments will get you paid faster and in a way that patients are used to as consumers — and that will save your staff time on manual processing.
Adopt a healthcare marketing platform
The above methods will help you to grow your healthcare practice, and we’ve only scratched the surface. While there are endless ways to bring in new patients and increase current patient satisfaction, they admittedly can take up a lot of administrative time. You wind up spending your time improving your practice instead of working directly with patients.
A healthcare marketing platform goes a long way in streamlining your practice growth. A platform automates many aspects of your practice and can even provide external resources for more complex marketing tactics. It will get you results without adding to your administrative headcount.
Topline growth may be exciting and flashy, but success is based on how you run your practice. Streamlining front office administration and automating your marketing efforts will help improve your margins so your team can spend their time on more important tasks — like working with your patients.