No independent practice marketing plan is complete without considering medical practice email marketing.
Medical practice email marketing is exactly what it sounds like: a plan to email current or prospective patients with the goal of acquisition or retention. And it works.
In a recent Salescycle study, 59% of respondents said that marketing emails influenced their purchases. Most Americans today have at least one email address, which they can access from a computer, smartphone, or tablet. And while calling or texting are common, emails allow for longer communications that are personalized, affordable, and easy to automate.
Medical practices can leverage email to support patients and prospects. Don’t think just of promotions. Email is also a valuable tool for welcome letters, appointment reminders, follow-ups, and patient education.
Before we get into the benefits of email marketing, let’s discuss marketing compliance for medical practices. Knowing these rules ahead of time makes email campaigns much easier.
Regulations around marketing and patient information
As a healthcare professional, you may be acquainted with HIPAA and how it regulates the use of patient information. And HIPAA also has directives related to marketing. (Depending on your state, you may be subject to additional guidelines.)
According to HIPAA, marketing is not:
- Refills reminders or communication about a prescribed medication or repeat prescriptions
- Case management, referrals, care coordination efforts
- Describing health-related products or services
- Mentioning alternative care and similar activities that are not considered treatment plans
- Payment communications
- Charging patients or potential patients for receiving communications
All of these types of communications should be secure and protect the patient's privacy, especially if patients access their information or communications via an online portal. But they aren't considered marketing.
HIPAA also describes what marketing is: any communication about a product or service that, as its sole purpose, encourages recipients to use that service.
In addition, marketing efforts that communicate with individual patients require 2 components. First, the patient has to agree to receive communications. Second, they must be able to opt out at any time. Emails, text messages, and phone calls all fall under this category. Other forms of digital marketing, such as publishing blog posts on your website or posting on social media, don’t require these measures despite their intent. Since you are not sending a patient the blog post or social media post specifically, and they can decide whether or not they want to read or engage with that content, you do not need to get authorization.
This privacy law does not require written authorization for face-to-face interactions. A practice may even be able to offer promotional gifts of up to $75 total per patient per year, as set by the Office of the Inspector General. Though like with any rule or regulation, double-check the most recent iteration of the law before you proceed.
Normally, staff can request patient authorization to send medical practice emails during appointments. Ask new patients for their documented consent to receive marketing communications during intake. You may also provide the same consent form to current patients when updating their information. If patients decline, do not send them marketing materials.
What applies to medical practice email marketing, specifically?
Yes, you must consider HIPAA compliance in your email strategy. Here are a few best practices when it comes to HIPAA and email marketing:
- Get patient consent to use their email, usually obtained with an intake form
- Give patients on your mailing list the option to opt out at the end of every communication
- Use compliant email marketing software, such as Tebra or Paubox
- Obtain a business associate agreement (BAA) from your chosen email marketing provider
- Never send sensitive patient information via email; link to your patient portal instead
It's also a best practice to include a link to your practice's privacy statement in communications, so patients can review how you use their data.
State-specific privacy laws
Over the past decade, some states have passed privacy laws to further protect consumers and their data. One of the most well-known is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Under the CCPA, consumers have the right to:
- Know what information businesses collect from them
- Ask businesses to delete their personal data
- Opt out of sales or sharing their data
- Correct wrong information that a business has about them
- Limit how much information a business collects about them
This law applies to for-profit businesses that:
- Have a gross annual revenue of over $25 million;
- Buy, sell, or share the personal information of 100,000 or more California residents, households, or devices; or
- Derive 50% or more of their annual revenue from selling California residents’ personal information.
While CCPA requirements may not apply to your practice, it never hurts to follow voluntary compliance — especially as more and more states begin to enforce privacy laws. Outside of California, states like Utah, Connecticut, Colorado, and Virginia currently have similar privacy laws.
6 ways email marketing can benefit your practice
1. Foster leads
It’s easy to think that medical practice email relates solely to patient correspondence. Medical practices aren’t like other businesses. They don’t sell consumer goods on which to offer discounts, there are no “free” gifts, and patients book appointments when they need care rather than when they feel spendy.
But there are still many ways a medical practice can foster leads through email marketing. Many practices publish a newsletter for which patients can sign up via a web form. Practice newsletters can contain anything from links to educational material to case studies and practice updates. You may even choose to include new products related to your specialization and hold annual giveaways — as long as you follow legal regulations on doing so.
You can combine your newsletter with other types of marketing, such as content marketing or social media marketing, to catch the attention of more potential patients. In each newsletter, as well as on your website, link to your social media profiles. Some patients may prefer to follow you on Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok as opposed to via email.
Visitors to your site from paid ads or organic traffic may sign up for your newsletter, particularly if they are not ready to book an appointment but still want more information or to keep you in mind.
2. Better patient experience
Email marketing can also improve the patient experience and so boost patient retention. This is because email is an easy and efficient communication method for all parties, and there are many kinds of emails you can send.
For example, you can email patients reminders before their appointments. You can email them after to ask for feedback or to link to your online portal where they can review notes from the session. You can also send them additional information related to a topic that came up during their appointment, either by summarizing it over email or sending them a link.
In other words, you can use medical practice email to build trust and a better patient experience.
Practices that cater to older patients may choose to text messages with links rather than depend solely on email. This gives older or less tech-savvy patients another way to interact with the practice. And over the years, the age gap for technology adoption has narrowed. In 2020, AARP found that smartphone adoption is 81% for users aged 60 to 69, with a decline in adoption by users in their 70s. That said, even back in 2018, 86% of Americans over age 50 preferred text messages to email.
But, like with email marketing, you'll need patient authorization to communicate via text message or phone.
Email marketing is often affordable, especially for new practices with few patients. Many platforms, such as MailChimp or Brevo, offer free tiers if you have fewer than 2,000 email addresses in your list. Depending on the platform and the tier, you may have a wide range of options to streamline your email marketing efforts, such as automated sequences or templates.
Plus, unlike organic search traffic, marketing to users already on your list gives you statistics immediately. This makes it possible to adjust strategies more quickly than with long-term initiatives like SEO.
That said, building a list can take time. Integrate your mailing list into other marketing initiatives, such as webinar signups or ebook downloads, and be patient.
It's important to note here that you will likely have separate audiences when sending emails:
- Patients who have given their authorization for email marketing
- Subscribers who are not patients that find your website and content and sign up to receive email marketing
There are a few ways to deal with this that do not raise your costs. The most common solution is to use tags. You can tag one audience as “patients” and the other as “website sign-ups” to determine what kind of content to send each group. In addition, you could even segment your patient list further with multiple tags so that you can send more specific emails based on a patient's needs or demographics.
4. Easily automated
A benefit of email marketing is that you can easily automate workflows. The process is similar across platforms. Essentially, you create an automated workflow for a specific purpose. This workflow can be for welcome emails, follow-ups, ebook downloads, or another repetitive process. Then, you write emails within that workflow, usually between 1 and 5. Finally, you attach a designated email list to that workflow.
The result? Everyone who signs up from your website gets the welcome email sequence. Patients with an upcoming appointment get a reminder sequence. If someone downloads an ebook or signs up for a webinar, they get a unique sequence, too.
Your email marketing system would save copies of this email, who it was sent to, and who opened it.
You can also personalize emails. This is done through customizable tags which represent things like first or full names, portal links, appointment dates, and other short-form information.
Personalization takes many forms. You can personalize the name or appointment dates in the email. Or you can use certain tags to send emails specifically to patients, new patients, or website visitors. A HubSpot survey reported that 72% of marketers found personalization to be one of the most effective strategies for email campaigns.
This aspect allows your medical practice to create unique and effective workflows for every type of newsletter recipient. It also allows you to build trust with patients and potential patients alike.
Another key benefit of email marketing is that it can be easily integrated with other software or forms of marketing. You can add email marketing to your content strategy. Email platforms like Mailchimp also plug into other apps like Yelp!, ZenDesk, or Facebook.
Medical practices can then leverage this integration ability to further optimize marketing. You can run ads for your newsletter on Facebook, or you can connect email marketing with text messages or chatbot support. It’s also possible to find integrations that prompt patients for referrals or reviews via email.
What kind of emails can I send?
You can send emails on just about any topic. Some examples include:
- Newsletters: These are usually unique monthly or weekly emails that include blog updates, practice announcements, and educational material.
- Welcome emails: This category of emails is easily automated, and the purpose is to introduce yourself and your practice to your patient.
- Lead nurturing: Sometimes, a prospect may sign up for your mailing list via an ad or your website. Nudge them into being a patient with an automated sequence designed to build trust and show them the benefits of making an appointment. Without being salesy.
- Milestones: Some patients may appreciate a birthday, anniversary, or holiday email. You can also use this type of email to remind patients to make an appointment if they need annual or bi-annual check-ups.
- Surveys and referrals: After their appointments, remind patients to send you feedback or write public reviews to boost your online reputation.
How do I know if my medical practice emails are working?
Most email software provides analytics to help you gauge the success of a specific email. The most common metrics are:
How can I spend less time on emails but get the benefits?
As with any marketing endeavor, set aside time and resources for your email marketing. For small or new medical practices, the low cost of starting and the ease of automation can significantly reduce how much time you spend maintaining your email campaigns.
However, you’ll still need to review metrics, optimize your automated sequences, and perhaps write one-off emails that include recent blog posts or announcements. Outsourcing or hiring an in-house marketing professional can reduce your workload without sacrificing quality.
For smaller practices, outsourcing these tasks to marketing experts tends to be more affordable and easier to manage. As you grow, consider when it might be time to delegate this responsibility so you can focus more on patient care.
Connect your marketing initiatives
Email marketing rarely works alone. It’s often used in conjunction with a content strategy or advertising campaigns as part of your business plan. Regardless, medical practice email continues to be an essential building block for any practice marketing strategy, and it’s never too late to start a campaign.