What's trending with direct-to-patient marketing

At our 2013-2014 national summit, we offer afternoon discussion sessions for independent specialist groups. In these conversations with over 30 group executives, one theme has stood out: As patients become active health care consumers, it’s crucial to connect with them via direct-to-patient marketing.

Several questions were consistently raised during these discussions, including:

  • How are independent medical groups targeting the newly activated patient consumer?
  • What percentage of marketing budgets are groups shifting toward direct-to-patient campaigns?
  • What marketing messages are groups using to reach patients?

Here are the four insights attendees shared with us and with each other.



1. Direct-to-patient marketing is rapidly becoming the new specialist growth strategy

One radiology group executive noted: “Our referral volumes from PCPs have gone down. If we're seeing any growth, it’s from the direct patient shopper."  Market consolidation and PCP employment by hospitals make it difficult for independent specialists to convince PCPs to redirect their referrals.

Furthermore, with the upsurge in the number of patients with high deductible health plans, even if PCPs direct their referrals to independent groups, specialists feel that "PCPs have less power than they used to" and "patients are making their own care decisions, regardless of PCP referrals."  Which is why direct-to-patient marketing initiatives may become more effective than referring physician outreach in some markets.



2. Groups are using marketing tactics with measurable ROI

Some groups are looking to move away from expensive approaches to patient marketing that yield uncertain ROI, such as T.V. and billboard advertisements.

For example, one group recently shifted their entire marketing campaign to grassroots strategies. As the group’s leader puts it, “Anywhere we can be grassroots, we do it.”

This groups hosts regular community prostate cancer talks led by a urologist and a radiation oncologist where they provide free PSA testing. At one of their most recent prostate cancer events, there were 40 attendees, seven of whom became new patients. That’s an 18% conversion rate for a low cost event and less than two hours of the physicians’ time.



3. Patient loyalty tools are trending

Some groups are testing the waters with new consumer-oriented investments in order to compete with local health systems.

For instance, one group recently adopted a new patient survey tool for measuring and managing customer loyalty. The tool generates an online survey distributed to each patient following their visit. According to their responses, the patient is given a score from 1-10 to indicate if they are a "net promoter" or a "net detractor." The higher the score, the more likely the patient is to recommend the group to a colleague or friend.

Using this data, the group plans to:

  • Turn high-scoring patients into quasi group marketers by directing them to social media websites
  • Identify low-scoring patients and proactively follow-up with them over the phone
  • Pinpoint areas where the group can improve patient satisfaction and overall customer loyalty

As noted by the group’s VP of Marketing and Communications: “We think we're the first medical group practice in the U.S. to use this methodology to understand and meet our patients' needs."



4. Many are preparing to market cost rather than quality

Discussion session participants find it "hard to demonstrate their group’s superior quality" and "difficult to define appropriate quality measures."  Moreover, groups leaders have found that "the general public fundamentally believes that anyone with a medical degree is quality," making it hard to differentiate on quality alone.

For these reasons and others, many groups are beginning to focus their marketing campaigns on cost rather than quality. While some fear that marketing an independent group’s lower cost—relative to the hospital—may hurt important hospital relationships, most participants are currently using, or plan to use, marketing messages designed to win price-sensitive patients. As one radiology group executive noted, “Our biggest competitor—a freestanding imaging chain—has a billboard up that says, 'I saved 40% on my MRI.' We have to compete on cost in new ways in order to keep pace."


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