Improve the return on your investment by obtaining information on your patients before and after you’ve treated them
In an ideal world, your practice’s patient-relationship strategy runs smoothly. The prospective patient responds to information they’ve received from their friend, or from your television, radio, newspaper, phone-book, or Web-site ads, by phoning or emailing your office. She then visits your office and is treated as a VIP guest. As a result, she leaves with a good feeling about your practice and the procedure that can improve her quality of life.
In fact, she feels great because you have taken the time to properly screen and educate prospective patients, and this instills a high level of comfort in her that is essential for her to agree to the procedure. By the time she leaves the office, her surgery is scheduled and her data are entered into your automated system that flags preoperative and postoperative appointment dates, birthdays, and future mailing dates, and integrates marketing-referral modules with the goal of ensuring an ongoing relationship with her and future referrals from her.
It is important to understand the value of every marketing opportunity. A basic value is associated with an incoming phone call. A strategic value is associated with scheduling a consultation. A tactical value is associated with the initial consultation and follow-up. And a trackable value is associated with scheduling the procedure, providing the procedure, and following up during recovery and in years to come. Yet, the journey through patient tracking from acquisition to retention is a difficult one.
Let’s look at patient tracking and how it’s done.
What Is Patient Tracking?
Tracking helps establish the true value that results from a marketing campaign, and can mean different things to different practices. For the purpose of this article, tracking monitors the progress and measures the success of each marketing effort to evaluate your return on investment (ROI).
The two primary components of tracking are the patient and the marketing opportunity. According to W. Grant Stevens, MD, FACS, of Los Angeles, “Tracking equates to knowing the conversion rate from each marketing form, the types of surgery requests that are acquired from each medium, and the income generated from each associated lead.” The goal of patient tracking is to improve efficiency and obtain reporting data—thereby providing a true ROI value.
Why Track Now?
As the public has increasingly demanded fast, efficient, informative, and high-quality services, plastic-surgery practices have stepped up to the plate with a multitude of service enhancements. Whereas you may be enticed to invest in every marketing opportunity, tracking is only a means to determine the right opportunities for your practice.
Because of this, many entities have taken an interest in patient tracking. In fact, the US government—and the Food and Drug Administration in particular—have introduced postmarket surveillance initiatives that have brought attention to patient tracking. Equipment manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies continue to develop new technologies and products that can generate more income for plastic-surgery practices, but these efforts require supporting, trackable data.
Software companies have participated by creating automated systems that can help reduce costs, qualify and quantify trackable identifiers, and ultimately increase ROI. Perhaps more importantly, the push for stronger tracking tools has come from physicians themselves, who have demanded quantification of the ROI of new products. With the multitude of marketing options available, perhaps patient tracking is more important than the marketing campaign itself.
Today’s patients enjoy personal attention. They seek 24-hour access, convenience, and security. Value-added services that provide personal attention include everything from short waiting-room times and convenient parking to “best practices” and enhanced educational services.
Following “best practices” during the initial consultation can help retain the right long-term (and trackable) patient. Richard D’Amico, MD, FACS, of Englewood, NJ, has developed four patient-screening principles to help support informed consent, and ultimately lead to a satisfied—and trackable—patient.
In the initial consultation, D’Amico recommends:
a four-page patient-history questionnaire;
a review of potential or current medical problems that may alter the procedure recommendation or outcome;
a total-health examination; and
additional or alternative treatment recommendations.
An in-depth consultation can help determine whether the marketing-opportunity investment has presented the right patient. The resulting data, if it is properly entered using the right database software, can create additional opportunities to follow up with the patient.
In many practices, additional interaction with patients can be accomplished by documenting and referring to personal data during all conversations—thus, strengthening the long-term trackable relationship. Appointment reminders, thank-you notes, birthday cards, and newsletters are also beneficial. Patients often enjoy receiving relevant physician-approved information.
According to Jupiter Research (Darien, Conn), 63% of consumers say they would switch health care providers on the basis of credible online content, communication by email, or online scheduling. Many of these consumers want the information directly from the physician. A survey conducted by Cyberdialog (New York City) shows that 77% of the people seeking health care information on the Internet want to get it from a physician.
Follow-up can be used to build patient trust and to obtain postoperative data. Whether a patient inquires about a concern she has or requests a referral to another physician, she always provides an opportunity to obtain trackable information. The strength of the postoperative support can also affect the trackable data. The ability to reach the physician by any form of communication, day or night, is valuable to plastic-surgery patients.
Documenting this information using automated software is crucial to making the appropriate follow-up. Depending on the software’s capability, follow-up can be limited or enhanced. For example, software is available to alert staff as many as four times after a patient “no-show.” Integrated practice-management software can store every aspect of the patient’s chart. Email communication and the practice Web site are also valuable and can simplify follow-up.
Follow-up can pay off in many ways. As Scott Miller, MD, FACS, of La Jolla, Calif, explains, “The great thing about patient follow-up is that it is not just good business, it is also good medicine. By seeing my patients personally at 6months and 1year postoperatively, I can make sure they are satisfied, keep our relationship active, and answer their questions regarding maintenance and ‘what’s next?’ ”
In some plastic-surgery practices, incentives have been developed for follow-up and trackable data. A free consultation for other treatment or procedure options may be offered. Or, additional treatments or procedures may be subsidized.
Anthony Youn, MD, of Rochester Hills, Mich, gives his facial aesthetic surgery patients a free micropeel. His body-contouring patients can receive a free cellulite-reduction treatment. The idea is that if you offer an incentive, you can inquire about other relevant patient information.
The best opportunity to develop a comprehensive treatment plan is during the initial consultation. Additional anti-aging maintenance treatments can create opportunities for long-term aftercare follow-up.
Another opportunity for patient retention and trackable data has been introduced in medical spas. For example, a prospective patient who is initially too intimidated to proceed with surgery may come in for a massage or chemical peel to get a better feel for the practice. Likewise, a patient who has undergone a surgical procedure may return for a skin-care or nutritional consultation. Creating opportunities for follow-up is one of the best ways to gather trackable data.
Identifying the Source
Printed Materials. Miller believes that the use of printed materials to build patient trust has served his practice well with respect to patient retention and the collection of trackable data. He sends patients a quarterly e-newsletter to keep in touch with them and to establish his practice as their trusted, knowledgeable resource on aesthetic plastic surgery.
In fact, many types of mailings or print ads may be produced by a practice over the course of a year. These mailings may be in the form of letters, newsletters, postcards, birthday cards, and much more, as previously described. Print ads may feature the physician, practice, or procedures, or may announce new technology, an upcoming event, or a public-service initiative.
To help gauge the success of printed materials, the information contained in the document should be specific to “something,” such as a procedure, an event, or a survey. This will help determine how many incoming calls result from the printed materials. All documents must have denotable key codes to separate the successful from the unsuccessful. Printed materials that patients receive after initial phone contact and initial consultation can include information about the procedure, the surgeon, and the practice, and a map and directions.
This “kit” may also include other materials that assist with tracking, including a patient-history questionnaire, a comfort checklist, and preoperative and postoperative instruction lists—all of which can require a patient signature, completion by the patient, or interaction that demonstrates that the materials have been read.
Mailings. The two choices available for mailings—email or “snail mail”—must be considered. Postal mail avoids potential HIPAA issues, but email may be more cost-efficient and easier to track. For example, the right e-newsletter that contains information about many procedures can provide quantifiable information about each procedure to help identify which ones are of greatest interest to your patient base. Unlike postal mail, the e-newsletter will reveal how many people opened it. An e-newsletter can also be easily forwarded to friends in the patients’ email address book, extending the possibilities for referrals.
Seminar announcements may be beneficial. However, tracking methods must be in place to establish the number of signups, the number of people who actually attend, and the number of procedures performed as a result of the seminar. In the end, all materials should have an identifier to quantify trackable results. The right practice-management software will help determine whether the patient came in for consultation, surgery, or postoperative care.
The Internet. Practice Web sites have become increasingly popular during the past decade. However, a Web investment today implies more expense than the Web site alone to drive traffic to the site. These costs may include directory listings and search-engine optimization.
Until recently, evaluation of the success of an Internet investment has been difficult at best. Today, statistics software is available free of charge with Web-site purchases. Using software to evaluate your site can provide trackable information, including the number of visitors to the site, which search engines were used, which Web-site pages were read, and the average amount of time that the visitor spent at the site.
However, it is more important to know whether the visitors are the right prospective patients. Unfortunately, this cannot be easily accomplished with Web-site statistics. Perhaps the best investment you can make in the Internet is software that permits prospective patients to interact with your Web site to ask questions and provide theirinformation. Interactivity improves the chances for true conversion.
Patient forms available from the Web site may include a contact form, a patient-financing application, a patient-history intake form, or an online interactive consultation. All of these can help qualify the prospective patient and establish accurate indicators for measuring ROI.
Via interactive online videos, patient information can be logged that can be downloaded to the practice’s desktop and then be transported to the office’s practice-management software. At this point, the capabilities of the software and the patient coordinator determine ultimate conversion.
As Elizabeth Almeyda, MD, FACS, of New York City explains, “Many of our patients come from the Internet. With the interactive video on our Web site, we are now able to track the results of our various Internet strategies. In fact, we often find that patients who engage in our online video are serious and ready to proceed with the procedure.” Whether you decide on a simple contact form or an interactive video, final conversion means that the prospective patient walks into the office, receives a procedure, and returns for postoperative care.
Public Relations. Public-relations opportunities, such as appearances in newspapers, on television, and on the radio, may be worthwhile. Newsworthy, nonpromotional topics may consist of human-interest stories or new technology in your practice. However, the right medium is most important to obtain a strong ROI. For example, an appearance on national television may trigger too many calls for a smaller practice to handle.
Demographics must also be factored into a public-relations campaign. A local news story that airs on a station whose viewers tend to be your ideal patient type may be more profitable than exposure on national television. Even better, the most cost-efficient public-relations campaign may be one in which a staff member monitors the national plastic-surgery press and phones local television or radio stations or newspapers to comment on significant developments or trends.
Trackable data from a public-relations campaign mean that the viewer, listener, or reader has called the office to schedule a consultation. Continued trackable data mean that this information is stored in the practice’s database so that tracking can continue after the consultation, when the patient receives the procedure, and throughout aftercare.
Tracking also means accounting for the administrative hours necessary to exploit the opportunities that came about as a result of the marketing and public-relations campaign. If an opportunity isn’t time-efficient, it may not be cost-efficient. If tracking efforts require much organization and monitoring, then perhaps they are not worth the investment at all. Computerized tracking and quarterly review are essential.
Whatever the expense, the trackable value of your marketing efforts and the patient satisfaction that they produced are essential for you to calculate the return on your investment. PSP
Lesley Ranft is a contributing writer for Plastic Surgery Products.