The next step in Internet marketing is online patient referrals

You are the expert. You know it. We know it. When it comes to plastic and reconstructive surgery, you can look at any given person and size up their procedure options and their expenses within seconds. You can even estimate the amount of anesthesia that will be needed to get the job done. You’re that good. That’s why you’re paid the big bucks.

So, if you’re the expert, why would you need marketing advice? Marketing is just advertising, right? Place an ad in the phone book, maybe a bus stop, and you’re good. Your phone should start ringing. Right? Wrong. Not in today’s market.

The market is changing at a rapid pace. No longer do most people flip through cumbersome phone books when looking for elective surgery options. The Internet has empowered people to become savvier and better informed. In fact, 65% of adults who have Internet access use it instead of a phone book, and 58% use the Internet to locate a specific business, according to a 2005 study, “How America Searches,” by iCrossing, a search-engine marketing agency that commissioned the study from Harris Interactive.

In addition, 80% of online adults research health-related topics, according to a 2005 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. So, how does this information translate into more patients for you?

In very basic terms, you must go where your market is—and your market is now online.

If you already have a Web site for your practice, great. You’re already ahead of those who don’t. But Internet marketing is more than just having a Web site—it’s the science of being found on the Internet.

Eighty percent of online adults use search engines, and if your practice’s Web site or name appears on page 99 instead of page 1 of a Google, Yahoo!, or MSN search, you won’t be found. It’s all about keeping your Web site current, using specific keywords, and using search-engine optimization, which is an Internet marketer’s specialty.

Unlike some other forms of marketing or advertising, you see exactly where your advertising dollars are going. You can track your return on investment down to the penny; you can also determine your cost per lead. This information allows you to compare your marketing expenses across all marketing channels.

Online Referrals
Much of this has been discussed in PSP previously, but there’s a way to take Internet marketing one step further. Your main goal in advertising is to bring in new patients. What if a qualified prospective patient was delivered to you when you open your e-mail each morning? Some Internet marketing companies offer online patient-referral services that benefit both the patient and you, the physician.

A patient-referral Web site allows the patient to research physicians and procedures, and even view 3D animations of surgery options. You benefit from online referrals because high-quality leads are delivered directly to you. These leads are qualified because prospective patients have actually gone through a qualifying process, in some cases in the form of a detailed questionnaire that captures their current health status and the procedures they are seeking. This information is sent to you, and from this you can determine patients’ eligibility.

As a plastic surgeon, you aren’t expected to be an Internet marketer. However, marketing, when done correctly, is as exact a procedure as plastic surgery. Marketing experts evaluate a client to determine how much work needs to be done, decide what risk is involved, estimate the cost, and carefully begin crafting a personalized marketing package that will bring them incredible, noticeable results. The goal is to give you, the client, more leads that turn into more patients. You also want a competitive edge that sets you apart from your competitor across town.

A Work in Progress
Like improving your marketing efforts, learning how to use the Internet is a constantly evolving process. This was proven at recent plastic surgery trade shows, where the following conversations were overheard:
• “Where is the right-click button?” Yes, someone did ask this. The sales manager helpfully pointed out to the physician that it was on the top of the mouse, right side.
• “What’s Google?” In this case, the marketing representative in a surgeon’s office had just assured a patient-referral firm’s sales manager that the practice’s Internet marketing was under control. When the sales manager pointed out that her firm’s Web site consistently appears at the top of the page of most Google searches, the marketing rep asked, “What’s Google?”
• “Instant message for sale?” During a demonstration of an online patient-referral Web site, one physician saw an instant message from Yahoo! Instant Messenger pop up on a sales manager’s computer screen, and anxiously asked, “How much is that? I’d like to buy it.”

It’s humbling to realize that you can always improve your knowledge, and that you should also accept advice. You must realize that there’s always room for improvement when it comes to expanding your client base. Always.

Glen Lubbert is the president of Mojo Interactive Inc, an Internet-marketing company that offers the patient-referral service He can be reached at [email protected] or via his Web site,