Advertising, once considered unseemly and even unethical among medical professionals, is now commonplace and necessary for practices looking to bring in new patients. Too many practices, however, take an approach to advertising that is too generic and/or too broad and end up wasting a lot of money. Blanketing local newspapers, radio stations, the yellow pages and using direct mail with “We’re taking new patients” ads are much less effective than those that target a specific audience, make an offer and include a call to action.
Think first about your ideal patients. Who are they, and what do they read, watch, and listen to? Where do they congregate? Who is in their peer group? Answering these questions will help you decide where and how to spend your advertising dollars. For example, if you are a pediatrician you want to get your message out to youngish (aged 20-40, give or take) adults because people in this age range are more likely to have children than, say, 60 year olds. In this case, advertising in your local alternative newspaper might be a better choice (not to mention less expensive) than placing ads in a larger regional paper. If you are a geriatric specialist, you might advertise a free seminar on healthy aging or recent advances in the treatment of arthritis by posting flyers at the local senior center and then holding the event there at 1:00pm on a weekday where you’ll have a captive post-lunchtime audience.
Any media-based (newspaper, magazine, radio, etc.) advertising you invest in should make some sort of offer. Examples:
- A discount (for a specific period of time) on a service that you offer
- A free seminar or mini health fair for potential new patients to attend
- A complimentary consultation for patients considering an elective procedure or treatment
Advertising should also include a call to action. Examples:
- Call today to schedule your flu shot for the week of October 15-19. We’ll be serving coffee, tea and healthy snacks all day every day that week
- Sign up to receive our e-mail newsletter that, this month only, includes a special offer for new patients
- Visit our web site today to download a free report on the pros and cons of using cholesterol medication
A good advertising campaign doesn’t end when you’ve placed and paid for your ads. If you spend money on any type of marketing, it is essential to know what produces results and what doesn’t. Your new patient registration form likely already includes a “how did you hear about us” or “who referred you to our practice” question. Especially during any advertising or marketing push that your practice engages in, make absolutely sure that that question is answered by each new patient. If it’s left blank, a receptionist or medical assistant should ask how the patient heard about your services and what prompted them to make an appointment. You can also instruct reception staff to ask patients how they heard about your practice when making new appointments. Be sure, also, to monitor traffic to your web site so that you’ll know if visits spike around the time that you’re advertising.
One small caveat when it comes to advertising is that you must be careful not to overstate what you can do for patients, make unrealistic promises, or use subjective language such as “pain free” or “perfectly safe,” or make any misleading or deceptive statements. Your advertising can and should be compelling without being sensational.