Planning for Slow Times: How to Ramp Up Patient Appointments
As a physician, you have probably noticed that your patient load – and the accompanying revenues – tends to ebb and flow. Doctors’ incomes are not subject to the same cyclical nature as, for example, owners of retail stores, who rely on holiday shopping to make up for the slow times. However, your practice may well experience slowdowns during summer, when people take vacations, and around the holidays, when they visit family and spend all their available money and time shopping for gifts. Slowdowns do vary by specialty and geographic area; cosmetic dermatologists, for example, may see an increase in appointments as patients prepare themselves for holiday parties, and gastroenterologists may also see more patients after holiday over-indulgences.
If you’ve been in practice for a while and have observed times when a reduced number of appointments affects your income, you’re probably interested in how you can ramp up the number of patient appointments. The truth is that you may not be able to achieve the level of appointments you see during peak times, but you can definitely offset the loss of revenue to some degree. And with the decreased number of patients visiting your office, your staff will have the time to implement some of these suggestions.
Note: Try to impress the need for increasing patient appointments upon your staff without being threatening, so they understand your goals but aren’t paralyzed by fear of losing their jobs. Motivate them by offering an office party or time off with pay as a reward for accomplishing numerical objectives.
- Lay the groundwork for ramping up appointments ahead of time by instructing your office staff to ask patients for their email addresses and encourage them to follow your practice’s Facebook page. Put these requests in print wherever possible: on a small sign in patient examining rooms and at checkout, on billing statements, and on brochures and appointment cards. This will give you a target audience to market to when appointments slow down.
- Use your target email audience for your practice newsletter and email specials. Try to maintain at least a once-per-month consistency on both, even during slow times. Repetitiveness and top-of-mind awareness are very important marketing concepts that shouldn’t be neglected even when revenue is positive. If your staff doesn’t have time for these activities, hire a freelancer or agency.
- Your staff or outside hire should post daily on your practice’s Facebook page. Your patients need to know that your social media campaign is active and that you are trying to engage them with interesting content. Be sure to review what is being posted, frequently in the beginning, to ensure that it is in line with your practice philosophy and that articles are coming from reputable sources. Your Facebook page is not a soapbox; make sure that posts are neutral in tone, but patient-friendly.
- Prospecting for new patients is important too. Experiment with a Google Pay-Per-Click campaign and/or print advertisements. Expand your Yellow Pages listing into a half-page advertisement. Be sure to consider your patient demographic when determining where to spend your prospecting budget. If you have older patients, for example, they may not spend much time online, whereas many young people rarely to never use a phone book to find a doctor. Ask a few new patients how they heard of your practice to get an idea of how to reach out to potential new patients.
- Ask a staff member or your outside hire to check all your directory listings, including those with insurance providers, at least once per year to ensure that all information about your medical practice is up-to-date and accurate. If the directory allows you to fill out a profile on your practice, be sure to complete it. This will help your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) so it will be more easily found when potential patients search for doctors in your area.
- Remind existing patients of the need for follow-up appointments and diagnostic tests via postcard, telephone, or email. If you don’t have staff available, an automated system can you accomplish this task.
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