For most of us, this is the standard greeting that reception staff will deliver to patients who enter our wound centers: “Thank you for choosing us to provide your care. How may we help you?”
As baseline as this appears to be, we must always remind ourselves that if we’re not making the first priority, before we even get to the point of welcoming someone to our clinic, the effort to take the time to reflect on how the patient was referred to us in the first place, we may already be hampering our chances of getting them or any future referrals into our facilities.
Effectively Marketing The Hospital-Based Wound Care Center
Utilizing Data For Effective Marketing
It is critical for wound care directors today to understand that the nature of the medical referral business for wound treatment centers and the ultimate success of one’s clinic is based on three inherent resources: 1) internal referrals from the inpatient facility, 2) external referrals from the staff physicians of that wound center, and 3) external referrals from outside physicians or facilities to the wound center. Over the years, the conceptual idea held that these sources of referrals would be endless, yet wound centers today are striving and straining to stay profitable in a changing healthcare environment that is setting up facilities to have smaller and smaller margins.
So how should we, as wound care professionals, market newer areas of source referrals? This article will help explain.
Considering Traditional Marketing Models
In order to answer the question posed above, we must review the traditional models of marketing for facility-based wound centers.
Traditionally, hospital-based outpatient wound centers (HOPDs) would (and should) be getting a majority of referrals from the inpatient side of the facility. HOPD physicians, in conjunction with the inpatient wound care team, should be seeing patients on the inpatient side and those patients who are ambulatory on discharge should naturally be followed up for post-hospital care in the HOPD.
A secondary source of the traditional model is directly from external marketing efforts, whether conducted by physicians, staff, or hospital marketing. To venture into the community to provide education, lecture series, or health fairs is an integral part of the marketing effort by the HOPD to attract, educate, and compile new demographic populations for admission visits. Targeting primary care physicians and on-staff podiatrists, dermatologists, and surgeons is also a necessary traditional step in the marketing process.
A third source of traditional referrals has been the most expensive and may have been yielding the least amount of revenue for any facility. Advertising, whether via print, television, or radio media, has been a staple of marketing efforts for many years. This avenue of sourcing has become antiquated and partially obsolete. It may still work in certain demographic areas of the country where patient populations are geriatric and not Internet savvy, but for the baby-boomer generation it may not be the best monies to invest in marketing.
Marketing Moving Forward
So what are more productive, newer ways to market wound centers in the 21st century? First, wound clinic administration must decide that the wound clinic is going to be operating in the 21st century as a marketable wound center. Market analysis shows that the appropriate use of social media can be a very effective means to get one’s message across. The use of social media through sites such as Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, Hootsuite, and Google can increase traffic on a wound center’s website anywhere from double to 10 times the current rate on a weekly or daily basis, according to CNET, a company that tracks consumer technology trends and offers suggestions and advice on how to implement interactive tools and services.
Here is a list of reasons why social media sites are better than traditional print, radio, or TV:
• They can reach as many people or more people in any country.
• They have sophisticated targeting programs, such as Google’s AdWords, notwithstanding different criteria.
• Spending can cost a minimum of just $1 per day.
• They are the lowest cost per 1,000 impressions for ads in history.
• They average around 25 cents in cost per 1,000 people reached, which is only 1% of the cost of TV.
In other words, Facebook ads are mega-awareness raising, will offer better audience targeting, require very little commitment, and are unbelievably affordable.
Twitter also has been gaining ground in the direct-response marketing industry. As such, Twitter may be a better option for wound center marketing than Facebook in the long-term investment of marketing budgets. Consider:*
• Twitter has 140 million+ active users.
• 55% of users access Twitter on mobile devices, with 40% growth quarter over quarter.
• Twitter users create more than 1 billion tweets every three days.
• 60% of Twitter users tweet; 100% are “listening.”
• 79% of people follow brands to get access to exclusive content.
• During this year’s Super Bowl, one in five commercials contained a hashtag (#).
• Promoted tweets get an average engagement rate of 1-3%.
*Source - Twitter
In the end, both Facebook and Twitter have found that direct-response advertising is where the money is. What’s more, direct-response advertising has long been powered by user data, which both Facebook and Twitter have in abundant amounts. The trick now for both social platforms is how to continue building their direct-response businesses while infusing the same data-driven virtues in their forays into brand building. The other trick is to show hospitals and their associated wound centers how to use this technology and advance their brand better than their neighboring and competitive hospital systems.
Turning Social Media Into Patient Visits
So, if your wound center has been using Facebook and Twitter or other social media campaigns, how do you get that to translate to bringing patients to the facility? Implementation of a novel, new method of interactive web design can help. Having a full interactive website with online resources such as printable new-patient PDF packets, location information, and lists of “need to know” information such as staff member profiles allows patients to view whom they will be receiving their care from. In today’s digital world, patients look for information and will research their healthcare conditions. The goal of the wound center should be not just only to increase revenue but to educate patients before they come in, when they’re there, and after they leave. It would not be appropriate to have clinicians unwilling to adapt to newer technologies that are available to patients. As healthcare providers, we need to understand the environment that our patients live in, and access to the Internet is often a part of that. The wound clinic patient today is also smarter and increasingly more researched because of Internet access. A new, interactive website with examples of current treatment modalities and basic explanations of the wound care process can alleviate anxiety and reduce clinic times for patients.
Another ideal marketing ploy can be to open the wound center for an open house to the community. Have an event, usually starting around 5 p.m. and ending at 7 p.m. Have clinicians available with information on new technology and products available or that will be initiated. Make it somewhat of a tradeshow and defer costs to manufacturers to have informational tables or kiosks at the event. Invite office managers and staff members who will help receive referred patients from local communities to draw traffic to the wound center.
Uncovering Further Referral Resources
Finding those “untapped” resources of referrals may be the hardest task among marketing strategies. For many years, wound centers have tried to survive on their inpatient and common outpatient referral sources. In today’s world of midlevel practitioners, targeting just the primary care physicians (PCPs) is not enough. Marketing strategies that target PCPs and their nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and medical assistants are vital to the survivability in today’s slashed medical market. Hosting informational education dinners, with or without continuing education credits, and “lunch and learn” programs can help boost referral sources as well. Of course, the best way to ensure these referral sources stay in the mix is to have positive patient outcomes and excellent communication with these offices.
Another resource that may or may not be utilized efficiently is the local urgent-care and freestanding “emergency” facilities. These are welcome sources of new patients, as most of these clinics can stabilize the original injury or complaint but often are not able to provide the long-term care needed to continue the healing process. Targeting these short-term clinics is another vital way to ensure new patients.
Ultimately, the need for a wound center to have a comprehensive marketing strategy with a focused business plan is essential for growth and stability. Ensuring that those wound care professionals who are operating in the clinic will obtain wound care certification beyond their primary specialty boards is also crucial. The clinic’s wound director must enforce clinical specialists to regularly attend wound care conferences, case-review meetings, and vendor sessions to learn about new technologies and products in the marketplace and, most of all, ensure that the patient care being delivered is above standard of care.
Eric J. Lullove is a staff physician at West Boca Center for Wound Healing, Boca Raton, FL; serves on the healthcare policy committee of the Association for the Advancement of Wound Care; and is the AAWC liaison to the Alliance for Wound Care Stakeholders. He is also a member of the TWC editorial board and serves as a consultant for Hollister Wound Care, Medline Industries Inc., and ABL Medical.