4 Reasons Physicians Must Market More

stethoscope.pngNot everyone goes to the doctor when they should. You would think that our health would be important enough to us to do so, but many people don’t schedule appointments. And that’s not good for us, or for you.

But why might people avoid visiting you, their neighborhood M.D.? You run a great practice:

It seems there’s no good reason for people to stay away, and yet too many people do.

Let’s look at a few reasons that we don’t visit you as much as you’d like. Next time around, we’ll talk about how you can overcome these common objections with your email campaign.

1. We Feel In Control Of Our Health…

Years ago, people went to the doctor, you diagnosed us, prescribed a treatment and we went on our way. We trusted you because… well, because we had to. Medical information wasn’t easily accessible for the masses, and it sure wasn’t easy to understand.

That’s changed radically in recent decades, particularly with the rise of the Internet. Sites like WebMD enjoy immense success by giving people the ability to read up on our own health and illnesses. Even superficial research gives us the feeling that we’re our own doctors.

Armed with a limited base of medical knowledge, some of us feel we can “tough it out”:

So even if we’re kind of sick, we probably don’t think it’s bad enough to come see you.

2. We Don’t Like To Be Told We’re Not In Control

Of course, we’re not doctors. And deep down, we know this.

But that doesn’t mean we’re about to admit it consciously, to ourselves or to you. We often prefer to stick our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t have any health problems (even when it’s clear to anyone else that we do) rather than admit our own mortality and pay a visit to the doctor.

Why?

We know that if we go see you, you’re going to reprimand us for our poor health habits, and we’d just rather not have that conversation – it hurts to hear we’re not taking care of ourselves. We’re busy people, and sometimes there just isn’t time to make the perfect meal or go for that 3-mile run, right? And who are you to tell us that’s no excuse?

Well, you’re the physician. But remember, we like to think we’re in charge of our own health. We don’t want to need you.

3. We’re Afraid Of You

Ever talk to someone who just doesn’t trust doctors and medicine? I know I have.

Whether it’s:

anecdotal evidence against physicians can turn people off to modern medicine in a heartbeat.

In my own experience this is less true with each younger generation, but I and the rest of the 18-34 crowd aren’t the ones that most need to be making frequent visits to our doctors. Our parents – and grandparents – are, and they’re the ones who are less likely to trust you.

4. Frankly, We Don’t Have The Time

Finally, something that might actually have as much to do with doctors and your offices as it does with us.

Most physicians operate during “normal” business hours – that is, during the same hours that many of us work.

Rightly or wrongly, doctors’ offices have a reputation for frequently running behind schedule. Which means we expect to:

With the doctor eventually showing up (often preceded by a nurse and some more waiting), taking up more of our time and then sending us back to the waiting room or reception area, possibly to be called back later.

There’s no way we can get through all of that on our lunch break. And we don’t want to burn a vacation or personal day on a trip to the doctor’s. So we just don’t bother.

So What Can You Do?

You’re in business, right? So obviously some people are coming in. As they should.

But you want to make sure they come back when they need to. And that the people who aren’t coming in when they should, start to do so.

Check back next time for ideas on how doctors can build relationships with potential patients through email.

Or, sign up for email updates from our blog and we’ll let you know whenever there’s a new article:







Also, if you’re a physician and have any other common objections/complaints that you often hear from people who don’t visit you as much as they should, please share those in the comments (and if you’ve found a good way to address those complaints, please share that, too!).


See also:

Email Content Ideas to Grow Your Practice

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Justin Premick is the former Director of Educational Products at AWeber.

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22 Comments

  1. Hi Justin
    What a great article.
    I’m a doctor and am just beginning to explore the opportunities that aweber gives me in terms of email communication.
    A lot of what you say is very true – although some of us are trying hard to take on new ideas and new ways of working.
    Great work

    6/7/2007 11:14 am
  2. Alex

    This is an excellent article! I am currently using Aweber to help market a doctors practice and it is working out really well.

    Thanks Aweber!

    6/7/2007 1:33 pm
  3. Don’t let the word "Market" scare doctors and medical professionals away from this article. It could interchangeably be called "Educate" and it has an entirely different connotation in the medical field.

    "4 Reasons Physicians Must Educate More"

    This is the principle behind why we have no one at AWeber with any sort of "Sales" title. Justin and Marc are both part of our "Education Marketing" team and the type content they put out first educates and then indirectly sells based upon that level of defined expertise and value provided for free.

    6/7/2007 1:44 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  4. You are absolutely right Tom. Not only doctors, many people who are just starting a business (without prior experience) are afraid of "marketing". As you said, they must find an alternative term for "marketing" that is appropriate to their field.

    6/7/2007 7:48 pm
  5. Hi Tom,

    Right on the money Tom, Man! great article Thanks’

    6/8/2007 3:52 am
  6. Alex

    I am a doctor and I must say that when people need to go to the doctor they will. WE do not need marketing. Health is not for marketing!!!
    Leave us to do our job!

    6/11/2007 1:37 pm
  7. I’m not a doctor but I know from personal family experience that there are a small but significant percentage of people that DON’T go to a doctor when they need to, but for those on-line there is a chance to inform, educate and encourage the person to seek help. (Sounds like marketing to me). In the UK it’s very difficult to get men to even talk about prostrate cancer but they are probably willing to subscribe to a free email newsletter covering the subject if they have an idea that all is not working as it should! Surely we need to ‘market’ healthy living and those physicians/ doctors who use great services like Aweber will increasingly prosper.

    6/12/2007 7:07 am
  8. Pete,

    Great example – many health issues can be embarrassing, and some people prefer to get answers in relative anonymity before going in and seeing their doctor. Again I point to WebMD as evidence of this.

    Email’s a great way for would-be patients to get the information they need. It also allows them to get comfortable with the doctor before (hopefully) scheduling an appointment.

    6/12/2007 8:48 am | Follow me on Twitter
  9. Alex,

    What a terribly ignorant comment to make. Do you know your customers…or I guess the correct term would be "patients" as I do my best not to offend.

    I have had more than one proceedure done through a specialist I have never met before and you BETTER BELIEVE I did my THOROUGH homework before ever setting a FOOT in that office or even making a call!

    How many people WANT to talk about all their most personal physical ailments or concerns with a complete stranger? Be real. I’m human and I’d say VERY FEW…especially if they’ve never met you.

    I personally did hours upon hours (over the course of months) of researching my proceedures through various doctors’ websites and newsletters before ever making a decision to call…guess who got my business when I did gather up the courage after months of self-informed EDUCATION…the same area doctor who MARKETED his services in relation to the education I received over the course of the prior months.

    Your patients are your CUSTOMERS…and yes, they pay. If you don’t market, you aren’t always understanding their needs.

    Good article Justin; keep spilling the beans as well as you have so far.

    6/12/2007 1:43 pm
  10. Cool start to a hopefully rich conversation.

    Those patients most likely to use email, especially doing a signup from a medical blog or practice website, are already likely to be savvy, and comfy with marketing and being marketed to — it’s just part of looking around on the internet. Plus, these folks themselves are probably searching out medical info — and often new docs — via the internet, search engines, etc.

    There are some federal (HIPAA) rules about not putting too much (any) confidential patient info into non-secure email, but there’s still a lot of general info and keeping-in-touch that can be done via that most bullet and foolproof of modern communications media, email. Especially for existing patients, one of the largest hurdles to getting a person’s email is automatically overcome: the trust factor. Most docs can simply ask their patients for their email, and most pts would be thrilled to death to give it, if they’d get more personalized contact, education, or practice updates from their physicians.

    In today’s era of reduced insurer reimbursement, high deductible plans, and cost-shifting to patients, any means of drawing, retaining, and selecting motivated/devoted patients is a nugget of gold.

    6/12/2007 11:52 pm
  11. Alex,

    It’s easy to understand why you feel that way. Being a doctor’s no picnic, and I’m sure the need to accurately diagnose and treat patients makes the job plenty rigorous.

    But you got into medicine to help people (hopefully). What I’m putting forth is that rather than a solely reactive practice, where you wait for people to come to you, that you take steps to proactively educate and market to your potential patient base.

    Even if, as you say, "when people need to go to the doctor they will," they first have to realize that they need to go. And that’s what we’re after here – providing education to help people better determine when they need to go… and if anything, help them err on the side of caution.

    After all, it’s their health.

    6/13/2007 8:22 am | Follow me on Twitter
  12. Peter,

    Great points. I’m looking forward to a great discussion here too.

    I totally agree that for your existing patients, the trust factor is likely less of an issue. You just have to figure out the best time/way to get that information from current patients – one way would be to make it part of the sign-in sheet when they first come in (telling them what you’ll be doing w/their email address, of course)

    For new patients, it’s a bit tougher since you don’t have that trust… are they going to be willing to provide an email address? On the one hand, they’re already providing a lot of medical history/personal information, but at the same time they don’t know that they’re ever going to come back to your office and so they may not be willing to provide an email address where you can easily reach them.

    Hopefully we’ll get some great ideas in the comments on how to address these challenges.

    6/13/2007 8:30 am | Follow me on Twitter
  13. Justin –

    I guess it depends on one’s definition of "new" patients.

    There are new patients who are more potential patients: they’ve never been to the office, have never seen the doctor or any staff, and are doing research on the internet to find a new MD/office. The first goal with this group would be to have the practice web/blog/podcast site *stick* in their minds long enough, to consider the office as a seirous contender for an actual visit — mostly done via the site design. But having the *practice* giving out *its* email could be seen as a distinguishing plus; and the patient’s email would come automatically if they sent the office any queries for more info. THE FIRST REPLY could have a brief paragraph in it, giving the option to click on a link to immediately unsubscribe from receiving future practice updates, which could be a standard ending sentence in any subsequent mailings.

    Similarly, the more standard technique of giving a free ebook or similar digital product in exchange for the email sign-up for practice updates could work for browsing patients.

    Then there are new patients who are signing-in for their 1st visit, and are already on the premises, or will be, or have recently visited. Part of the sing-in process could be a nicely done page, exclusively on the matter of email signing up, extolling its virtues and promising to not misuse it, and to unsubscribe at any time.

    6/13/2007 2:20 pm
  14. Peter,

    There are definitely different types of "new" patients as you say, as well as different initial contact points for them.

    In writing this post (and the subsequent ones that’ll be published over the next week or so), I focused on what I felt would be a typical doctor, i.e. one who didn’t yet have an online presence. After all, for each one who may be web- and marketing-savvy like yourself, there are many more who don’t yet have websites, let alone podcasts.

    As a result, in my head I defined a "new" patient more as a first-time or occasional visitor, or someone who called on the phone or responded to a direct mail piece, rather than a website/blog visitor or podcast listener. But you’re absolutely right, doctors can benefit from using those tools to build their practices.

    Hmm, website-specific marketing ideas for doctors… sounds like I’ll be writing a few more posts… :)

    6/13/2007 2:55 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  15. Justin –

    I hope you write a ton of more posts, with your experience in marketing!

    FWIW, there’s a well-known (in medicine, anyway) crisis in primary care medicine, i.e. those providers of the most regularly used services. Most patients will go to a primary care doctor for the vast majority of their common care (~ 90%), like for colds, sprains, blood pressure/cholesterol, diabetes, annual checkups, and the odd whattheheckisthat?

    The training programs putting out primary care physicians (PCP’s) are putting out HALF as many graduates as they were 10 yrs ago, mainly because primary care physicians don’t make much compared to their specialist colleagues. A specialist can make $1000 for about 15 minutes of procedure time; a PCP spending an hour with a patient/family might make $50.

    At any rate, it’s no joke when I say that PCP marketing to patients will become critical, IS critical, when it comes to drawing in and retaining patients, more and more of whom will be researching their new MD’s via the internet and checking out their web/blog sites. As more patients sign up for high deductible plans, where they’ll have to pay cash for the first $2-5000 of care for that year, to have lower monthly premiums (typically half of a standard HMO plan’s rate), they will be very choosy about their docs.

    Handling the marketing angle well may make the difference between thriving and struggling.

    Please. Post. More.

    6/13/2007 7:47 pm
  16. This is so true my dad just died of cancer and would not go to doctor and my brother has diabetes and been to doctor maybe twice in his whole life. and never for diabetes.

    6/20/2007 12:45 pm
  17. Hi Justin

    I work with a great many physicians to help them keep a flow of desirable patients coming to the office (or customers to their new non-practice business) and the term that seems to resonate best with them is "Educational Marketing". I point out that they are already skilled in that area — after all, they are very accustomed to "persuading" patients to embark on all kinds of treatments. We then build on those skills and select marketing tactics that align with this philosophy (thereby leaving the physician feeling authentic) and this takes much of the sting out of feeling like a used car salesperson.

    Webforms and autoresponders are excellent tools for building those helpful educational relationships in an automated inexpensive way!

    3/23/2009 2:55 pm

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