Build a reliable referral stream with direct-to-consumer marketing: 5 key points

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Patients are shopping for their healthcare, but are providers ready to capture the newly minted consumers' business?

With the rise in patient financial responsibility, healthcare is being viewed as any other commodity, with consumers asking how to get the best quality for the best price. During an Oct. 13 webinar, hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, three leaders from Ascription Medical Consultants detailed how healthcare providers can harness healthcare consumerism to establish a direct-to-consumer marketing plan, which builds a pool of reliable referrals.

1. Build a brand. Healthcare consumers are looking for providers to fit their needs, but providers need to build a presence to be found. Branding establishes a simple, relatable image for consumers to recognize and respond to. "A brand is not a logo, it is not a product and it is not a company," said Kelly Loter, a principal of Ascription. "A brand is simply a promise between you and your consumer that implants an emotional response to your company, and most importantly it delivers." The key components of an effective brand include:

•    Believability
•    Consistent delivery
•    Uniqueness
•    Endurance
•    Audience resonance

2. Set a budget. Direct-to-consumer marketing can be effective, but like any strategy it must be held to a budget. There are several factors that impact budget including:

•    Geography: Is the provider in question in a city or a small town? Does the provider want to cater to local patients or patients across the country?
•    Media competition: Are your competitors already using the media to advertise their services? How much are you willing to invest in media to match your competitors?
•    Consumer habits: "Where are the fish?" said CJ Brock, a principal of Ascription Medical Consulting. "What media is your target audience consuming? TV, radio, internet, etc."
•    Procedure types. What types of procedures is a provider advertising? Does it make the most sense to advertise high margin elective procedures?
•    Facility capability: How many new cases can a facility handle?

3. Sell your brand. Once a provider has developed a strong brand, this brand needs to be brought to the consumer. "Direct-to-consumer marketing is making the consumer aware of the brand through different media outlets," said Mr. Brock. "If done right, it will generate quantifiable folks, who will want to consume what you're selling." This means creating a strong website and considering other outlets like social media, television and radio.

When targeting the consumer, remember this group includes more than just the patient. Cast a wider net that also includes patients' spouses, family members and caregivers.

4. Measure ROI. Once a direct-to-consumer marketing plan is launched in earnest, providers can expect to almost immediately field calls from curious consumers. As far as financial results, the timeline can vary. "In a perfect world, results take 60 to 90 days," said Mr. Loter. Results are highly dependent on the specialty a provider is marketing. In the case of bariatrics, insured patients often need to go through psychological evaluations and weight loss programs prior to being cleared for surgery. But, for any specialty, cash pay patients can yield immediate results. It is important to track leads to understand what elements of the direct-to-consumer strategy are reaping the most benefit.

5. Engage physicians and surgeons in the plan. Referrals have traditionally been physician generated, whether by primary care physicians or surgeons themselves. Introducing a direct-to-consumer marketing plan can elicit mixed reactions from physicians. Some may feel bypassed and as though they are not receiving enough leads from the program. "The secret sauce to keeping surgeons happy is transparency — show the surgeons all the leads, where they were assigned and why," said Alan Beauchamp, a principal with Ascription Medical Consulting.

Download the webinar presentation here. View the webinar by clicking here.

Note: View archived webinars by clicking here.

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