ASNC: Marketing your practice for success
PHILADELPHIA—Many practices are trying to figure out ways to save money, but they should not discard marketing their brand in these tough economic times, according to Patty Reames, RT, practice manager at Ohio State University Heart Centers in Bellefontaine and Marysville, Ohio.

Reames, who spoke at the annual American Society of Nuclear Cardiology (ASNC) meeting, said it's important to continue to pursue marketing opportunities in good as well as bad times.

"I see practices closing, cutting back on staff and hours. That means there are new clients to whom you can market your services," she said. "Practices need to keep the patients they currently have, while attracting new ones."

The basics
While you want to stand out from the crowd, you have to keep your message simple and easy to understand. Choose a logo and include it on all materials related to the practice and it will help brand a practice's image into the minds of current and future patients, she said.

Reames said to look at every opportunity to promote yourself: new accreditation, physician awards or new technology. "It's essential to remain in the public eye. Simple, positive messages can help instill your value in the minds of people."

She related a story about a local hospital in Ohio that endured the backlash from a crisis for nine months. While her practice was not involved in the crisis, it felt the reverberations through its affiliation. "We had to market ourselves as being separate from the hospital," she said. "When practices engage in a constant marketing effort, emphasizing the brand is easier when a crisis hits."

It's important to look for ways to distinguish yourself from your competitors. "Do you offer later evening hours? Weekend hours? Is your location ideal? Parking ample? To many patients, these are huge benefits," she said.

A low-tech marketing approach entails participation in health fairs for screenings including for the carotids, aneurysms and peripheral disease. "If you are continually out there in the community, people will remember you. You might bring in some immediate patients, but you will also create an impression in others who will seek your services later," Reames said.

A team effort

Marketing planning doesn't just take place in the marketing department, Reames said. You need physician support. Physicians can offer suggestions; if they know about a strategic marketing plan, they can be better ambassadors for the brand.

Employees, too, must be involved and onboard. "Word of mouth can be your enemy or your best friend," Reames said. "Start your marketing plan with a staff meeting, get input from those on the front lines and ask them to be part of the brand."

Securing physician referrals is key to any practice, as they deliver 75 percent of your business, Reames said. "When a new physician comes to your city, invite him or her to have a one-on-one meeting. Talk about your quality, your advantages over the competition. Have open houses for referring physicians and their staff. Physician marketing is paramount to hardwire referral pathways."

Referring physicians want to know their patients are receiving the best care. Share with them outcomes data and let them know about your sophisticated technology.

But it can be low-tech problems that might trip you up. "We had a practice that canceled because it was difficult to schedule appointments. After that, we installed a phone just for scheduling and it is answered on one ring," Reames said.

And finally, use your website to your advantage. Post seals on the homepage that designate awards, accreditation, credentialing, outcomes and other milestones. Use Twitter and Facebook to communicate, and deploy patient portals for easier scheduling, billing, prescription refills and nonemergent questions.

In conclusion, Reames said the most effective marketing methods in order are: physician to physician, education events, newsletters, print ads and social media. Find a marketing plan that fits your needs, keep it simple and maintain it in challenging economic times.