May 28, 2013
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BLOG: Are you spending too much or too little on marketing? Part 2

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Read more blog posts from John B. Pinto

A detailed how-to guide on ophthalmic marketing could easily fill hundreds of Healio blogs. (Indeed, SLACK/OSN published my first book, which was dedicated to ophthalmic marketing, 27 years ago. Looking at how primitive this book is today is an indication of how fast the field has changed since I wrote it.) To get started, let’s look at some of the numbers that should guide your decisions.

As a first step in assessing your situation, prepare a graph for the past 12 or more months of the number of month-by-month new and total patient visits in the practice. In multi-doctor practices, have a separate graph for each doctor. In practices with multiple offices, sort the data by location and prepare graphs for each office.

If you’re feeling ambitious, generate a second set of graphs (by total practice, by doctor and by location) tracking the monthly number of new patients vs. major surgical and laser cases. It may also help to generate a graph showing the monthly surgical yield (total patient visits per surgical case) for the same time frame and a graph showing the monthly marketing budget (expressed in 1,000s) vs. the number of new patients.

With these graphs and your practice’s financials on hand as a reference, let’s discuss the norms and how this can influence your ad budget.

In a general ophthalmology practice today, it’s normal to spend about 2% to 5% of collections on the total marketing function (excluding internal staff costs such as patient educators or external screeners). An old-line, established practice with no further growth aspirations can get by on 1% or 2%. New practices, elective care surgeons and surgeons in over-served, competitive markets may need to spend as much as 20% of cash flow, at least for the start-up phase of a new campaign.

New patients in a general practice should represent 10% to 20% of total visits. This can and should range much higher in a subspecialty or referral-based practice. Younger satellite offices will obviously have a much higher ratio of new patients. Higher percentages than this baseline for an established practice may indicate poor continuity of care and recall protocols, which should be audited for gaps.