Keys for a successful practice include implementing, establishing brand recognition
Practicing ophthalmology during this era of comprehensive health care reform and constantly evolving technology requires a level of diligence never before required of physicians. With the substantial energy and work expended in keeping up with the latest equipment, techniques and regulations, it is easy to overlook a key component of managing a successful business: branding and marketing a practice.
On the heels of the 2007 “boom” period for LASIK, when roughly 1.4 million procedures were performed annually in the U.S., we were confronted with the economic recession spanning from 2008 to 2012, when the number of LASIK procedures dropped by half. As expected, many of us experienced a decline in our refractive and elective ophthalmologic procedures. Although current economic indicators are ticking up, the number of LASIK procedures seems to have plateaued at about 650,000 annually.
Multiple factors may contribute to the lackluster numbers, making business strategy and marketing imperative to maintaining and improving viability and visibility in a competitive market. We asked ourselves what we could do better in our practice — and then acted, with successful results. In a market that is flat to declining, year-to-date we are up 8%.
Make a plan
Building your brand does not need to be a costly or labor-intensive task. First, assess where to focus, determine what you can improve, and then make a plan. Media consumption has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, and we recognized that our marketing strategy needed to shift from traditional print and radio spots to social media. We initially began by hiring an outside firm specializing in ophthalmology marketing, with the goal of establishing brand recognition. Although we have not run a radio spot for more than 7 years, patients tell us that they “heard our ad.” What actually happened is that the patient heard an ad for LASIK by a competitor but associated LASIK with our name. Although it takes time, that is the mark of successful brand recognition. Marketing can be done in house; however, you will want to be sure that you hire someone with a proven track record who understands the services you offer.
An online and social media presence is no longer optional to establish a brand. Our website is a source of patient education and includes information and resources about the services we offer. In addition, we post to Facebook at least every other day. Posts may include contests requiring users to interact or articles about ophthalmologic procedures selected to pique interest and inform patients. When patients “like” our page and comment on our posts, their friends see the activity and our name. We also have a presence on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn and a blog, and we are looking into how to best utilize other platforms, such as Instagram. Social media is ever changing, and what is popular today may not exist in a year; therefore, flexibility in thought and strategy is required to stay current and adapt to the trends.
We also employ targeted marketing strategies executed through our electronic health record platform. We have the ability to sort by diagnosis or other demographics and then send an offer to a specific patient group. For example, I can send an invitation to a LASIK seminar directly to our myopic patients; this is more effective than running an ad in the newspaper and hoping for a good turnout. Practices often fail to take advantage of all that EHR software can do because it takes time to learn and understand it. However, there is a wealth of knowledge there.
Separate from the pack
Determine what makes your practice stand out from the rest and make it known. It is important to understand your target market. Several years ago, we made a calculated move to house our practice in a medical day spa facility. The concept was forward thinking and unproven, yet over time has shown to be an excellent marketing point. We are situated in a demographic area of young, socioeconomically stable and high-level median income households — our ideal LASIK demographic. Additionally, we benefit from a nice retirement facility located on our campus facility; these older patients have the advantage of receiving complementary premium refractive services together with cataract removal and IOL insertion.
An aesthetically pleasing and friendly waiting room makes a powerful impression. While patients are waiting for their eyes to dilate or to see a physician, we provide informational brochures for them to read. Whether or not they are in the market for LASIK, they almost certainly know others who are. Patients who have a good experience at the office are happy to recommend us to friends and family.
Coordinating efforts and keeping our group of ophthalmologists and optometrists informed and energized contribute to a patient’s positive experience. We want our patients to know that they will receive excellent care from the most highly qualified physicians. In our practice, we have two corneal-trained surgeons who perform all corneal surgeries. We emphasize to our patients that they can trust our experienced experts and inform them of the consistently excellent outcomes our surgeons achieve, thus contributing to an overall feeling of security.
Use technology wisely
Let patients know that you have state-of-the-art technology and educate them on the benefits these machines offer: greater accuracy, customization, speed and safety. We use bladeless LASIK, which is a technology that many patients do not understand. We inform our patients that our iLASIK (Abbott Medical Optics) uses IntraLase technology to smoothly separate the eye tissue and create a corneal flap that locks back into its natural position for rapid healing. We have also taken advantage of educational and marketing materials produced by our laser company to educate patients on what we have to offer.
Implementing an effective marketing program and establishing brand recognition require hard work, energy and time. In the beginning it can be difficult to see the benefits of this effort, but keep focused on the goal to reap the long-term benefits.
- Market Scope. 2015 comprehensive report on the global refractive surgery market.
- For more information:
- Price M. Kloess, MD, founder and medical director of Alabama Vision and Hearing Center, can be reached at Alabama Vision and Hearing Center, Mountain Brook, 3928 Montclair Road, Suite 100, Birmingham, AL 35213; email: email@example.com.
Disclosure: Kloess reports no relevant financial disclosures.