Photo by Daniel Frank
We've been spending a lot of time talking to medical and dental clinics about some of the common challenges they're facing with regard to acquiring new patients and retaining old ones. While the elephant in the room is clearly the changing face of health insurance, the challenges are systemic and have affected the industry at all levels, from the patient, to the labs and of course the patients.
In this equation there's no chicken or the egg confusion. With more medicare, medicaid and HMO patients walking through the doors, less services are being reimbursed at full rate and smaller practices are getting squeezed. In response, clinics have limited the health insurance providers they accept which cuts their patient load but increases margins. Still others have shopped around and cut deals with cut-rate laboratories to maximize profit. These however are all stop gaps. The only true and sustainable growth model is to acquire and retain more patients with private insurance. Sounds easy? If it were, everyone would do it, however here are few secrets you and your practice can use to secure more private insurance patients.
It goes without saying that the young and relatively healthy support the health insurance marketplace by providing for the services that older, less healthy patients utilize. Their rates are reasonable but pay for services, they rarely take advantage of. Health Insurance companies love Millennials for that reason and you should too.
One of the unique ways you can give your patient roster a boost is by infusing more Millennials. 89% of the Millennials are insured and many of those that do qualify for quality coverage at a low-cost. For many of these patients, the last primary care physician or dentist they saw was pediatric. This provides low-hanging fruit for private practitioners to initiate a new patient relationship.
If openly marketing to or courting new patients feels uncomfortable, consider partnerships with pediatric doctors and dentist to gain referrals as their patients graduate out of their services. One internist we spoke with even elected to bring on a pediatrician as a means of creating a pipeline of new millennial patients from right within the practice. To better cater to this demographic, consider infusing more patient technology to make their patient experience more interactive and scheduling streamlined. After all 38% of Millenials in 2016 reported using mobile apps for health and wellness. One word of caution: Millennials are exercising psychological services at a much higher frequency than most previous generations and as such, their rates, if not currently could increase.
While health insurance poses a threat to small private practices, their size can be an essential tool to combating this challenge. Many of the more successful practices we speak with have a majority of their patients that have been with the practice 10 years or longer. This speaks to the relationships they've built with the practice....the practice. Its the entire practice that makes a relationship, not just the doctor. Everything from how the patient is treated in-person and over the phone, the cleanliness and comfort of the waiting facilities and examination rooms, even the after-care strategy, all plays a roll. Its the culture a practice builds that becomes the lasting relationship not just the doctor.
Consider playing this up in your marketing strategy. While HIPAA laws will prevent you from highlighting past patient info, you can "white-label" or use un-attributed patient testimonials. Is your practice exceptionally modern or unique? Spend the time getting some great photos or video of the facility and showcase it on your website and on social media. Patients with comprehensive coverage are more likely to do more extensive research before switching or establishing a relationship with a new doctor. Make sure they choose your practice.
Speaking of digital, its important to use your website as a tool. Patients love digital, why? Because they can interact with you without the risk of putting their business in the street on a phone call. Consider adding scheduling tools, FAQs, contact information and most importantly a blog.
Whether its the doctor or someone in the facility, its important to be regularly publishing content that is relevant to your patients. Speak on new medications, experimental procedures, new breakthroughs, etc. It will establish your authority and index content on the internet that will help new patience find you by researching the topic. Always include some level of call-to-action which encourages visitors to contact you to learn more. Even if in this case its a simple information form on your website, you can qualify the inquiring patient's insurance status so that you know who you're dealing with before they even make and appointment.
When creating new blogs, its important to consider the audience. While the patient may be the person who you'll examine, there are other decision-makers within the family that may be just as important to communicate with. From doctors we've spoken with, there's often a parent or a child that helps the patient to make appropriate decisions and might have power of attorney. These choices can often be very challenging for a loved one. Consider developing content to help them navigate those conversations.
Many private practitioners chose, not to accept certain insurances, but very few are open about the reasons why. For many doctors, they run the risk of not being reimbursed for services rendered. However there's a risk for the patients as well. They may not get the care they need. Insurance companies will only pay for the treatment they think is necessary and little more. Unfortunately for those patients, insurance providers didn't go to medical or dental school.
While there is a portion of the population for which quality private health insurance isn't a viable option, there is a large portion of the marketplace that has simply made a poor choice. A well crafted content marketing campaign can highlight these differences and how to select the right plan. For the vast majority of the middle class, they wouldn't mind spending a few bucks more a month to assure their family has access to good coverage in the event they need it. After all, what's the point of paying for insurance if you can't find a good doctor who takes it. Traditionally these haven't been talking points in medical and dental marketing campaign messaging but it should, and I believe will be moving forward.
Believe it or not, the fact that insurance providers have cracked down on reimbursements and are quicker to deny coverage could provide a competitive advantage. Out of necessity, patients are now being far more strategic with their health care providers. Insurance companies have access to a great deal more information and automation then they used to. Patients have begun using different providers and paying out of pocket for those services to avoid the risk of being denied future care. Our research indicates this is happening with patients seeking treatment for addiction, women having abortions, etc.
Targeting patients that wish to remain anonymous and pay out-of-pocket has consequently become a lot more lucrative. By highlighting the measures you and your staff take to protect confidentiality and privacy, you can gain a competitive advantage. Even adding extra physical and information security to your facility will assist in your efforts to welcome such patients and make them feel more comfortable.