What are the top issues in a medical practice that are NOT do-it-yourself?

A key area where many go it alone – and do it themselves – is practice marketing and social media. Marketing (which to many means ‘a website’) regularly falls on the practice manager’s shoulders, and oftentimes the practice manager gets it wrong.

Why is marketing so important? It’s important because – as we hurtle toward the implementation of ACA – patients will have more (not less) choice in the decision-making process of finding their preferred physicians. This means they will want and need more relevant information to make those decisions. A practice website, its social media presence and patient reviews will make or break the decision for many new patients, and many practices are still not online and do not actively manage their reviews. Some 90% of all medical practitioners use social media (personally and professionally), and the AMA reported that 71% of state medical associations have already had disciplinary proceedings against physicians for violating their codes of conduct. It’s a potential powder keg (see my blog post here: http://cranecreek.com/wordpress/ama-advises-doctors-to-be-responsible-in-their-communications-and-regularly-track-their-online-presence/).

Although most physicians rely on referrals for bringing on new patients, the AMA reported that only 15% of new patients came from direct specialist referrals (see appended infographic). That means 85% of patients are finding their doctor another way. What has become commonplace for patients is to use search engines (Google) and review websites to find a practitioner. More than 55% of new patients found their doctor this way; but only 20% of doctors have websites (also according to the AMA) – and more than 65% of them were rated sub-standard for consumers.

A vast majority of medical websites are botch jobs that were done by website designers who know little about what medical practices need to achieve from websites and marketing (mainly because most medical practices don’t know what they need to achieve). This is both unprofessional and alarming, and shows a lack of understanding of the market, patients and the internet savvy medical consumer. In many cases, it is insulting to patients who want to have a greater say in their medical care.

2. Why is the “do-it-yourself” philosophy becoming so popular?
DIY has always been a popular option for professional practices – doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. – especially when it comes to areas of the practice where the practitioner has a ‘bit of knowledge’. Many say that ‘a little knowledge can be dangerous’, and in many DIY instances, it’s true! DIY is best left for gardening and car repairs (if you are an enthusiast), although I wouldn’t recommend changing brake drums and pads unless you are very confident in your ability.

Although many professionals bring in large incomes, the last thing they want to do is spend that income on what may be considered extraneous and superfluous expenses. This includes outreach to patients, marketing, business development (“what is that?” they might ask), and many other practice related areas including websites, social media and networking.

Over the last few years – as we hurtle toward the implementation of ACA – we have witnessed medical websites and marketing become Practice Manager domain at a lot of practices. Marketing, websites and branding are areas where there has been a tradition of DIY. Unfortunately, whether for cost cutting, creative or simply control reasons, it is a domain where oftentimes the practice manager has been the DIYer and they should not “do it themselves”.

A key problem with physician and practice websites is that they have been treated like “wind-up toys”: set up and then left alone to run without any thought of how to integrate with the brand and the practice. Going forward, marketing, web and social media for medical practices need to be a balance of patient and practice. Without a significant level of understanding, knowledge and experience in marketing, many of these practice managers are getting it wrong. It’s like us at Crane Creek, even with our knowledge of medical marketing, trying to run a medical practice. It simply does not work and is not an appropriate DIY experience!

Why do practice managers think they can do all the marketing and website promotions for their practices as well as run the practice itself? Your guess is as good as ours, and the DIYers will be left behind in the coming months as choice of practice becomes more commonplace under the ACA.

By helping create patient-facing communications strategies, we position our medical clients as experts in their field and within their own hyper-local markets. This means communicating proactively with existing patients – not only to maintain good practice-patient relationships, but also for generating word-of-mouth referrals. We produce strategic and tactical marketing programs to develop stronger relationships with local and regional communities, physicians, hospitals and practices, generating specialist referrals, while also managing our client’s personal and professional reputations (online) – which matters when it comes to choosing a physician.

Here are 5 quick ways how to improve patient portals:

1) Describe some of the key benefits of having a patient portal for both the practice and the patients? Key benefits include being able to book an appointment online, inquire about tests and lab results, ask for follow-up appointments or ask questions the patient ‘forgot to ask’ at the doctor’s office.

2) What should a patient portal contain and how should a practice utilize a patient portal? It should always contain a look and feel like the practice itself – it’s an opportunity to create a ‘virtual bedside manner – and they should always have an email inquiry/messaging function to book appointments and links to all social media pages.

3) What can medical practitioners do to design a more user-friendly patient portal? Insure that patient needs are always at the front of user interface design and function; never use too much jargon and be careful never to post links to other medical posts/journal articles without ‘translating’ them for your specific patient audience.

4) Where do most patient portals fall short? What do most lack? Most lack an appointment setting capability, a direct email to the physician and any type of ‘good feeling’ about the practice. They fall short of being the informative and helpful sites that patients – particularly those from the practice itself – want to use to understand their condition better.

5) How can practices make better use of patient portals? What improvements would you suggest? There are many ways a portal can be made ‘better’ – for both patient and practice:

Going forward, there needs to be a better balance of “patient versus practice” on medical practice portals. Some things we are beginning to see now, but will be a necessity by the end of 2013/early 2014:

EHR integration including online records access, appointment scheduling and prescription refills
health education via website and integrated social channels
customer support beyond a phone number in the billing department
projection of the “personality” of practice (read: integrates with marketing and branding)

de-jargonization – but not dumbing down the medicine
an extension of the “bedside manner” via community involvement and development
(One could hope for price transparency … )

Social media will be important too — not a panacea but becoming an integral part of all practice marketing and virtual bedside manner

VP of business & client development Jeff Ziegler was quoted in Medical Office Today’s premium content section in an article about Do-it-yourself – and when not to “DIY” – and medical practice marketing.

Here’s a snippet of the content:

Why not D-I-Y?

Jeff Ziegler, VP of business/client development for Crane Creek Communications in San Francisco, which specializes in medical marketing, adds that D-I-Y is best left for gardening and car repairs (if you are an enthusiast), “although I wouldn’t recommend changing brake drums and pads unless you are very confident in your ability. D-I-Y has always been a popular option for professional practices—doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.—especially when it comes to areas of the practice where the practitioner has a ‘bit of knowledge’. Many say that ‘a little knowledge can be dangerous,’ and in many D-I-Y instances, it’s true!”

Some practitioners who own and manage their practice have an entrepreneurial spirit that encourages D-I-Y. “They run their business with the same commitment and dedication they give to treating patients,” says Laurie Kendall-Ellis, a physical therapist in Alexandria, Va. “They want to do it all.”

5 things in your practice that are not D-I-Y

Experts say you should always get professional input and often execution for the following:

1.       Marketing, advertising and public relations—Marketing issues are far removed from the competencies of most medical and medical-related practices, but because many doctors believe they are experts at everything, they try to take this on as well … “Most do it poorly, if they do it at all. Some of the worst marketing and tactical implementation I have seen in any industry as a whole is in the medical profession.” Instead, speak with several experts in this field to determine which one will best promote your business to the public.

(Read MOT’s article, “Scoping Out the Competition—What are You Up Against?”)

2.       Social media and website design—This arena is still fairly new to most people, especially professionals. Utilizing social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and other online tools effectively can be a full-time job, and, along with website design, falls under the category of marketing, advertising and public relations as something most providers shouldn’t try to tackle themselves. “What are you going to do today: operate on a patient or update your Facebook page?” … Ziegler says a practice’s website, social-media presence and patient views can make or break the decision of which provider to choose for many new patients, so it’s important to get it right. The right professional can help you do that. “A vast majority of medical websites are botch jobs that were done by website designers who know little about what medical practices need to achieve from websites and marketing—mainly because medical practices don’t know what they need to achieve. This is both unprofessional and alarming and shows a lack of understanding of the market, patients and the Internet-savvy medical consumer. In many cases, it is insulting to patients who want to have a greater say in their medical care.”

(Read MOT’s article, “5 Reasons to Use Social Media in Your Practice”)

If you want to learn more – read the article here it’s premium content, so you need a subscription). Well worth it, we think!

Or, copy and paste this link into your browser: http://www.medicalofficetoday.com/article/5-things-your-practice-aren%E2%80%99t-d-i-y?page=0,1

Synopsis: It’s official. Back in Nov 2010, the AMA recognized that “Social networking websites and blogs can be an effective and efficient way to communicate”. So, the AMA has created social media guidelines for physicians.

On one hand, the AMA advises doctors to be responsible in their communications and regularly track their online presence. It also advised physicians and medical students to proceed with caution. On the other, hand “71% of state medical boards have investigated doctors for violating professionalism online.” These are the facts!

Physicians who write blogs, use Facebook, Twitter and/or other social media tools must take extra care to manage their online reputation. Any and all online presence – whether as part of practice relationship marketing or on personal accounts – must adhere to certain protocols. Doctors, unlike most public persons, must accept full responsibility for their communications and use appropriate language when communicating online. Additionally, security settings must be kept at the highest levels on all online platforms (particularly access to personal information and to abide by patient privacy laws). Doctors and practices must also take extra precaution to ensure they are not hacked – or have their professional persona hijacked.

Social Media Guidelines for Physicians – Online Communications:

“Using social media can help physicians create a professional presence online, express their personal views and foster relationships, but it can also create new challenges for the patient-physician relationship,” said AMA Board of Trustees Member Mary Anne McCaffree, MD (at a November 2010 AMA meeting).

Google studies found that more than 90% of U.S. physicians use the Internet to gather health and medical information. Most doctors also use the Internet for personal communications beyond the workplace, and physician reviews are becoming more commonplace – so it’s imperative for a doctor to proactively manage their online reputation.

By 2014, an estimated 15% of social media reviews are expected to be fake, according to the technology research firm Gartner Inc. Eighty-five percent of consumers conduct online research before making a purchase, according to a Harris Interactive study. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 61% of Internet users look online for health information.

Competitors may posts fake physician reviews. It happens to other professionals, so doctors will not be immune.

This is why it’s so important to maintain appropriate doctor-patient boundaries and keep professional and personal content separated online. Physicians should be mindful that – even with privacy filters – most online communications will still be searchable, long-lasting and available to millions of people.

Though the Internet might create feelings of anonymity and impenetrability, doctors should not post anything online that they would not be prepared to express in writing (a letter or medical note in a chart, for example) as it could have serious negative professional repercussions. Although the AMA advises self-regulation (and reminds physicians to be cognizant of their obligations to patients and not do anything to jeopardize patient privacy or confidentiality) the temptation to ‘spill the beans’ can still sometimes be overwhelming and result in serious misconduct charges and malpractice suits.

On all social networking websites, physicians should use privacy settings that block their information from public view. They also need to recognize that those settings may not completely or permanently prevent outside access, the policy says.

Careful communication

Physicians are cautioned against having nonclinical communications with patients because doctors may see something about a patient online that could have implications for their medical care. In the report that led to the creation of this policy, CEJA members gave an example where a photo was posted online of a patient smoking – after the patient had told the physician s/he was a nonsmoker. Seeing that photo – and knowing the patient may not have been truthful – could affect how the physician interacts with the patient in subsequent visits.

Although it is part of a physician’s professional obligation to monitor the internet for their own content (as well as content posted about them or colleagues) some doctors have expressed concern about physicians approaching colleagues they believe have posted unprofessional content online.

While it shouldn’t be another doctor’s obligation to police online activities for colleagues, physicians have the public’s trust and must take that responsibility seriously. It is no different from existing standards that physicians report colleagues for unprofessional behavior they witness.

Physicians should recognize that their actions online and the content they post may negatively affect their reputation – both among patients and colleagues – and may have consequences for their medical careers.