One of the major hurdles facing medical professionals across all modalities during these uncertain times is the marked drop in bookings from both new and existing patients. When the pandemic began, Dr. Tony Bartone, head of the Australian Medical Association worried that patients may neglect their medical needs for fear of contracting COVID-19. Unfortunately this worry proved to be true, with practices across the country seeing a drop of 30% or more in bookings on average.
Increasing your bookings and growing your practice is a major priority for practices across Australia. MyHealth1st has worked to help connect patients and practitioners for years and understands the needs of independent Australian and NZ medical practices. As such we have compiled a list of steps you can help to aid you in growing your practice to the levels it was at before the pandemic and beyond!
1. Know Your Market
Identifying your target audience helps inform nearly all your other decisions when it comes to ways to grow your practice. Depending on your speciality or modality, your market may be markedly different, but the need to identify that market remains the same. If you’re a GP catering to the local community, knowing everything you can about that community, including average ages, the ethnic makeup, gender split and even median income can help you refine your marketing and communication.
Likewise, if you’re a specialist, having a detailed breakdown of the people most likely to attend your practice helps you better target your marketing and communication. This information can be collated from your existing patients, surveys and online interactions, but the more refined you can make it the more easily you can convert leads into patients.
Digital Marketing , from Google Ads and email marketing to Social Media marketing and direct marketing is much more effective and delivers better value the more refined the targeting becomes. Knowing your market is an incredibly important tool when it comes to developing your marketing strategy and increasing your bookings.
2. Ease Fears
Two factors appear to be the primary drivers in this drop in bookings, the fear of COVID-19 and the financial uncertainty that has been caused by job losses or reduced hours that resulted from the lockdown.
Communication is key to alleviating the fears of new or existing patients and encouraging them to come to your practice. Clearly communicating the safety measures your clinic takes to ensure safety when it comes to chance of infection, as is embracing new technologies such as telehealth, giving patients the ability to connect with your practice from the safety of their own home.
Enabling payment plans and communicating a “care now, pay later” approach to patients can go a long way to alleviating patient fears of financial burden. Research conducted by financial analysts in 2019 showed that almost half of Australians were living paycheque to paycheque , and could be financially undone by losing their job or a large, unexpected bill.
No concrete data is available on how the pandemic has changed this rather startling figure, but any way you can reduce the financial burden on patients can dramatically increase their likelihood of booking an appointment.
3. Follow up With Patients
Attracting new patients is all well and good, but if you don’t retain existing patients then your practice will never grow. Nurturing relationships with your existing patients, through email communication, newsletters, social media and recalls can help keep patients booking with your practice and entice old patients to start booking again.
EasyRecall allows for simple and effective bulk communication that can be used for reminders to attend or book appointments, communicate changes to work hours or services, or requesting that patients review their experience in your practice. Having a good relationship with existing patients and ensuring they have a satisfying patient experience not only maintains a patient base but can lead to an increase in new bookings thanks to world of mouth referrals.
4. Connect With Your Community
Connecting with your community, whether it’s your local area for a neighbourhood GP or a specific community of people with similar conditions in the case of a specialist, is an excellent way to increase your profile and grow your practice.
Having a website and doing some marketing is all well and good, but one of the most effective ways to increase community engagement is to create content that resonates with your community. A blog detailing information about your practice, health tips or community interactions is an excellent source of content marketing and new, original and well targeted content can markedly increase the SEO of your website, making it easier to find.
An active social media presence is also an excellent way to interact with your community, both by sharing content (which in turn can be shared by community members, further increasing your reach) and interacting directly with your community, answering questions or keeping them updated with any changes in schedule, service or special offers. When a member of your community likes or shares a post on social media, everyone in their circle can see it, generating new potential leads and patients and building your reputation.
Direct community outreach can also be a highly effective way of growing your practice. Giving talks at local schools or educational seminars about different health concerns can help elevate you in the eyes of your local community and make your practice the first they think of when looking to book a medical appointment.
The COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown has driven the Australian public online at a scale never seen before. With most people moving from an office environment to working remotely, a surge in online shopping (at numbers typically only seen around the Christmas period or Black Friday) and the massive uptake of streaming entertainment, Australians have quickly embraced both the power and convenience of the online world.
Although the pandemic will end, the world is unlikely to go back to the way things were before, and the online world will continue to be a huge influence on Australian society. Failure to embrace this change can severely hurt a practice's chance to grow their patient base, but there are many tools and technologies available, including online booking and telehealth that allow you to easily capitalise on the power of the Internet.
Online Booking - Add Convenience and Reduce Front Desk Load
Online bookings give patients an easy way to search for and book medical appointments outside of regular business hours. Around 55% of all online bookings are made after hours and 90% of people indicate that they prefer to book appointments online, so not having this ability available can seriously impact the number of bookings you will receive. Not only that, enabling online bookings can give you access to a patient base you may not have tapped before and can reduce patient no-shows.
MyHealth1st OnlineAppointments gives patients the ability to search and book online and gives you access to a pool of hundreds of thousands of patients that book online through our platform. A booking widget added to your site allows patients who have visited your site to book appointments with a simple click.
Telehealth - The Future of Australian Medicine
Telehealth has been available in Australia for quite some time, but before the pandemic it was only available to those living in remote locations or who had conditions making it difficult or impossible to attend appointments face-to-face. Thanks to a change in government policy, telehealth has been made available to all Australians, regardless of location.
While there will always be some consults that require face-to-face contact, all modalities can utilise telehealth in some way, whether it’s for ePrescription, follow-ups, aftercare, triage or diagnosis.
Phone calls and a number of videoconferencing programs can be used for telehealth, however they may not be entirely secure, potentially jeopardising patient privacy. EasyTelehealth is a browser-based, end to end encrypted telehealth platform that gives you the security you need to carry out consults without fear of interruption of leaked information.
Being browser-based EasyTelehealth doesn’t require any special programs or third party apps to function, but instead can be used on any device with an Internet browser, camera and microphone. The service also integrates with EasyHealthPayments , allowing you to make Medicare and DVA claims after the conclusion of a consult as well as take credit card payments.
6. Encourage Online Reviews and Feedback
Encouraging your patients to post reviews of your practice and their experience after an appointment can help your practice in multiple way, with the two most prominent being generating good word of mouth referrals and positive reviews that potential patients researching your site can read, and the ability to quickly identify and rectify problems with your practice.
The easiest way to gather feedback or encourage patients to post reviews is by using EasyEngage , a tool developed by MyHealth1st to make it easy for practices to communicate with patients.
EasyEngage gives you a fast and convenient way to run surveys to find out what your patients need, the patient experience or what they do and don’t like about your practice. Good reviews can lead to acquiring new patients, and identifying problems early via feedback can help you improve your service and guarantee more positive reviews.
7. Ensure your Website Is Mobile Friendly
According to Prosperity Media , total mobile connections in Australia as of January 2020 were equivalent to 130% of the population. To put it simply, Australia has fully embraced mobile technology to the point that there are more connections than people. Research conducted by BrightEdge in 2017 showed that 57% of all browsing was done on a mobile platform . That number is undoubtedly higher now.
If your website isn’t optimised for mobile phones then you run the risk of missing out on a huge number of bookings. Even if you don’t offer online booking options, many Australians prefer to research businesses online before making a purchase or booking, so if they can’t read your website on a phone you may be missing out.
Many web development platforms or builders have built in mobile optimisation, but constant monitoring of mobile performance can ensure your practice can fix any problems before they start costing you bookings.
8. Invest in SEO
Having your website appear in the first page of a Google search is the surest way to make sure your practice is found. This isn’t an easy task, but ensuring the SEO of your website is tailored to your community can help you climb in the rankings.
When people search for a doctor, they often use search terms like “doctor near me”, so having your website optimised for your location and the surrounding area can help you appear early in a local search.
9. Give the Practice a Human Face“People don’t buy from businesses. People buy from people"
Rather than using stock photography or plain text, humanise your practice by using pictures of practitioners and staff. Not only does using real pictures of the people give the practice a human, relatable face, it can also help to alleviate fears over safety.
Real photos can give your website and marketing a personalised and friendly appeal and can also help your SEO rankings.
10. Be Responsive
Things that have worked for your practice in the past may not work anymore. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world and we’re only just beckoning to see the long term ramifications.
This responsiveness can be as simple as hiring new staff to cater to increased demand, integrating new technologies such as online bookings or telehealth to leverage the power of the Internet, or offering new treatments or medications when they become available.
Being responsive doesn’t mean you have to react to every little thing, but changing the way you function to accommodate new technologies, ideas or requirements ensured that your practice is always moving forward and embracing the future.
MyHealth1st is committed to providing both practices and patients the tools to ensure a convenient and effective healthcare experience by leveraging our experience and technology. We understand the needs of independent practices as we have spent years working with and for thousands of practices like yours across Australia and New Zealand.