Today’s pain management clinics must be forward-thinking and digitally-friendly to welcome in new clients. Here’s how to develop a thoughtful and sensitive pain management marketing plan that can create business for your clinic, cultivate new relationships with potential referring physicians, and generate a holistic way to think about pain management.
Why develop a pain management marketing plan?
Business development has become a vital component of a pain management practice. Still, most physicians are not comfortable developing their business. It does not help that marketing pain management practices has been viewed in an unflattering light.
The pain management specialty has been plagued with “pill-mill” practices, many of which are raided and closed by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Every detail of such dramatic events is recorded for posterity. This leaves those who operate with ethical practices suffering from misconceptions. Unethical physicians who lack adequate training and ethics cast an ugly shadow on the rest of the industry.
Doctors who truly serve their patients with the best care understand that these closures and the ensuring media coverage influence the community’s opinion. Patients in pain and the community at large, when faced with a new pain management practice, may be leery of seeking help for their pain. The negative press may steer them away, leaving them to suffer unnecessarily.
A pain management marketing, though, is an opportunity to educate referral sources and patients on the merits of appropriate and effective pain management. With the right campaign, you set the tone for the conversation about your pain management practice in the community.
Creating a marketing plan for your practice need not be intimidating. With a bit of research and strategic communication, marketing a pain management clinic can help you:
- Promote and develop your business
- Build relationships in the community (including potential patients and referring physicians)
- Sustain growth and development over the long term
- Combat negative stereotypes about ethical and comprehensive pain management
Developing a pain marketing plan from the ground up
Pain management marketing plan ideas are different for each practice. It’s important to know where you are before you start making changes to your current strategy. Consider the following questions:
- What do you and your staff do really well?
- What are you proud of?
- How are you different from the pain practice across town?
- What is the most common compliment you hear from patients?
Just as counting your strengths helps in marketing a pain management clinic, it’s important to know what your areas of development are. Take a moment to think about the following questions:
- What bothers you about your work?
- Are there any things you know you could be doing better?
- What is the most common complaint you hear from patients?
This reflection is a valuable tool that will help you focus your marketing efforts. If your practice has been around for a while but has grown stagnant, the answers to these questions can even guide you to exciting new improvements for your practice and, ultimately, your patients.
Including your staff in this first stage is also important. They may see areas of strength or weakness that are invisible to you, offering valuable insights. When you are working together in this growth mode, you will view your practice with fresh eyes and be able to make positive steps forward.
Considering the patient experience
If you thought reflecting on your strengths or weaknesses was challenging, consider asking patients for specific feedback. Ask them to specifically address their thoughts about:
- The front-desk staff
- Cleanliness of the waiting room, clinic rooms, or bathrooms
- Wait times
- Ease of scheduling and appointment modifications
- Availability of office hours
- Partnerships with other providers
- Insurance matters
- Overall treatment plans and pain management
- Follow-up questions
These are important details typical physicians or owners may not see because they are busy doing what they are great at: practicing medicine. The successful pain management practice must see the forest for the trees. Listening to patients—through a simple evaluation completed after a visit in person or through email—is a great way to gather information to fine-tune your work.
While it can be hard to hear your practice’s areas of weakness, you’ll ideally be able to identify areas where your services are superior. These areas are your marketing leverage. For example, perhaps your practice is the only one in the area that offers both interventional pain management modalities and medication management.
If your services are comparable to other pain practices, consider your qualifications:
- Where do you stand out from the rest of the pain management pack?
- Are you the only board-certified specialist in your area?
- Are your customer service and/or timeliness of scheduling new patient referral appointments excellent?
Your reflections on your practice, when combined with your staff’s ideas and feedback from patients, will help you find areas to improve in your practice. Depending on your goals, this can help increase referrals, build your reputation as a pain management practice that listens to its patients, and position you for sustainable growth in your community.
Crafting your pain management message
You’ve done the hard work of reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses. Your patients know you care and want the best for them. Your staff is on board and ready to go.
Now it’s time to craft the message.
Your pain management marketing plan should have a clear message that highlights the strengths of your practice. You base this message on what you do well, not on what others do poorly. Bad-mouthing your competition will make your patients think less of you and will engender ill will. Your message should be consistent and clear, targeting exactly who you want to attract to your business, including new and existing referral sources.
Putting together a marketing plan
Once you have identified your message, the next step is to focus your pain management advertising.
In the past, clinics of all sizes relied on brochures and business cards to get the word out. Although word of mouth is still one of your very best types of marketing (and still free!), there are many more tools at your disposal.
Here are the top four tools for your pain management marketing plan.
1. Social media
Potential patients are all over social media. Two billion folks are signed up on Facebook, and Instagram sees 100 million active monthly users. Utilizing social media to connect with patients where they are makes it easier to get a conversation started (or keep it going).
Even for something as serious as pain management, it’s important to stick to your message and keep things positive. When marketing your clinic, try to follow the “4-to-1” rule, posting four useful or informational items for every one “sales pitch.”
2. Email marketing
Email marketing is a crucial piece in marketing a pain management clinic. As with social media, there are billions of potential patients using email every day. By setting up an email marketing campaign you can:
- Welcome new patients
- Send patient appointment reminders
- Offer education to position yourself as a thought leader
- Ask for patient reviews and referrals
Patient reviews, that ever-important word-of-mouth referral, have gone digital. If you are not asking for patient reviews, you should be. Make it easy for patients to sing your praises, and address patient concerns in public so they feel heard. It’s a win-win.
3. Website development
Developing a website that is fully optimized for mobile and search engines is one of the most necessary pain management marketing plan tactics.
Fully 81% of people look online first for anything, from a dog walker to a car dealership to a new pain management specialist. If you are using a free website that your cousin’s nephew put together back in 2005, it’s time to upgrade. Putting SEO best practices into place helps potential patients find you when they search on Google or other search engines.
Once you have an optimized site with highly quality content that drives traffic to your site (and into your practice), take the time to find a great web host to keep you up and running.
Part of your website development also includes running analytics to see what’s working and what’s not. Reporting on digital marketing efforts includes looking at which emails, social media posts, and keyword searches have the most traction (and capitalizing on them).
4. Referral networks
Pain management specialists often work in conjunction with a number of different care providers. If you make yourself and your practice available to answer questions or concerns about your shared patient, those providers will remember how easy you were to work with. It’s easy enough to stay in touch:
- Provide an accessible phone number to referring physicians
- Encourage communication for shared patients, when available
- Ask patients to tell their doctors about your services
When the pain physician has a good working relationship with the referring physician, it is easy to make a phone call to explain any complicated situations before an unsatisfied and often angry patient has a chance to do so. Chances are, referring physicians will understand and appreciate the follow-up.
Once you develop these relationships, it’s important to keep track of them. In today’s medical marketplace of managed care and declining reimbursements, a referral source may not have the time to contact you and express dissatisfaction or concerns with a particular patient scenario. The referring physician may simply start to refer his or her patients elsewhere without giving you the opportunity to address the issues at hand.
By tracking the number of referrals coming into your practice, you can monitor in real-time whether there is a decrease or increase of referrals. If there is a pattern with a particular physician or practice, this is a great opportunity to reach out to them and offer support.
Aside from developing relationships with referring physicians and patients, it is important to consider other opportunities. Create connections with hospitals, urgent care centers, and even large employers. Often, pain physicians are too busy with outpatient clinics to handle inpatient issues, but that doesn’t mean relationships with hospitals are impossible. Hospitals are valuable partners in providing high-quality pain management services to patients.
Bring in professionals
Marketing a pain management clinic is a delicate balance. Your area of expertise may not be in marketing, and it’s important to know when to bring in the professionals.
Gone are the days where pain management clinics could operate in a vacuum. With changes to insurance plans, regulations, and just the connectedness of the world in general, it’s nearly impossible to go it alone. Reaching out into the community remains one of the best ways to build relationships in the strong and thriving practice you want. Certainly, you can and should develop relationships and rapport with the community and other physicians, but if this is not enough to grow your practice (or even sustain it), it may be time to dig deeper.
Developing a pain management marketing plan can be complicated. Give Boost a call today to discuss all of your options, from email marketing to website design to SEO. We have extensive experience growing our own medical practices and can help.
Note: The original version of this article was published in Pain Medicine by Patrick W. Hogan, DO, Paul Lynch, MD, and Tory McJunkin, MD