Wondering how to grow your healthcare practice? Just get more patients. But that’s not as easy as it sounds.
“Getting more new patients coming to a clinical practice is a huge, multifaceted topic,” explains Sarah Cook, ND, who is a former clinician and now a health copywriter and Certified StoryBrand Guide. For Dr. Cook, who now helps other practitioners get their message out, it’s all about establishing a clear direction. “The biggest problem I see is when practitioners invest heavily in paid advertising before ever getting clear on their message or crafting a website that will work for patient acquisition.”
Dr. Cook focuses on these three steps in this order when she works with her clients:
- Create a clear message.
- Design a professional website that communicates that message.
- Utilize intentional outreach to gain more patients.
How to grow your clinic
“Most of the time when a practitioner struggles to get new patients, it’s because people either don’t know they exist or don’t understand what they do,” explains Dr. Cook.
To get to the heart of your clinic’s message, ask yourself this question: What problems do your ideal prospective patients have and how can you become the perfect solution for those problems?
Dr. Cook uses functional medicine as an example. “Rather than saying ‘I practice functional medicine,’ you might say that you practice functional medicine because many people don’t want to take prescription medications for the rest of their lives, so you help them recover their health more naturally.” She emphasizes that it’s important to be specific.
It’s critical that your practice website clearly communicates who you are and what you do. Surveys indicate that today 93% of all American adults are internet users. (4) Here are some things to keep in mind when creating a professional website:
- Appealing graphics
- Ease of navigation and good organization
- Quality content
- Simplicity (3)
“Some keys to making a website work as a patient acquisition tool include having a simple way to book appointments and an obvious way to opt-in to receive more information via email,” suggested Dr. Cook. “The email opt-in allows you to set up an automated series of helpful messages that will build trust and grow an audience of people who will become patients over time.”
Once you find your focus and create a professional website, it’s time to practice good medicine.
“We must not forget that it is very important to be a skilled practitioner and work hard to improve your patients’ health,” said Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, who is the Associate Program Director of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. “Investing time and attention to cultivating caring, kind, respectful, and engaging relationships with patients is a top priority and will go a long way when it comes to growing your practice.”
Both doctors agree that one of the best ways to get more patients to come to your clinic is with referrals.
How to get more patient referrals
“When patients feel better, but also feel heard, understood, and cared for, they will enthusiastically refer their loved ones and friends to you with the hope that their loved ones will have a similar experience,” said Dr. Alschuler who is also a professor of clinical medicine with the college of medicine at the University of Arizona.
There are obviously two key sources of patient referrals:
- Existing patients
- Other practitioners
“The best way to encourage current patients to refer their friends and family is to deliver transformational service,” said Dr. Cook. “If your current patients aren’t already sending more patients your way, I recommend taking a serious look at the experience you give to your patients and consider ways to make that experience even better.”
Whether the outreach is to existing patients or other practitioners in your community, it’s important to show appreciation to the person making the referral as you continually cultivate future referrals. (2)
Look for practitioners in your community that can complement the services you provide and then start referring your patients to that practitioner. “One of the best ways to get other practitioners to refer to you is to refer patients to them,” said Dr. Cook. “That shows that you believe in collaboration and creates a sense of reciprocity.”
Don’t forget about patient retention
While creating a solid referral strategy is important, it’s equally important to focus on patient retention. It’s estimated that it costs five times more to get a new patient than to retain an existing patient, with the success rate of selling to an existing patient at 60 to 70% compared to 5 to 20% to a new customer. (5)
Proactive patient retention utilizes targeted emails, incentives, surveys, and other tools to stay connected to your most loyal patients to ensure they keep coming back to your clinic. (1)
The bottom line
“There is so much noise in the health and wellness industry that the challenge for practitioners to keep a steady stream of new patients is real,” said Dr. Cook.
“There has never been a more important time to cultivate these types of patient relationships given the swell of disenfranchised and disillusioned patients, casualties of the increasingly stressed and fracturing healthcare system,” said Dr. Alschuler.
Both doctors agree that getting more patients to your medical practice is not just about quantity. When you focus on delivering exceptional patient care and keeping existing patients happy, you’ll have both quality and quantity, which is the goal when it comes to growing your medical practice.
- Ascarza, E., Neslin, S. A., Netzer, O., Anderson, Z., Fader, P. S., Gupta S., Hardie B., Lemmens A., Libal, B., Neal, D., Provost, F., & Schrift, R. (2017). In pursuit of enhanced customer retention management: review, key issues, and future directions. Cust Need and Solut. Nov 09.
- Elrod, J. K., & Fortenberry, J. L., Jr (2020). Sales promotion in health and medicine: using incentives to stimulate patient interest and attention. BMC health services research, 20(Suppl 1),
- Garett, R., Chiu, J., Zhang, L., & Young, S. D. (2016). A Literature Review: Website Design and User Engagement. Online journal of communication and media technologies, 6(3), 1–14.
- Pew Research Center. (2021). Internet/broadband fact sheet. 7 April. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/
- Tidey, W. (2018). Acquisition vs. retention: the importance of customer lifetime value. Huify. https://www.huify.com/blog/acquisition-vs-retention-customer-lifetime-value