Targeted Marketing Therapy

The prescription to help oncologists understand and use marketing, social media and more.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Use Marketing to Cultivate Patient Relationships

If you follow oncology news, you’re already well aware of the recent JNCI study on cost of cancer care projections for 2020.  Depending on assumptions about the rate of cost increases, it forecasts an increase of anywhere from 27% to 39% in the total cost of cancer care, and potentially even higher.


This research is certainly critical and impactful for dozens of reasons – healthcare reform, development of new treatments, the need for adequate staff to administer care, and many, many more facets that are instrumental to the delivery and management of care.


As a marketer, something else that’s very notable to me is what the study means in terms of the number of patients there will be in 2020. 


The universe of patients – i.e., potential customers for your practice – is going to increase dramatically right along with costs, thanks to a growing number of aging patients as well as a higher proportion on long-term survivors. The JNCI study specifically mentions higher survival rates for breast and prostate cancers. 


Another study just out from the CDC shows a 20% increase in cancer survivors over just six years alone (2007 was the latest year analyzed).


Given the expected shortage in the number of oncologists in 2020, perhaps it’s not a top priority for you to market yourself or your practice to see an influx of patients.  The natural force of supply and demand is in your favor here, so you may not need to actively search for new patients.


Yet it’s going to become very important – even more so than it is now – to successfully use effective marketing not just to acquire patients, but also to manage the influx of patients into a successful practice. 


Marketing can create dialogue, share information, provide answers, promote adherence, and deliver guidance that facilitates communication and helps your staff manage a growing number of customers.


For example, here are a few simple things you can do from a marketing perspective to manage a growing patient volume:


·    Set up social media outposts on Twitter, Facebook and other locations – Share information like links to studies, information on treatments, and basic FAQs.  Encourage patients to turn to these outposts to look for basic information and non-emergency answers first, instead of calling or contacting staff.  Ask them to submit any general questions through these outposts, and provide general answers in 1-3 days.  Here’s an example of what one oncologist does.

·    Start a patient enewsletter – E-newsletters are great for sharing information and driving traffic to your website and social outposts.  This could help alleviate the number of calls and contacts for basic questions and information.  It also provides social and email capital that patients can share via email and social media with their family and friends.

·    Improve your in-office experience – In the event business, we always talk about the “customer experience” and how to improve it so that people are more likely to feel positive and come back. When it comes to seeing an oncologist, that’s certainly a big event for a patient – and I’m sure you consider what’s it’s like for them to visit you, what your own “customer experience is like.”  Yet there are some small things you can consider to improve your experience in today’s tech-connected, social-savvy world – and save time for your staff.  Do you have free wi-fi in your waiting area?  Enough wall outlets or a charging station so families and friends can charge phones while waiting?  Provide handouts to answer FAQs for different audiences (younger patients, older patients, family members, etc.)?


There are many other ways that marketing can help you identify and acquire the right customers for your practice in the upcoming surge of patients, as well as cultivate and maintain those relationships and help customers interact with your practice function more efficiently.  Basic steps are easy to implement, yet involve an outside expert to get some fresh ideas, as well as ensure your efforts are both efficient to implement and compliant with important marketing standards.