1. Know Your Audience
One of the most important aspects of marketing yourself is understanding who you are trying to reach with your message. If you have specific information on your target demographic–age, gender, income, race, home ownership, education, employment status and type–then use that to develop a “typical patient profile.” If you do not know who your target demographic is, your staff can compile this information by reviewing the patient charts of your last 100 to 200 bariatric procedures.
Chances are, the individuals in your target demographic will have particular likes and dislikes, behavioral patterns and values in common that you can refer to when making decisions about how to present your practice. For example, the images and language you would use to sell your message to 20- to 30-year-old professionals will be very different than those you would use to reach 30- to 40-year-old stay-at-home moms. Each demographic has its own characteristics, and getting to really know your target demographic is one of the most important things you can do to promote yourself effectively.
2. Create a Patient-Friendly Website
Once you know who your patients are, put yourself in their shoes. When looking online for a surgeon, what will entice them to contact you? Your credentials, experience with
bariatric procedures and specialties are all important and should be easily accessible in your promotional materials, but these facts should not be the only thing the patients see. Just as you must get to know your demographic, you must help them get to know you as more than just a skilled surgeon. Energy spent creating additional patient resources is well spent, as long as the content is informative, yet not too technical. Your website is for patients, not other clinicians. Use the same language you would use to describe procedures if the patient were sitting with you in your office.
Once your website is developed, ask yourself these questions as if you were the patient:
- Am I motivated to take the leap into bariatric surgery?
- Does this doctor seem knowledgeable and experienced?
- Does this doctor make me feel comfortable?
- Is this doctor someone I can be honest with?
- Do I have a good understanding of surgical alternatives?
- Does the doctor have a supportive staff that can help me with my insurance and other issues?
- Are there testimonials from other patients who have good experiences with this doctor?
Once you feel you have solid website content developed, survey your target demographic. Contact a few previous patients and ask them to check out your website and let you know of any comments they may have. These are the perfect people to offer honest suggestions that can help you create a sensitive, patient-focused website. Use their opinions to make the proper adjustments to convey a safe, optimistic and accurate message to your patients.
3. Maximize your Ability to Empathize
Most bariatric patients have been plagued by unresolved weight issues for most of their lives. They may be very unhappy with the trials they have faced as a result of these issues, and many have felt disconnected from people and may have difficulty trusting others. Your challenge, as their doctor, is to gain their trust. You can do this by empathizing with their situation. Let them know that you understand how hard it must be to overweight and commend them for making the choice to change. Building empathy into your patient conversations is one of the most productive ways to build patient rapport. Think of every interaction with a patient as a personal testimonial for you and an opportunity to gain a personal advocate. Many highly-qualified surgeons who find themselves with relatively few cases tend to be focused on themselves rather than on their patients. These are the physicians who treat their patients like they should feel privileged to be getting surgery from such a great doctor. While they may indeed be fantastic clinicians, this type of mentality does not lend itself to good first impressions.
The most successful bariatric professionals are those who take the time to get to know their patients and remain involved in their lives throughout their weight loss journeys. Most bariatric patients on ObesityHelp.com are either very happy or very unhappy with their surgeons–there is seldom a middle ground. Ninety percent of the time, patient satisfaction comes down to how they were treated as a pre-operative patient. Take the time to evaluate how you are dealing with each patient and adjust accordingly. Remember, the successful bariatric practices get the majority of their leads through the glowing testimonials of previous patients.
4. Develop Friendly, Supportive Office Staff
Your office staff members are your front line for patient care. They have the ability to set the tone and adjust the office atmosphere. It’s a good policy to make sure your staff treats your patients as well as you do, even when it comes to difficult tasks like insurance issues and enforcing proper aftercare.
Let your office staff be responsible for encouraging happy patients to write testimonials about their experience on your website or on ObesityHelp.com. We know that positive testimonials are a great way to increase referrals. We have also seen patients on ObesityHelp.com say that they have been turned off from a particular bariatric program because they felt that the staff members lacked compassion or were unfriendly. Happy patients tell their friends and family about the life-changing experience they had with you and your office, so encourage your staff to help make every visit an excellent visit.
5. Fish Where the Fish Are Biting
Potential bariatric patients lead particular lifestyles, and you should adjust your marketing plans accordingly. Think about or learn what your patients do in their spare time and their preferred methods of gleaning information, and then choose the most effective places to reach them.
With the advent of the Internet and online shopping, many morbidly obese people have found it more convenient and comfortable to do most of their shopping and socializing from their own homes. Knowing that, explore ways to talk to potential patients through online platforms. Formal advertising is an important component of your marketing plan, but there are also other opportunities that you may not be utilizing. For example, on ObesityHelp.com, you will notice that there are many people asking surgery-related questions on the message boards. Take some time and answer a few questions. You will be surprised how answering a few questions can really get your name out there! Many members who are “shopping” for a surgeon will make their first contact with a surgeon on the message boards. It’s free, it can be done at your convenience, and it is a good opportunity to make a great first impression.
6. Blaze New Trails
Do you have a random or wacky idea for your practice, website or marketing literature? Is it something you’ve noticed is missing from your current offerings, and hasn’t been done before? Just because your colleagues have not done something doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea. Unconventional ideas can be some of the best ideas because they are unique and can set your practice apart from others.
Find ways to participate in community events that will help your name and face to become familiar to people in your area. Organize short seminars in your office and serve specialty food products that you may recommend be incorporated in their post-operative diet. Invite a special speaker–a past patient, a local chef, a nutritionist or a yoga teacher–to present at support group meetings. Host social events that foster relationships between your staff and your patients. Remember, happy patients are your best marketing vehicle!
7. Reach Out Through Video
Patients are consumers. Consumers, on the whole, tend to be buying more goods and service online, and it is relatively simple now to provide online information in a wide array of formats. One easy way to introduce yourself to potential patients is through video on your website. Video is more personal than text and allows potential patients to see and hear you without making an appointment or leaving home, which makes them feel comfortable learning more about your practice, and you–a professional they will come to trust. Aim to have some sort of introductory video on your website and on your ObesityHelp profile, and update it periodically to keep it fresh and accurate.
As with the other marketing tools, review and get feedback on the video from a typical patient perspective: would prospective patient “Mary Smith” want to make an appointment with me after watching my video? Have I given her enough information that would make her choose me as her surgeon? What other visual elements will appeal to 25- to 45-year-old women who are struggling with their weight? Ideally, your video should be warm and inviting without over-promising or sugar-coating the truth. Consumers today are cautious, and bariatric patients in general have trust issues. Be up-front, genuine and realistic while maintaining a friendly demeanor to attract consumers.
8. Connect With Local PCPs
Most primary care physicians (PCPs) encounter a fair amount of obese patients, and are usually the first point of reference when patients begin investigating bariatric surgery. Unfortunately, many PCPs shy away from bariatric surgery as treatment from morbid obesity. As an industry, we need to begin communicating with PCPs and viewing them as allies in the treatment of obesity. Teaching PCPs about the benefits of bariatric surgery can be a tough task. Fortunately, ObesityHelp works with PCPs from all over the country to educate them on the benefits of bariatric surgery, so you will not be alone in your efforts. You can do your part by reaching out to the PCPs in your local area and explaining the merits of a surgical approach, especially as research reveals new benefits. Most PCPs are not as well-versed in the reduction of obesity comorbidities after bariatric surgery as you are. You can bet that this sort of sharing of information can help you form an enriching partnership and a new referral stream.