Marketing has become a more complicated endeavour for optometric practices.  Not too long ago, offices would ensure their business listing was in the Yellow Pages and would maybe pay for an ad in a local publication. That was the extent of their marketing.

Today, marketing for optometric practices includes many more elements; building a website which needs to be refreshed every 3-5 years, spending money on Adwords and maintaining a presence on different Social Media platforms.  The question we are always asked is how much do we spend?

In general, we recommend that our practices spend 5% of their average monthly gross revenue. We also need to understand what the clinic’s business goals are, which will impact this spend. If the clinic is rolling out a growth strategy – because they are bringing on a new associate, offering more office hours or even opening a second location – the spend is going to be greater.

If the goal is to ensure that the clinic keeps it’s new patient acquisition number close to their attrition rate, the spend may be a bit lower.

Once the clinic has determined how much they are budgeting for their spend,  it is critical that the clinic then track some key metrics to ensure they are getting the expected ROI.

I am going to use an example in order to demonstrate how we evaluate an ROI for a practice’s marketing spend.

A clinic wants to increase its new patient numbers. It currently brings in $60 000 gross revenue on average per month.  If we multiply $60,000  by 12 months we know that the clinic brings in approximately $720,000 in gross revenue every year.

The marketing budget should be 5% of $720,000 which is $36,000.

Further, this clinic’s revenue per patient is $300. Therefore, if the clinic spends $36 000/year or $3000/month, the breakeven point would be 120 new patients over the year or 10 new patients in each month month. The 121st patient represents the net gain.  In order to claim a return, we would be looking for at least 11 new patients each month.

As well, in order to accurately credit this marketing spend to new patient acquisition, you will need to determine that it is NET of new patients from previous marketing efforts. If you have been averaging 20 new patients every month, then your break even on the marketing spend is 30 patients.  Only at the 31st patient are you starting to see an ROI.

Every business needs to spend money to make money – and that includes Optometry. It is critical to invest in advertising dollars to ensure that your business is healthy and continues to grow.  It isn’t enough, however, just to blindly invest dollars.  It is critical that you also take time to evaluate the impact of the marketing efforts so you can pivot as necessary.

CHRISTINA FERRARI

is the co-founder and managing partner of Simple Innovative Management Ideas (SIMI) Inc. and expert Practice Management contributor for Optik magazine. She can be reached at info@simiinc.com


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Purchasing instrumentation, from fundus cameras to OCTs and digital retinal imaging, isa large investment, with a potentially huge return for your practice.The right instruments allow you to provide full-scope medical eyecare for your patients, and can enhance your practice brand. Patients are sent the message that you provide cutting-edge care, creating a practice differentiator. To ensure we purchase only the right instruments for our seven-doctor, three-location practice, we use a careful process that weighs value against cost.

An OCT, along with new retinal camera software, is the most significant instrumentation purchase our practice has made over the past few years.The OCT has been extremely valuableand has paid for itself.

We also have a Tear Lab in each of our three offices that has helped our ODs tremendously with dry eye work-ups.The OCT and tear lab have each had positive ROI’s.

 

The page on Dr. Richter’s practice web site detailing the instrumentation used to provide full-scope medical eyecare to patients. Dr. Richter says that in addition to enhancing patient care and the practice brand, any instrument purchased must be able to deliver a return on investment in dollars and cents.

DEFINE BRAND, BUILD PRACTICE WITH INSTRUMENTATION

By purchasing new equipment annually or bi-annually, you are sending a message to your patients that your office cares about providing comprehensive eyecare. New equipment also can assist in being a practice builder, as it creates a brand that your office is reinvesting in healthcare, and that the practice is the finest in the area, offering you a competitive advantage.

The most recent example of an instrument that has enhanced care, while providing us with an advantage over competitors, is our Tear Lab, of which we have one in each of our three offices.We consider our practice as a dry eye specialty clinic.So, all of our assistants in the three clinics use this instrument to perform the tear osmolarity test on any patient who may be a dry eye suspect relative to his/her answers in the pre-testing phase of the exam.

INCORPORATE ANTICIPATED INSTRUMENTATION INTO ANNUAL BUDGET

We set annual budgets for every phase of our practice at the beginning of the year.The partners of the practice discuss equipment at that time and determine if it is best to proceed with each instrument discussed, or to wait.Most of the time, we anticipate the need well in advance of a major purchase, and line up vendors offering a good value purchase.

DESIGNATE PARTNER TO FOCUS ON INSTRUMENTATION

Initially, we had two partners and I was the designated equipment person.I continue in that position with seven ODs and three practice locations.We have a partnership designation that any capital costs over $5,000 must be brought to the administrative group–our partners, plus two other employees–for further discussion.

BRADLEY D. RICHTER, OD

Bradley D. Richter, OD, is a partner of Eye Care Center in Fridley, Maplewood and Maple Grove, Minn. To contact him: Brad.Richter@eyecarecenters.net


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When new patients come in, we ask how they came to us, and an average of 50 percent are friends of patients, and 65 percent are family of patients. Surprisingly, about 25 percent come from search engines, and the remaining from insurance lists, and passersby. Before the advent of search engines and social media, our second-largest source of referrals were insurance provider lists.

Tracking referrals from patients to friends and family, and delivering service that impresses patients enough for them to spread the word about us, continues to bring new patients into the practice.

We started our practice cold 28 years ago. We started with the referral of our very first patient by a friend of a friend. Since then, we have always placed a high value on referrals. I believe it is the best way to bring in patients who are most likely to be loyal over time. We make a concerted effort to treat each patient like our only patient and try to make everyone feel like family.

The patient intake form Dr. Smith makes available for patients on her practice web site.

Dr. Smith says it’s important to ask new patients how they found your practice, and to encourage those who had a positive experience to let their friends and family know about your services.

USE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO ASK FOR REFERRALS

Many patients make comments like, “I should bring my husband/wife in” or “I should bring my kids in.” This reassures us that we did a good job of marketing our practice during their visit because they want their family and friends to have the same experience.

When a new or existing patient calls for an appointment, our front office staff asks if there is anyone else in the family we could help make an appointment for. If a patient expresses appreciation for a job well done, then our staff says, “Thank you! It has been our pleasure, and if you or any of your family or friends need our services, we would be happy to help them as well.”

To increase the likelihood of people wanting to tell their friends and family about a business, that business should excel and stand apart from the norm. People vary in what things and experiences may impress them most. However, If you look at the most successful businesses, especially service-oriented businesses such as restaurants, hotels, and healthcare practices, it is undoubtedly the service that drives the most referrals.

Our practice mission statement is “Focused on your needs. Committed to excellence.” Our goal is to have our patients tell others that they had excellent, thorough care and that we provided great service.

We e-mail thank you notes and surveys to every patient after their exam. We currently have a 95 percent satisfaction rate with a “yes” when asked if they would refer others.

TRACK CONSISTENTLY

For the past 23 years, we have tracked where our patients come from. We have a Welcome Sheet, which we ask every new patient to fill out. If the answer to the question of how the patient found us is left blank, the front office staff is responsible for asking the patient directly. On the rare occasion that the response to that question is still blank by the time the patient reaches the exam room, I ask the patient directly myself. It is really a pleasure to hear that most of them are referred by friends, work colleagues and family members.

OFFER EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE & SAY THANK YOU

In California, where our practice is based, it is illegal for any healthcare professional to offer incentives for referrals. However, we make sure our patients are thanked and appreciated verbally for their referrals.

By focusing our efforts on providing exceptional care and service to our patients, we hope to earn their loyalty and the referrals of their friends and family. You can’t put a price on service and building relationships with patients. It is like putting a price on friendships. I believe that as old fashioned as this may seem, building a practice based on loyalty and referrals is far less expensive and time consuming than the cost of any type of ad marketing or media advertising. Our practice has not had much response from paid advertisements. It may be that the public does not respond to objective ads anymore with the advent of more subjective, personal internet ratings.

We used to have a large ad in the yellow pages, which was astronomically expensive. It was a big book of large ads for businesses, which made it difficult for consumers to decide where to go for services. Now, with internet reviews that are free for consumers to use, we virtually have free advertising by the reviews placed by our patients.

Approximately 25 percent of our new patients find us directly through internet search engines and reviews.That is a lot more than the number of patients who came in after seeing our yellow page ad, which was only about 5 percent.

TRAIN STAFF TO OFFER A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE

The majority of patient referrals are from happy, satisfied patients who report having had the most thorough exam, or best service, ever. We also receive many referrals from long-time patients. Other popular referral sources are patients who have not received successful contact lens fits elsewhere. Many refer their friends, colleagues and family members simply because our staff has shown them great customer service, and were able to develop a strong rapport with them.

I cannot over emphasize the value of a well trained staff in order for patients to want to refer others. The staff actually spends more total time with our patients than the doctors, so it is imperative that our staff is on board with our goals and objectives for growing the practice. Patients will stay with a practice or leave a practice very easily because of their interactions with the staff.

TAKE OPPORTUNITY TO PASS ALONG PRACTICE BUSINESS CARD

When a patient compliments our office, a front office staff member might give them a business card and say, “Thank you so much! We appreciate your compliment! Please take a business card in case you know someone who may need our services.” Most of the time patients take business cards, or ask us for our business cards, without any prompting, and this is really the best compliment they can give us!

BEVERLY JUE-SMITH, OD, MBA

Beverly Jue-Smith, OD, MBA, is the owner of San Ramon Family Optometry, Inc., in San Ramon, Calif. Dr. Jue-Smith also is owner of Optometric Consultants, a private practice consulting firm. To contact her: srfoptometry_drb@yahoo.com


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