In just the past few years, the concepts and strategies behind the successful marketing of an eyecare practice have completely changed. Gone are the days when a static Web site that lists basic information has any impact at all. Today, to connect with current and potential patients in a worthwhile way, we must open multiple, two-way lines of digital communication.
Just about every industry in the country has been communicating with its customers in this way for quite some time. Think about it: When was the last time you had to make a phone call to book an airline flight? Health care, after lagging behind, is finally beginning to embrace the advances in communications and information technology, including electronic health records (EHRs) and social media platforms, that will enable it to transform itself. It is incumbent upon medical practices, eyecare facilities included, to make use of all of these “digital assets.” While a perennial goal has been to drive brand awareness, the new mission is to do so while at the same time improving the quality of patient care and the patient experience through education, engagement and interaction. A growing amount of data demonstrates that when patients are active participants in their care, they are more inclined and motivated to assume responsibility for managing their own health. When that happens, outcomes improve and costs go down.
Furthermore, Stage 2 of the CMS meaningful use EHR incentive program requires participants to interact digitally with patients. For example, using “secure electronic messaging to communicate with patients on relevant health information” is a core objective for Stage 2. To fulfill that objective, a secure message must be sent using the electronic messaging function of certified EHR technology by more than 5% of unique patients seen by the participating provider during the EHR reporting period. Other Stage 2 core objectives are to “use clinically relevant information to identify patients who should receive reminders for preventive/follow-up care and send these patients the reminders, per patient preference” and to “use clinically relevant information from certified EHR technology to identify patient-specific education resources and provide those resources to the patient.” In addition, beginning in 2014, to demonstrate meaningful use, providers will be required to report on clinical quality measures from at least three of six key health care policy domains, which include “patient and family engagement.”
Practices that develop a comprehensive strategy that utilizes a variety of digital assets will be in the best position to remain relevant to their patients, fulfill regulatory requirements and improve care. For example, some of the assets we are leveraging at Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center are:
- an interactive Web site that includes multiple ways to capture patient e-mail addresses (and is also available in smartphone and tablet formats)
- doctor-written content posted on a blog that is frequently refreshed
- video blogs featuring both doctors and patients
- a secure Web portal to enable practice-patient communication
- a secure Web portal for referring doctors, where they can schedule appointments for their patients directly into our system and access a variety of education and clinical resources
- multiple interactive ways to learn about our patients, such as a Vision Correction Self-Evaluation Test and satisfaction surveys on our Web site
- linkage of our Web site to social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+, so that users can share and discuss information in their networks (It’s crucial to not only put out information but also to listen to what your patients are saying about/to you in these venues. Practice culture can be tweaked in order to meet specific needs.)
- search engine optimization (SEO is much more sophisticated than in the past. A practice’s perceived authority, unique and fresh content, level of social media-related activity, and the amount of time people spend on your Web site determine its standing.)
- third-party vendor for automated and dynamic e-mail communication with patients (welcome e-mails and texts, appointment reminders and confirmations specific to appointment type, birthday/LASIK anniversary messages, newsletters, etc.)
For the first time ever, all of the digital assets available for marketing a practice can truly work together to foster better patient care. Giving patients opportunities to engage through social media and online interactivity is helping to improve patients’ relationships with their doctors. By leveraging content and technology, we can help people to live their best lives.