When bariatric surgery was first popularized only a few talented surgeons could perform laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery. It was easy enough to open your doors and sooner or later patients would start calling. Today is very different.Today, there are many ‘approved’ bariatric procedures. These include gastric bands, gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomies, and duodenal switch surgery. Surgeons quickly realized that certain procedures, such as gastric bands, were technically easier than a gastric bypass. They were also extremely profitable. In less than a few years, bariatric surgery was offered in every major city across the country.Today, highly trained, talented surgeons are finding it hard to build their bariatric practice. Being a good marketer seems to count for more than surgical skill. However, marketing is just another skill that can be mastered. This article looks at the most effective ways to market your bariatric practice for 2013.4 Ways To Market Your Bariatric PracticeThe Top 4 ways to market your bariatric practice haven’t changed much in the last few years but some of the techniques and tools have.1. Patient ReferralsAs it was when bariatric surgery first started, patient referrals are the best form of advertising. And they’re free.The volume of friend referrals is less than the volume of new leads you’ll get from online marketing. But the quality is much better. The patients that are referred by another patient typically make it all the way to surgery. And referred patients typically have proper expectations and support from friends and family. I have found that these patients are often the most successful with long-term weight loss.How To Increase Patient Referrals:1. Ask for it. This is very tough for most surgeons. So task your Patient Liason or Bariatric Coordinator with the job.At the patient’s annual visit, provide them with their before and after pictures and tell them to share.Note: Offering your patients a custom Smartphone App that keeps track of their progress is a great way to encourage sharing.Create marketing material that asks for referrals and give it to the patient at the patient’s 6 month visit. An easy way to do this without being overt is to include it at the bottom of existing patient handouts.For example:
Create a handout titled, “What To Expect 6 Month After Gastric Bypass”
At the bottom of the handout ask for the referral. “At 6 months you’ve noticeably lost weight and you should be proud. Tell your friends! And please let your friends that might be good candidates know about our practice. We will continue to support your weight loss and your referrals help support our practice. ”
2. Online MarketingThere is mounting evidence that the number one avenue for new patients is via online marketing. This includes social media, search engine optimization, paid online marketing (SEM), and online forums.Every potential patient has access to the internet. Make sure that your online presence is solid.With recent changes to Google’s search algorithm (Google accounts for 70% of all search traffic) it is harder than ever to ‘optimize’ your website. There are many things you can do, but link building and some of the old trickery is no longer working like it used to. Consider investing your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) money in other ways this year.Note: SEO and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) are different.Search engine marketing includes buying advertising on popular websites, using Google AdSense, and writing high quality content to attract online traffic. The surgeon that is listed first on Google is getting about 40% more people on his or her website than the person listed 10th. The quickest way to the top of search results is to pay per click.A Search Engine Marketing expert with experience in bariatrics is usually money well spent. Just make sure you are getting metrics that show exactly how your SEM money is being used and the results it has created.Finally, if you don’t have a website yet, you need to get one.3. Physician ReferralsPhysician referrals are a difficult nut to crack. By this point most physician have their preferred surgeons that they will refer to on a regular basis. But if you provide their patients with something valuable they will be more likely to refer to you.For example:
Create a pocket-sized handout that includes the NIH guidelines for bariatric surgery.
On the back include a BMI chart and 5 fun facts about the benefits of losing weight.
At the bottom include your website and bit about your practice.
If you have your own Smartphone App you can include a QR code to make it easy for the patient to download your App right on the spot.
Or consider letting your referring PCP’s know that your Smartphone App is also an easy and free way for your patients to track their weight.
4. Traditional Marketing & SeminarsTelevision ads, fliers, and seminars still work to some degree but everyone is already doing this to an extent. And the cost and time involved can be great.If you choose to enter these more traditional marketing avenues be prepared to capture your customers information as quickly as possible. The reason online advertising has become popular is because its very easy to ‘sign-up’ right then and there. And its easy for bariatric practices to capture new patient information and follow-up with them quickly. So make sure you include a clear call-to action in your marketing message.When you finish your seminars and say, “Thank you, please call our office to set-up an appointment,” you will probably get 10% of the people that attended your seminar to call.Instead say, ‘We’ve created a free App to help you before and after your weight loss surgery. Search for “Example Bariatrics” in the App store. Take a minute and download it. Even if you decide not to have weight loss surgery, it’s a great App to simply track your weight and stay focused.’When you leave that seminar and turn on your computer you can see everyone that downloaded the App, their email address and their phone number. The next day your staff calls them to schedule an appointment. That 10% should grow to over 50%.New Tools To Improve Your MarketingSmartphone AppSmartphone Apps are starting to show up in bariatric surgery. Bariatric clinics and surgical practices have started offering their patients free Smartphone Apps to augment their experience. These Apps usually include information about the services offered, the ability to schedule appointments, and features such as weight and diabetes tracking. While untested, Apps like this offer interesting marketing opportunities.Social MediaSocial Media is not new but its becoming more prevalent. At the very least, you should consider making a Facebook Page for your practice. Assign someone in the practice to manage the page. You can also link your online support group to this. This is an easy way for your patients to ‘like’ your practice and this does help with search engine rankings. If you’re unfamiliar with Facebook and how to create a page, there are many SEM companies out there that can help.If you don’t have a Twitter account, you may want to consider getting one. Tweets from your dietitian can offer your patients great recipes and tips to keep the weight off. The New York Bariatric Group has a very active Twitter following.