Article Date: 1/1/2011

How EHR Can Impact Your Marketing Program

How EHR Can Impact Your Marketing Program

Use the information found in health records to offer an advanced level of service.

April Jasper, O.D., West Palm Beach, Fla.

In his best-selling book, Management, (HarperBusiness, 2008) management consultant Peter F. Drucker writes, “To know what a business is, we have to start with its purpose. There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.”

Mr. Drucker goes on to write that a business has only two entrepreneurial functions in creating customers: marketing and innovation. He adds that many business experts agree that the most important and distinguishing function of any business is marketing.

When we set out to create loyal customers through marketing the products and services offered by our practices, we have a powerful tool: the information contained in electronic health records (EHR) systems. As I will explain, EHR information allows us to offer an advanced, customized level of care that will ultimately impact the bottom line of our practices.

Before you start

But before you consider any external plans, assess the effectiveness of your internal marketing program first, including patient referrals, pre-appointing, signage and point-of-purchase materials, office brochures and even methods of communication between the office team and patients.

The reason: Your internal program represents the foundation of your marketing efforts. So, if your internal marketing program is not in order, the new customers you garner through special promotions or services will not become loyal customers.

Next, it is imperative to understand that each marketing strategy you come up with must fit with the core values and mission of your practice. For example, a promotion on a new line of high-end frames is not the best marketing campaign option for the practice whose mission is to become the area’s leader in both low-price and high-patient volume.

For the “record”

With internal marketing programs and the practice mission in order, you can now focus on the EHR patient record, which includes:

► patient demographics
► progress notes
► medications
► vital signs
► past medical history
► immunizations
► laboratory data
► radiology reports

This wealth of information provides the building blocks for marketing programs.

For example, the demographic information contained in the EHR includes gender, address, phone number, e-mail address, ethnicity, emergency contact information, insurance information, primary-care doctor (PCP), referral information, preferred language, marital status, employment status, employer and occupation. If we select our records based on date of birth, we may find that a large percentage of our patients are between the ages of 40 and 50 — a target audience for a marketing campaign or promotion that features presbyopia-correcting solutions, such as multifocal contact lenses or progressive spectacle lenses.

As depicted in the example above, the information in the patient record allows us to create strategies that are in tune with the customers’ needs, desires and values, so much so that products and services sell themselves.

Create a calendar

To keep the marketing plan organized and effective, I recommend that each practice create a marketing calendar. To provide adequate preparation time, establish the calendar in October for the following year. (Sample calendar entries appear below.) The calendar should include:

► a description of the marketing task
► date of implementation
► persons in the office in charge of the task
► tools to complete the task
► cost

The calendar should also identify a method of tracking success of each marketing program so that you can complete analysis of each task and adjust your approach, as necessary, for the following year.

To ensure that you do not eliminate a marketing task without giving it time to attain results, consider adding a review date, or several review dates, to the calendar.

Create your calendar with an understanding that the benchmark for marketing dollars spent in an optometric practice ranges from 4% to 6% of gross revenue. Follow through with the tasks, document them on the calendar using your EHR and then keep track of the results.

As you look at the Table 1 of marketing tasks (below), you can see how beneficial your EHR becomes. An EHR system has the functionality to create lists of patients by cross-referencing different pieces of information. For example, you can create a list of all patients referred by X doctor that have Y insurance plan.

You can also create a list of patients who have a certain diagnosis that have not visited the office within the past six months. Or, you can establish a marketing task and then look at statistical data generated by your EHR to determine the effectiveness of the marketing effort.

Marketing to PCPs

Author Tony Cram says in his book, Customers That Count: How to Build Living Relationships with Your Most Valuable Customers (Financial Times/ Prentice Hall 2001), that you need to market to those who take care of the needs of your customers. In my practice, this has proved to be the PCP. So, one of my favorite external tasks is marketing to the PCP.

These sample monthly entries provide examples of what information to include in an annual marketing calendar.

All certified EHRs identify each patient’s PCP. These EHRs also generate a report of the patient’s exam automatically. Such reports prove valuable to PCPs, who must complete their requirements with third-party plans for diabetic screenings and glaucoma screenings.

I not only send the PCPs reports on every patient, but also run reports monthly (using my EHR) to see which PCPs refer the most patients to me.

I then send these PCPs gift baskets that include office brochures and referral cards, maps to my practice and information regarding any new technology or services my office provides. I use the baskets as an opportunity to thank them for the referrals and to let them know that we will take the utmost care of their patients.

Most PCPs are busy, so we also thank the PCP’s staff when we deliver the baskets, especially the staff member in charge of referrals.

Using our EHR program, we found that after two years, those offices we visited had increased their referrals to us by more than 100%. In addition, it enabled us to quickly send letters to PCPs, as well as track the response in terms of referral patients and the dollars spent in our office by these same patients.

Create your own categories

EHR also allows you to create your own marketing group categories that you can track, including schools that your patients attend and businesses that employ your patients. You can then cross-reference these with insurance providers, and market to these employers — letting them know you accept their insurance — to attract patients.

One marketing task that we include on our calendar every year is an “end-of-year letter” sent to our patients to encourage them to visit our office to take advantage of flex spending dollars and/or insurance benefits. The EHR keeps track of our patients’ e-mail addresses. We provide the letter to a secondary company that mines the e-mail addresses from our system and then distributes the e-mail. (I recommend the use of such a vendor to assist you in e-mailing notices of special events, patient satisfaction surveys, etc.)

According to our post-marketing analysis, the e-mail had the greatest response among our 20- to 50-year-old patients. We then used our EHR to generate a list of those who did not respond to the e-mail. We mailed this group a postcard and found, not surprisingly, that this method produced a greater response in those patients older than age 55.

EHR enables you to communicate with patients (of your choosing) via the method of their choosing. EHR allows you to select specific groups and market a specific message to that group.

Endless options

Your marketing options become endless with the data already stored in your EHR system. To refine your strategies, consult with colleagues.

As Mr. Drucker writes in Management, “Marketing is so basic that it cannot be considered a separate function … It is the whole business seen from the point of view of its final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view. Concern and responsibility for marketing must, therefore, permeate all areas of the enterprise.”

An EHR system provides us with all the data we could possibly need to create an outstanding marketing program that will reap significant results for our practices. The take-home message is that with a little time, creativity and perseverance, we can use our EHR to significantly impact our marketing program. OM

Dr. Jasper is in private practice in West Palm Beach, Fla. She graduated from Nova Southeastern University and completed a residency in ocular disease at the Brockton/West Roxbury VA Medical Center in West Roxbury, Mass. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry, trustee for the Florida Optometric Association and a Vision-Source administrator. E-mail Dr. Jasper at To comment on this article, e-mail

Optometric Management, Issue: January 2011