Article Date: 11/1/2011

How to Market Dry Eye Care
marketing

How to Market Dry Eye Care

Is your practice taking advantage of all four parts of a successful marketing campaign?

Scot Morris, O.D., F.A.A.O. Conifer, Colo.

In dry eye, as in every other area of care your practice provides, the key rule of business comes in to play: Market, market, market. Here, we'll look at the four parts to a successful marketing campaign that should be integrated into your practice

1. Identify your audience.

The first step to developing a successful marketing plan to promote your ocular surface disease (OSD) practice is to conduct marketing research to identify your audience. Though any one can suffer from the various forms of OSD, there are definitely certain demographics on which you should focus. Dry eye disease typically affects contact lens wearers and women, ages 30 to 60 years old and is typically worse in the winter months. Allergy suffers usually have increased symptoms in the spring, late summer and fall. Therefore, the ideal time to conduct any external or direct-to-patient marketing is during the winter months for dry eyes and during the spring and later summer for allergy patients.

Since most of the diagnosis and treatment of OSD will be billed as medical visits, you will need to identify what medical plans are most prominent in your geographic areas, and make an effort to become a provider on these plans. This can easily be done by calling the human resources personnel at a few of the major employers in your area and asking about their preferred medical plans.

You may also consider conducting competitive research to find out whether any of your local competitors have developed a specialty OSD clinic. If not, you are developing the right niche. If so, then determine how to set yourself above your competition in order to best acquire new patients and/or maintain the OSD patients you currently serve.

Once you determine your audience, develop your outbound marketing plan. This usually consists of both internal and external marketing. In my experience, internal marketing (marketing to existing patients) is the more crucial of the two.

2. Internal marketing: Use an integrated approach that begins with a questionnaire.

The most successful internal marketing plan is a strategic, integrated approach that involves all members of your staff and is accompanied by the appropriate merchandising and ancillary supporting materials.

I have found the most useful tool in this campaign is a patient questionnaire. Ask every patient (age 15 or older) to complete the questionnaire. Instruct your front-desk personnel to provide the questionnaire at the time of the patient's check-in. This step initiates a non-confrontational way to elicit possible problems and to get your patients thinking about the actual symptoms and problems they have related to OSD.

There is a large array of questionnaires available (many can be found through a Web search) but a simple five- to 10-question survey is usually sufficient. (See “Sample Questions for a Dry Eye Questionnaire,” below.)

Next, your clinical staff should gather the completed questionnaires, and inquire further about any responses that may suggest the patient suffers from OSD. A simple inquiry into a positive response to the questionnaire can begin the basic doctor-patient dialogue that is crucial to the diagnosis and treatment of many forms of OSD.

For example, if a patient indicates that he experiences eye discomfort when using a computer, the staff can follow up and ask the patient such questions as:

► How would you describe the discomfort (itching, burning, soreness, etc.)?
► How much time can you spend on the computer before you experience this discomfort?
► What do you do to alleviate this discomfort?

Figure 1. In his practice, Dr. Morris displays this poster above a shelf that holds empty bottles of over-the-counter tear products.

This second step then makes it easy for you, the doctor, to ask more detailed questions regarding any symptoms. In essence, this process establishes patient need in a non-confrontational manner, readdresses need and provides clinical confirmation.

If OSD is confirmed, then present the patient with educational tools, such as educational brochures. In-office brochures are crucial take-home materials that you will need to provide to your patients so they can have a reminder of everything that was discussed during the exam. Though there are many industry-sponsored educational pieces available, a customized brochure is easy to create (most word processing software packages contain brochure templates and examples), provides great practice-branding opportunities and is typically received much better by patients than industry-sponsored educational pieces. It takes only a short time to create, is relatively inexpensive to produce and can be easily customized. You can also use educational videos to help educate your patients. There are both home videos and in-office videos available from multiple companies.

Other online avenues that patients have found helpful are articles posted on your website and social media pages. Office newsletters or direct mail pieces can also be effective internal marketing strategies but are typically a little more costly with a lower return on investment than the strategies discussed above.

If you decide to create a direct mail piece, target a very specific audience to limit your financial exposure. For example, in the late summer, schedule a direct mail piece to every patient aged 35-to-65. To realize an even better return on your investment, consider narrowing your search to your contact lens patients.

Other effective internal marketing strategies involve adding a short educational piece to your “on hold” message that people can listen to while they wait on the phone. Even more important is the in-office educational or merchandising pieces. We have found that a simple, yet professionally created, poster board (see figure 1) in the exams lanes can be the most effective method of starting the “in-lane” conversation about one's possible OSD. The poster costs $25 and has resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in OSD revenue in our practice through the years. People are going to read while they wait in the lanes. Why not let them read something that will allow you to help them and create a positive income stream in the process?

3. The most successful and important form of internal marketing is . . . you.

No form of external marketing is as effective as the doctor's performance in the lane. Explaining what you see and how it can potentially affect vision as well as eye health is crucial to both the marketing and compliance pieces of the OSD treatment strategy. This verbal exchange is also crucial to developing a rapport and instilling patient confidence in your abilities. This and a successful treatment protocol are the foundation of the most important form of internal marketing, which is word of mouth. Like most businesses, happy consumers create new referrals (business) and more happy consumers.

The final form of internal marketing is the follow-up letter. Always write a follow-up education letter and/or thank you note to your patient. Not only does this provide another means of reinforcing compliance, it's also a nice personal touch that shows you care.

4. Invest wisely in external marketing.

The next stage of marketing is external marketing, in which you target new patients. This usually involves bulk direct mail, website development and other open-ended advertising. In my experience, all these methods are fairly costly with a relatively low rate of return.

Historically, for our demographics, the most successful form of external marketing is to participate in local promotional and community events. A brief 10- to 15-minute talk at a local rotary club, chamber of commerce, community resource center or assisted living center has been incredibly successful at attracting new patients.

5. Take advantage of “inbound marketing.”

I strongly urge you to consider giving each patient a four- to five-question survey after they have finished their visit. This “inbound” marketing can be anonymous or personalized, depending on the patient's desires.

Such patient surveys are incredibly important, as they tell you, from the patient's perspective, what you are doing well and what you need to improve. Though you may not enjoy reviewing these surveys, especially those that cast a negative light on the practice, they are a crucial piece to improving your OSD practice, or any other part of your practice, for that matter. Remember, after all, your practice is only as good as your patients' perceptions.

A last word on marketing

Be aware that everything you and your staff do in your practice, whether positive or negative, becomes part of your practice's marketing efforts. Be proactive, market your OSD niche aggressively, and sleuth out OSD in every patient that presents with its clinical signs or symptoms. OM

Sample Questions for a Dry Eye Questionnaire
  1. Do your eyes ever experience discomfort, such as dryness, itching, burning, stinging or a sandy/gritty feeling?
  2. Do your eyes or eyelids ever look red?
  3. Do you ever experience watery eyes or tearing?
  4. Do your eyes ever feel discomfort during contact lens wear?
  5. Do you have seasonal allergies?
  6. Do your eyes ever feel discomfort when you use a computer, tablet computer or smart phone?
  7. Do your eyes ever feel discomfort in indoor locations?
  8. Do you ever use artificial tears or other over-the-counter medications for your eyes?
  9. Do you ever experience blurry vision?

Dr. Morris practices in Conifer, Colo. He's the founder of Morris Education & Consulting Associates, a professional continuing education and consulting firm. Also, he writes OM's “Tech Time” column. E-mail him at smoris@eyeconsultantsofco.com, or send comments to optometricmanagement@gmail.com.


Optometric Management, Issue: November 2011