When I was practicing, I had a box of business cards in the top drawer of my desk from about twelve different ophthalmologists and eye specialists in my area. While I’m certain these were all very talented and qualified practitioners, there was one in particular I found myself referring to most frequently. It was the one who stopped by the office in person and asked if he could introduce himself to me. We shook hands and talked for a few minutes.
In this era of texting, tweeting and private messaging, something has gotten lost in the art of human connection. We interact like robots, not people. Yet it’s people we still want to do business with.
In an effort to get referrals, doctors will contact me occasionally asking for help with drafting a letter to mail to medical specialists in their area. I can help with the wording, but the best advice I can give the doctor is to deliver it in person. Show up with cookies for the staff and ask if you can have one minute of the doctor’s time to introduce yourself. He or she will probably give you more than one minute. That’s all it takes to suddenly become more than a name on a business card. That’s all it takes to make a human connection.
With all the focus on digital marketing these days, I wonder if we’re overly dependent on technology to attract new patients. I’m intrigued by practice owners who tell me they don’t spend much money on marketing anymore because they have created such a great patient experience that their patients do all their marketing for them. The same way we place a higher level of trust in someone we’ve met in person, we also place more trust in people we know to recommend a business or doctor.
Trust and familiarity go hand in hand. We are more likely to want to support or help someone when we can put a face to a name. There are studies showing that radiologists are more accurate with their scans when shown photos of the patients whose X-ray they are scanning, and nurses make fewer errors assembling surgical kits when they’ve met the surgeon. It all comes back to the power of connection. We’re human.
I’m always looking for consistencies in successful practice owners, and I find that many of the most successful practice owners I’ve worked with are very involved in their communities. They are known in their communities for the work they do both inside AND outside the practice. This work brings them into contact with other people. Every new person they connect with is a prospective patient. The only cost to this type of marketing is time. I’ll argue that it’s time well spent.
I’m not suggesting you discontinue current marketing efforts, but instead of relying exclusively on a cool website, Facebook ads and a quarterly mailer to connect with patients, maybe it’s time to shake some hands. Get out of your comfort zone. Join a local civic group. Get involved with charitable events. Introduce yourself to people at the gym or coffee shop or anywhere else you hang out at. That won’t pay massive dividends over weeks or even months, but over the years it may very well be the most powerful marketing tool in your arsenal.
The next time someone you connected with needs an eye exam and looks over their list of providers, your name will undoubtedly stand out.
Oh, I know that person. We shook hands.
Dr. Vargo serves as Optometric Practice Management Consultant for IDOC. A published author and speaker with more than 15 years clinical experience, he is now a full-time consultant advising ODs in all areas of practice management and optometric office operations. For questions or comments about this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.