MGMA 2009: Practices learning to pick out, attract most profitable patients

If yesterday's educational session "Not All Patients Are Created Equal" was any indication, practice managers and physician executives aren't quite ready to think like product marketers. But for those who stayed, presenter Matthew Montgomery of customer analytics firm Buxton Co. (@buxtonco) offered a long list of tips as to how medical practices can determine which patients they want and find ways to attract them.

First, he noted, it's important to start from the assumption that certain patients offer a better return on investment than others, and figure out which of your patients tend to meet this description--a process called "segmentation." For example, you might want to decide which payers make for good patient ROI, or look at which services your best patients tend to need. Few practices actually do this at present, but if they want to avoid being swallowed up by local hospitals, it may soon become necessary, Montgomery suggests.

To find those high-ROI patients, groups should consider the demographics (age, education and income) of the area from which they hope to draw patients, along with psychographics (an individual or family's behavior, preferences and interests), he said.

Looking at both characteristics is critical if a practice wants to bring in the patients who are most likely to be profitable patients. The neighborhood around your practice might host many people with similar demographics, but only some of them will meet the behavioral profile that suits your practice's needs. "Segmentation and demographics allow you to find densities of core potential and existing patients and hopefully bring them to your practices," Montgomery told the crowd.

Another important technique, he said, is to make sure your marketing efforts reach potential patients and are different than those targeting existing patients. You may reach out to potential patients regularly, but it's better to hang back and keep the marketing messages soft if you're dealing with existing patients.

To reach patients of both types, one standard technique is direct mail, the brochures, postcards and other marketing literature most consumers already receive from consumer marketing firms. While many patients might throw it away, offering a bonus such as a free flu shot may be enough to improve response rates, he noted.

Ultimately, practices will have to pull together all of the data they have on patients--from practice management systems to EMR-based profiles to e-mail and faxes to phone messages--into a "marketing data warehouse," a central database which puts together all of the patient information you have into a coherent whole. Add that to what's known as customer relationship management (CRM) software and the profiling job gets much easier, he said.

In reality, it may be a decade or more before many practices are ready, willing and able to pull together a sophisticated database of this kind. But the sooner they do, the sooner the group is likely to get the kind of patients which will improve the bottom line.

To learn more about these approaches:
- visit the Buxton site
- look at vendor Reach3, which makes a CRM system for practices

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