Practice Management: Fall 2002
Recognize the Source of Your Business
Written by Donald Dillon
Databases contain information from your intake form, including name, address, work and home phone numbers, occupation, birth date, and referral source. You can include additional information such as condition treated, when the person became a patient of the clinic, payment type (cash, extended health care, auto insurance claim or redeeming gift certificate) and their patient status – active or inactive.
Why go through all this trouble? A U.S. study illustrated that we expend five times the amount of resources to attract a new customer (patient) than to retain an existing one. Keeping in touch with your patients with newsletters, birthday cards or just a check-in phone call requires the organization of your practice information – in the form of a database.
Let’s discuss four advantages to maintaining a database.
Organize Your Information.
Use your database to organize patient information in a meaningful way. This is essential if you do a mailing, such as a newsletter or a general notice. Once your practice reaches a particular size, it may not be desirable or cost-effective to mail to everyone you’ve ever treated.
As well, if you treat more than one person from a family, it becomes unnecessary to mail to each individual member of the household.
In addition to people you’ve treated, there may be others who could influence increased business to you, such as business service providers, other health care professionals, local clergy or politicians that you know. Effective use of a database will allow you to keep in touch with all these individuals, and keep them abreast of what’s happening in your practice.
We use five descriptors under the “status” field in our database.
“A” identifies active patients. These people are the majority of our business and we want to make sure we’re in regular contact. It also identifies people who have finished their treatment plan, or perhaps came in on a gift certificate. We want to keep in contact with these people to encourage repeat business with us.
“F” identifies family members, so we can issue just one newsletter to that household and save our stamps.
“I” identifies influential persons in our community. These people know many other people and can influence our practice growth. These may also be business people who have provided services to us, and we want to keep them updated as to our business developments.
“P” represents the individual family members, so we can keep their personal information (such as phone numbers, birth date) at hand.
“Q” is for people who have moved away, are deceased or for some other reason we have no further contact with. A caveat with this group … sometimes people you’ve lost touch with do come back years later, so don’t erase them from your database! Simply identify them with a “Q”
By using this classification system, you can readily identify the individuals you want the clinic to keep in contact with.
Energize Your Marketing Efforts.
By using the sorting powers of a database, you can easily notice many trends. For example, you can sort by “occupation” and determine if there is a particular trade/profession you are treating at a great capacity. You can then focus your marketing efforts on this population to attract further patients who may have the same health conditions and would benefit from similar treatment.
You may sort by birthdates so you’ll have a list of patients to send birthday cards to in the coming months. Or, you may hone your advertising to be age or gender specific - advertising palliative care for the elderly or treatment for children.
You may also note markets that you are not currently serving, and can then take steps to market to that sector. Reviewing your database continuously will yield greater marketing results than simply putting up a shingle that says “massage therapy - we treat anybody”.
Recognize Your Referral Sources.
Another definition of recognize is “show appreciation of”. Everyone likes to be appreciated for sending business someone’s way…and health care practitioners are no exception. Do you remember the last time you referred someone to a service, and you didn’t hear afterward from the service provider? How did that make you feel? Of course we don’t require recognition when we’re referring someone with their best interests at heart…but isn’t it nice to be recognized?
Showing appreciation makes good sense. According to Paredo’s rule, 80% of benefits we receive come from 20% of our efforts. That means focusing on the 20% of your patients that build your practice through referring new patients will generate 80% of your business. It pays to appreciate.
It’s also important to recognize gatekeepers in your circle of influence. These may or may not be patients of your practice, but have influence with others and can stimulate a flow of patients to you. These are people like local government officials, business owners, leaders in the church community or local public community programs. Put these people on your mailing list and make sure they receive your newsletters. Show genuine interest in them and ask them about their families, their businesses and their passions. When you show interest in others, they in turn circulate that energy and show interest in your efforts.
An influential person may even be your mom or dad if they’re involved in a local association. I know a therapist who’s father was a teacher, and was instrumental in referring many teachers to her home-based practice. You probably have many people in your circle of influence that you’ve never looked at as sources of business. People like to help other people…ask influential people how to grow your practice.
Revitalize Your Appointment Book.
Where is everybody? Even after 11 years in practice I have some weeks that are slower than others. Right away, I grab my database and review who hasn’t been in for their regular appointment. A few phone calls yields several appointments I wouldn’t have otherwise. And, the people always say “I was thinking about you several weeks ago. I should have called then but…”. Life gets busy, and people appreciate when you remind them to take care of their own health needs.
So how much will this cost? Database software is inexpensive. I use Microsoft Works which includes database, spreadsheet and word processor functions - all for under $80. There are other programs at even less cost…you don’t need something as elaborate as Microsoft Access to organize your practice information.
All you need is a little time initially to input your intake form information into a meaningful format, and then update the database every 3 - 4 weeks after you’ve accumulated several new patients. Review your database at least once a month to organize your information, energize your marketing efforts, recognize your referral sources and revitalize your appointment book!
Donald Quinn Dillon, RMT, facilitates practice management workshops for massage therapists in Ontario and abroad. His articles have been published in the Journal of Soft Tissue Manipulation, the OMTA newsletter, the AMTA Journal and on-line newsletter, and Massage Therapy Canada magazine. He can be contacted via his website: stress-sports-softtissue.com