What Aesthetic Practices Can Learn from Urgent Care Clinics

patient experience, online reviews, search, seo, healthcare marketing

Cosmetic surgery and urgent care: When it comes to patients’ decision journeys, you’d be hard-pressed to find two sectors that are more dissimilar. Re: the former, it’s not uncommon for patients to spend weeks, months, or years researching their options; for the latter, that “research” often boils down to jumping in the car and heading for the nearest walk-in clinic.

Yet, if a recently published case study of Sentara Medical Group (SMG), a mid-Atlantic provider of urgent-care services, is any indication, aesthetic practices can learn a lot from their contrasting counterparts. Learning how the group increased patient volumes, raised satisfaction scores, and managed a financial turnaround not only makes for a good read; it offers insights that may prove useful to practices that never see an emergency patient.

While trying to staunch a significant flow of red ink, SMG discovered two problems. Many patients, most of whom started their research online, weren’t finding the group’s clinics, while those that did often described their experiences negatively, citing long wait times and hurried consultations.

In response, they developed a two-pronged approach predicated on building up their web presence and surveying patients to determine their pain points. They greatly increased the number of patient surveys they sent out; they drastically reduced the lag time between the clinic visit and the survey request, and they incorporated the resulting reviews into their digital content.

Using the data to make several operational changes, they found that:

  • Patient volumes increased by 25% over the same period a year earlier.
  • Patient satisfaction scores increased by 6.5% over a year earlier, along with a significant reduction in wait-time complaints.
  • The group’s clinics went from an annual loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars to profitability.

As Mark Weisman, SMG’s medical director explains,

Once we changed the focus of our urgent-care centers — to become patient-centric, to hear the voice of the customer, react to that data, train our staff, and improve processes that patients hated – suddenly we’re now getting great reviews.

In fact, the changes actually created something of a self-perpetuating loop in which more patients completed more surveys, which allowed the group to better address their concerns (while mitigating doctors’ resistance to reviews). That, in turn, boosted patient satisfaction scores, which showed up as star ratings in other patients’ search results [see above image], encouraging more patients to choose the group’s clinics instead of its competitors’.

Says Weisman,

The providers aren’t like, ‘Eh, it’s one survey and one disgruntled patient.’ No, it’s real, it’s hundreds of patients, and here are the comments. [Reviews] have put us right at the top of the organic search rankings. They drive past our competitors to come to our facilities so it has dramatically improved the financial performance of our urgent-care centers.

Obviously, patients seeking aesthetic care take very different paths than their urgent-care counterparts, but the SMG case study still provides actionable insights for any practice hoping to attract more patients. Among them:

  • Strive to gather as many patient reviews as possible via in-office requests, email reminders, and/or third-party tools like Patient Engage that can streamline the process.
  • Set the stage for getting more reviews early in patients’ aesthetic journeys by finding out how they use social media (e.g., during intake), encouraging them to read other people’s reviews, and explaining how the insights they later share will help those who come after them.
  • Incorporate reviews into your search engine marketing (SEM). Google recognizes reviews  — especially a continuing stream of new ones — as proof of relevance, freshness, and the type of content that online searchers are looking for, three reasons that websites that highlight reviews often dominate search results.

As the SMG experience demonstrates, the entire exercise rests on creating a better patient experience, which, it bears repeating, is not limited to the medical care provided. It incorporates everything from inquiry-response times and staff interactions to wait times and follow-up communication. More to the point, perhaps, when eight out of 10 patients say that they’re unsatisfied with their current healthcare experiences, the situation presents both a challenge and an opportunity — and an urgent one at that.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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