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Missing the Mark-eting

Paul Louiselle, for HealthLeaders Media, March 31, 2010

Marketing in healthcare, and in particular within a highly specialized medical practice, can be somewhat of a crapshoot. Determining what is effective and what is a waste of your valuable time and money can be difficult to discern. However, with a little determination—and a plan—healthcare leaders can greatly improve their message and the degree to which they reach those who need to know about your services.

Minnesota Epilepsy Group, a Level IV epilepsy Center located in St. Paul, Minnesota has been in practice for over 20 years. While you would think competition within the highly specialized field of epilepsy would be minimal, it’s far from reality. Within a few short miles, a comparable epilepsy program exists and a short drive to Rochester, MN, brings you to the doorstep of an adversary who wrote the book on marketing specialty services, including epilepsy.

In 2006, after arriving at Minnesota Epilepsy Group as the Executive Director, I took a hard look at our current market position and our marketing strategy. The following is a summary of what I found:

  • An outdated website
  • Poor optimization within our website
  • Poor “organic” results from Google, Bing, or Yahoo searches
  • Significant investments being made in Yellow Page advertising
  • Large and expensive advertising in consumer-based publications
  • Staffing a booth at expensive annual conferences
  • No data on what was important to our patients and how our patients made decisions to use our services

While difficult to measure, it my conclusion that our competitors had the upper hand in conveying their message and reaching their (and potentially our) patients. We were missing the mark—and wasting a lot of money in the process.

The first thing we did to understand the gap between our current reality and where we needed to go was to ask our patients a few questions. This was accomplished through a questionnaire that was distributed to 300 of our existing patients. Some of the key findings extracted from this survey included:

  • A large number of our patients were referred from their primary care physician or their specialty physician.
  • A large number of our patients were referred from a friend or an acquaintance.
  • None of our patients made decisions to come to us due to our presence in the Yellow Pages.
  • A growing number of patients researched us on the Internet prior to making a decision to utilize our services.

Based on this information gathered through our survey coupled with what we knew about the way people make healthcare decisions; we developed a marketing strategy to reshape the way we touted our programs and services. This strategy is outlined below.

Website Development

The website we had was outdated and poorly optimized, meaning that epilepsy-related internet searches rarely brought people to our website. Given this, we spent the next several months developing a new website.

Considerable time was spent discussing and answering the question - what is at the core of who we are as an organization? After considerable discussion, three messages rose to the top – we employed competent people, we utilized the most sophisticated technology available and we provided a hi-touch service. It was this message that we set out to convey in our website.

Not only did upgrading our website provide a “fresh” face for us, but more important, it provided higher hit ratios from search engines due to the optimization work that was conducted within the website.

Blog Development

I had suggested that our organization develop a blog to compliment the new website we had. The idea was to have the blog be a dynamic avenue to promote our program and services and ultimately drive more traffic to our website. Long story short, the physicians were supportive of this as long as we did not provide medical advice within the blog and that we did not allow an open dialogue within the blog. This was perfect and fit with my goal.

Since writing our first blog in April of 2009, our blog has received 8,292 visitors. This translates to 36 visitors per day. The top ten searches that brought people to our blog included:

  • Epilepsy surgery Minnesota
  • Epilepsy doctors Twin Cities
  • Epilepsy doctors Minnesota
  • Intractable epilepsy Minneapolis
  • Intractable epilepsy Minnesota
  • Epilepsy medications
  • Epilepsy in children
  • Seizure doctors Minnesota
  • Epilepsy doctors Midwest
  • Epilepsy Minnesota

Many of those who visited our blog also visited our website through the many links provided within our blog. It is obvious from the search engine criteria above that the blog is attracting people looking for epilepsy care. While we have not surveyed our patients recently, it is our intent to discover how many of them found us as a result of this new vehicle.

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