Setting Up Medical Practice Advertising For Success

Setting up medical practice advertising that is cohesive, cost-effective and compliant with Australian Law requires many considerations.

Just getting to the stage of setting up a medical practice ready to take bookings, involves a plethora of tasks.

A solid business plan will help, but ultimately someone has to do the groundwork. A good consultant will assist with the hiring of staff, IT hardware, setup of medical and other software, all the while ensuring compliance with current legislation and regulations. Some of these areas cross over with tasks associated with promotion such as the IT involved in setting up a website or compliance with advertising regulation and guidelines.

Some new medical practice owners may have the expertise to do some of these tasks, but much energy will be required – especially if that energy is required to consult as well. Patients will always be the primary focus of any quality medical practice, so by the time the clinic is set up, it often means that setting up medical practice advertising has been left to last.

For a clinic to survive in the long term, it must be busy. Good practice management is an extension of the patient consultation and advertising can assist with generating good patient numbers. Sure you can get to advertising once numbers drop, but of course, without anything in play, your promotional efforts will be well behind what you are trying to achieve.

Advertising may be targeted to boosting patient numbers but it may also be used to assist in finding new staff or promoting new services being offered. These tasks alone will take time away from patients, and managing a medical practice, should that role have been taken on as well.

Advertising at its simplest level can be broken up into printed and electronic media. Its aim may be to promote a service or simply provide a public communication.

Printed forms could be as simple as a business card or medical clinic signage, with electronic media including anything on the internet or other broadcasting services such as radio.

The basics of setting up medical practice advertising

At the bare minimum your promotional activities should tick the box of “Hello, we are here”. After all the assumption would be that if you set up a practice and already have an extensive patient list to bring to the medical clinic, it is essential they can find you so as to avoid any inconvenience. In other words, there is nothing worse from a patients perspective, than either going to the wrong address or having to drive around looking for the new location.

Just like customer service, the patient experience should be king. Yes, clinician reputation and what happens within the consultation will form most of the experience. Second to that will be the experience a patient has with reception and other clinic staff. Advertising should support this experience by representing a consistent message to the general public, that adds to the patient’s perception of the medical practice. Therefore covering the simplest forms of communication within advertising, such as having the right address where the clinic or practitioners are listed online, is paramount.

Updating and removing medical practice practitioner listings

Note that even without advertising, there may already be listings out on the internet with a clinicians name and former address details. These can be out of date as they are gathered from information already circulating online, meaning that they are often listed without knowledge of the medical practice owner. These ‘default’ listings can cause confusion for existing and potential patients, once a clinician moves to a new medical practice.

Having the most prominent of these listings cleaned up by updating your details online should be completed, even if advertising is not on the agenda. This could mean online medical directories or other general directories, found by completing a simple Google search. Having these old listings altered or in some cases removed, such as from other clinic websites or online booking services you are no longer associated with, will take a considerable amount of time.

Setting up medical practice listings for the business premises

Of particular note is the process of applying for a Google Business listing, especially if the previous business that was at the premises still has their name on the address you are moving to. Taking ownership of this listing requires a Gmail account and submission to google to verify that your business exists.

Verifying a business used to be as simple as putting in the business phone number and then requesting an automated call. That call provided a four-digit code that could be then typed into your Google Business account to gain ownership of the listing for direct correction. That is no longer the case for most businesses, which now have to request for Google to send a postcard containing the 4 digit pin.

To receive the postcard in the mail takes a couple of weeks, yet note that other factors can delay delivery even further such as mail not arriving due to the medical practice being located in a centre with shared mail or something as simple as it being accidentally discarded as junk mail. If after several attempts, the postcard does not arrive, then manual verification will be required using the submission of images of the clinic and talking directly with Google Business support.

A lot of work for one small listing, but effort well spent considering the popularity of Google search in finding services. Although not as popular, Bing and Yahoo! are other search engines are worth considering when setting up medical practice location listings.

The basic material forms of advertising

That takes care of some basic needs for online communication, but there are some physical forms of advertising to consider within the clinic that will also add to the patient experience.

From a communication point of view, an appointment or business card will tell the basics. That being the name of the business, its main service, where you are located and how best to make contact for an appointment. Ideally, it will have a logo or format that matches what is found online, to aid recognition. The content used should be information that will not change, and if otherwise best to start with a smaller amount of cards. If not using an SMS reminder service then obviously room for when the next appointment will be can be included in the card.

In and around the medical practice premises, clear signage is worth the expense and once again print production combined with council approval can take quite a while, so submission of plans for external signs should start a few months before the opening date. Allowing the same for professionally printed material such as letterheads or appointment cards is wise, especially towards the end of the year, as most printers take at least a few weeks off over Christmas.

The first contact that supports any medical practice advertising

The first line of contact, regardless of the form of marketing, will be the medical practice reception. Whether that be a phone call to make a booking or arriving after making an online appointment, the reception desk will be the bookends of any consultation. As such the face to face patient experience of a practice starts at the front desk, and should be as consistent and professional as any marketing activity.

After all the patient experience determines not only the level of trust that marketing hopes to achieve, but contributes greatly to how that experience is conveyed by the best marking tool of all – reputation through word of mouth.

Taking medical practice advertising to the next level

With the basics of physical and online “Hello, we are here” communication sorted then there is the consideration of advertising that offers greater exposure. This can be as simple as the promotion of services that are offered or information that may be useful to patients. The most commonly accepted way of doing this is by creating a website. This may be complemented by using social media and other resources such as emailing a newsletter to patients.

As we all use different forms of communication and our preferences for these vary, covering a mixture of forms will ensure current patients are kept up to date.

This next level of online communication can also provide information for any potential patients. Most people when considering a service will search online to find the closest business. From there what they find, or don’t find, on your website or other platforms will form part of their initial impressions.

These more proactive forms of setting up medical practice advertising will be discussed in more detail in upcoming articles. Of note will be what to consider when venturing into each type of promotional medium, in particular paid advertising.

Before starting any of these activities, the first stop for anyone involved in this process should be to understand the guidelines and legislation relating to medical practice advertising. Outlined by the National Boards and AHPRA, who work together in the primary role of protecting the public, these guidelines and regulations will also protect your reputation.

Advertising within medical practice marketing guidelines and regulations

If you are taking on the role of the marketer or engaging others to be involved in your marketing, then more than likely they will be focused on creating a great logo and website with signage and flyers around the clinic. Perhaps you will be venturing into social media or online advertising to boost your exposure and reach potential clients. These are all great starting points for marketing your clinic but underlining the marketing strategy should be a clear framework within current advertising regulations.

The core role of the National Boards and AHPRA is to protect the public, so although the limits placed on advertising below may seem restrictive to some, they are enforced for good reason.

There is plenty of material available to help understand this regulatory framework, for both practitioners and those involved in marketing the medical practice. A good starting point could be the ‘Guidelines for advertising regulated health services’.

This document clearly states that all advertisers of regulated health services must comply with the National Law, including section 133. The document then provides some general guidance on the advertising requirements of the National Law of Subsection (1).

It is interesting to note that section 133 also states that ‘A person does not commit an offense against merely because the person, as part of the person’s business, prints or publishes an advertisement for another person.’ Good to know, but as the medical practice and those involved have their reputations at stake, avoiding an offense is in everyone’s interest.

Compliance also includes the ‘Title and practice protections’ provisions under sections 113–120 of the ‘Health Practitioner Regulation National Law’.

There may also be other legislation that is applicable to advertising of regulated health products and services, and this may involve Australian Consumer Law and other Australian regulators such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Once again these are outlined in more detail within the ‘Guidelines for advertising regulated health services’.

Although the relevance of this legislation will vary, this section has some basic tools that may assist with compliance of the regulations above, guiding you through the steps of Check, Correct and Comply. Also mentioned in the ‘Guidelines for advertising regulated health services’ is The National Board’s ‘Social Media Policy‘.

Another resource applicable to medical practice advertising can be found in Section 8.6 of the ‘Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia’. This mentions the resources that have been linked to above, and outlines what good medical practice involves when advertising. It emphasises that advertising should contain information that is factual and verifiable, that any claims made can be justified and that they do not create unrealistic expectations for patients. Inducements, testimonials and comparing your services unfairly must be avoided.

There are some simple tips provided on the AHPRA website that help clarify these statements. One of particular note is to simply see things from a patient’s point of view. Providing information that can be clearly understood, that is evidence-based and does not create unrealistic expectations, is something we would expect from any product or service advertisement. So the old rule ‘if in doubt, leave it out’ applies. For example, if cross-checking published information fails to reveal clear evidence of a claim someone else has made, whoever publishes this on your behalf is responsible, even if it was written by someone else.

Depending on the evidence, words such as cure, can help, improve, treat, safe and effective, have the potential to mislead or deceive, so must be considered carefully. The term ‘specialist’ or ‘specialising’ cannot be used when referring to a practice or registration in advertising unless you have a specialist registration under the National Law.

These are just a couple of example, and there are more resources on the AHPRA website that can help check your proposed advertising. There are also examples of tribunal findings where claims were not backed by peer-reviewed scientific research or medical/scientific evidence.

If you would like to know more about how marketing can be used to meet your goals, and what potential it holds for developing your medical practice, please contact Nicky Jardine on 1300 798 831.

Disclaimer: The information used in this article is for guidance only. If, after reading this article, you are still unsure if your advertising complies with the National Law we recommend you seek advice from your professional association, insurer and/or independent legal adviser.

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