The Ultimate Ophthalmic Marketing Guide



What’s missing above? “Ophthalmologists are great marketers”

My name is Peter J Polack. I am a practicing ophthalmologist in a crazy busy, large ophthalmic practice and I am here to offer you a new  way of thinking about practice marketing.

But, this relevant for you? Take a  couple of minutes and reflect on the 6 questions below. They will help you decide if learning the strategies, secrets and techniques in this 'blook' are worth your time. Here we go…

  1. 1
    When you think about your Premium Services Marketing efforts (Premium Cataract, LASIK, Premium Optical, Dry Eye, Hearing, and/or Aesthetics) are you where you want to be now?
  2. 2
    Have you tried new tactics that aren’t working?
  3. 3
    What’s missing?
  4. 4
    How did that happen?
  5. 5
    Where would you like your marketing to be?
  6. 6
    How do you see yourself getting there?

As a bit of background, I have had the opportunity to see the inner workings of a variety of ophthalmic practices from academic practice to solo practice to premier large group practices. My practice marketing learning curve followed my career.

Let’s take a second to talk marketing and money: The reason our marketing book was written is to help your practice create a Revenue Machine that brings in immediate & sustainable profits, while building personal wealth.

Are your Premium Services revenue engines sputtering or surging? Is your Premium Services marketing underperforming despite investment of time and money?

Would you be willing to look at new ways to ignite your practice’s cash pay revenue by adding a different way of marketing?

Once upon a time (according to my father), physicians were not allowed to advertise their practices. Today, it is essential that every ophthalmic practice market itself competitively if it wishes to thrive.

We might not think about it often, but a medical practice is a business and a patient is a customer (one of my former partners cringed when he heard this, but it is true). Our success lies in providing awesome customer (patient) experiences. But, because of shrinking profits, we must justify what we spend on providing extraordinary patient experiences. Gone are the days when we could send monthly checks to an advertising agency without requiring accountability. I trust you will find the information herein enlightening. And if you take away just one helpful morsel, then the return on your investment in the time spent will have been worth it.

My introduction to how practices are run started well before I became an ophthalmologist

My late father, Frank M Polack M.D., a renowned cornea specialist, had an illustrious academic career first at Columbia University then, for most of his tenure, at the University of Florida as a professor. At the age of 50, he (reluctantly) left academic medicine forever and started a solo private ophthalmic practice, where he worked until the age of 72. I practically grew up in his research lab at the University and then later worked in his office.

His practice was based on 100% word-of-mouth and doctor referrals. Patients practically fell out of the sky and he (initially) scoffed at the idea of having to market his practice. He believed that marketing was unprofessional. He relied on his work to speak for itself. He treated his patients like family. Many of his patients were referred from other countries and would often stay at our house (often they brought just enough money to cover the hospital expenses - in many cases he did not charge for the surgery).

Later in his career, market conditions changed and local competition heated up (feel familiar?). New doctors came to the area and also to the university, which had historically not been a competitor. These marketplace changes brought intense competition to all local private private practices, including his. He had refrained from performing general ophthalmology in exchange for relying on cornea referrals. Despite taking what he considered “the high road”, he gradually realized that he was losing out to his competitors who were marketing their practices.

He brought in an advertising agency and they produced some expensive pieces including commercials. He asked for my advice. Of course, I was clueless back then. I should have told him to save his money and spend it more wisely. In retrospect, he made the same mistake that many ophthalmic practices still make today: relinquishing control of their marketing to a third party whose business model dictates 100% focus on brand awareness and, most likely, general ophthalmology. They sell you corporate identity packages and advertising campaigns that (hopefully...someday...) lead to prospective patients to remember your name when they realize “I need an eye doctor.

Most physicians think marketing and advertising are the same thing. My purpose with this book is to show you how to approach marketing from an evidence-based strategy. Even with the arrival of “digital marketing,” most agencies focus on buying ad space and digital ads called PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns. Traditional ad purchases are called “media buys” (radio spots, digital ads, tv spots, print ads, etc.) and all of them guarantee agency commissions which go up as they convince you to buy more ads. The more you spend, the more they rake in (just for spending more of your money - quite the racket, eh?). Then you get hit with agency service fees...funny, they never tell you if what you spend has any kind of ROI. Why? Because they can’t, unless you tie the ad to some sort of tracking system.

This lack of transparency was the reason I became a student of marketing. The more I learned, the more I realized how little I was taught in med school about the importance of marketing my practice, much less strategies for rising above my local competition.

And, while I’m on it, I never realized how meager the marketing help offered by vendors really was. When it came to doing marketing, their “Practice Development” helpers weren’t much help.

When I joined Ocala Eye over 20 years ago, marketing was an area that I was already passionate about. We were one of the first practices to:

  •  build a website
  • hire a full-time marketing manager
  • trademark and copyright our marketing assets, and
  • use customer relationship management tools (CRM) for marketing and selling. 

Yes, I said “selling”.

Marketing is more essential than ever. As reimbursements have gone down and expenses have gone up, ophthalmic practices need to control overhead and every expense needs to prove its value to the bottom line. When times are tough, marketing is an expense that most doctors feel has the lowest value. I will often make the case going forward that marketing should be seen as an investment. In order to do that, however, we need to do more than just hope and “believe” that it is working; we need to prove it with data. Thus, we find ourselves evolving from a more traditional marketing approach of spending like everyone else is spending to a scientific approach where we track, wherever possible, every dollar spent and what every dollar invested returns.

It’s time you had an Ophthalmic Marketing Machine.

Shall we begin?

But first…..

Who Is Emedikon?

Emedikon is a publishing and marketing company founded by me, Peter J. Polack, MD FACS, a partner of a multi-specialty ophthalmology practice in Central Florida that is a charter member of the Large Eyecare Executive Forum, comprised of 25 of the most reputable, large ophthalmology practices in the country. I have been practicing as a cornea and refractive specialist for over 20 years and I have been involved in the marketing of our practice through all of its growth stages.

Emedikon has been in business since 2006. Our first publication, “Navigating the EMR Jungle,” has been read by over a thousand practices and is available on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, in print or digital format. You may also be familiar with one of our other publications, our blog , our marketing blog on Healio Ophthalmology , and our long-running column on EMR and technology Path to Paperless in Ophthalmology Management magazine. In our publishing, we focus on three key topics of interest: practice marketing trends, practice management trends, and practice technology trends.

What The Ultimate Ophthalmic Marketing Guide is About

This guide concerns itself with ophthalmic practice marketing. Most of us are challenged to put together a comprehensive strategy for managing day-to-day marketing activities and marketing operations with a clear view of what should and should not be happening as we spend money and invest it to grow the practice. Ophthalmology as a specialty is a mix of medical and surgical care, as well as a mix of insurance-pay and cash-pay services.

This 'blook' walks the reader through a marketing strategy model developed by Emedikon called

The 7 R's of Ophthalmic Practice Marketing.

The concept of this pyramid is that a strong foundation allows ascension through key marketing priorities, resulting in the top of the pyramid – the goal of every practice – which is robust referral and word-of-mouth marketing. From a foundation of a great reputation, it helps you develop all of the additional core marketing activities needed for aggressive, dependable and predictable revenue growth.

Why you need it:

Ophthalmic Marketing Myth Busters

Part of the reason our book was written, and why we hope you will take it to heart, is that several marketing myths still thrive to this day. 

Myth Number One: 

To Get New Revenue You Have To Get New Patients

There are two key concepts for revenue growth that must be understood: 

The first is called “wallet share.”

The second is called “market share.”

Doing either/both builds revenue. However, one is much easier and ultimately more effective (not to mention, cheaper) to do than the other. Would you care to guess which one is easier, cheaper, and more predictable? Spoiler alert! It's wallet share.

Wallet share is where you sell more services to established patients.

When you look at what patients purchase, they're most likely getting annual exams (even if not consistently) with an occasional office visit for some accident or illness.

You are also probably not consistently making them aware of other services your practice could perform for them. A repeatable program of premium services education builds the case for why yours should be the go-to practice. For example, when they think they're ready to stop wearing glasses, to have skin rejuvenation, to address a hearing or dry eye problem or even make a fashion statement with new glasses from your optical department they are less likely to go to a competitor if you’ve got an ‘evergreen’ awareness campaign running. Preferably on autopilot. Every additional cash-pay, premium service they buy grows your wallet share.

Market share adds new patients and grows the percent of the local market for ophthalmic care that you “own”.

Market share is a percent of the number of potential patients in your local area that come to you instead of a competitor. This is the never-ending hamster wheel of acquiring new, general practice patients.

Growing market share is the most unpredictable and expensive way to invest your marketing dollar. Yet, 99 times out of 100, all you see from marketing agencies is, “We will help you get new patients.” All of those things ring true because new patients do, of course, bring new revenue. But that's not necessarily the only way to do it, and it’s not necessarily the best way to do it.

A balanced approach that looks at growing your wallet share of established patients and cost-effectively growing market share through the 7R’s in our strategy pyramid is how (we believe) a smart marketing program should unfold.

Myth Number Two:

Buying tactical campaigns without a cohesive marketing strategy is OK.

 No doubt your practice is constantly bombarded by people promising:

  • "I can get you on the first page of Google!"
  • "I buy Facebook ads that make your phone ring!"
  • "I can do social marketing for you so that you’ll get Likes and Shares and people leave comments!"
  • "I can optimize your web page so you’ll be high in search ranking!"
  • "I can do lead generation for you!"
  • "I can write you a newsletter!"

Typically, each of those is considered to be a standalone expense (billed as a marketing service). Maybe they're packaged together so you get a deal for buying a cluster of these things, known as digital marketing. However, buying a service, whether in a package or just one campaign at a time, that does not tie back to your strategy is, in the end, mostly money down the drain.

As one of the original Mad Men said,

“Half the money that I spend on advertising is wasted;

the trouble is I don't know which half.” - John Wanamaker

That's probably the boat you're in if you're buying individual campaigns or bundled services without first defining your practice marketing strategy.

Here is the final myth that hopefully helps you understand the dangers of the pack mentality, doing what everyone else does.

Myth Number Three:

Revenue growth requires the majority of your marketing dollars be spent on branding and name recognition.

Employing this strategy with traditional advertising agencies probably costs thousands of dollars a month, tens of thousands of dollars a year, and hundreds of thousands of dollars if you've been in business several years.

Branding is an unpredictable and virtually untrackable marketing activity. Yet time after time, you are told that your marketing success is predicated solely on the fact that you must be the first practice that comes to mind when a prospective patient thinks, “I need an eye doctor.”

Yes, it's true, you do need to be the preeminent practice in your local market area (more on that later) and you do need a way to ensure top-of-mind awareness. But that is one thing. It's not the only thing.

Many of you have might have invested in Yellow Pages ads (or similar online directories). Your ad is usually very similar to your competitors because they are typically designed by the directories’ own designers.

It says things like, "In practice for 20 years. Specializing in cataracts and macular degeneration. Our office hours are blah, blah, blah. Trust your vision to us. We use state-of-the-art technology and treat you like family."

Usually there’s a picture of the doctor/s (and perhaps also staff or the office building) with their wrists crossed like they're getting ready for a penalty kick, wearing a very wonderful suit or a lab coat with a stethoscope around their neck, a little map in the corner, and a website URL. This is a brand-focused ad that everybody does.

The sad part - apart from the fact that all of the competitors are doing the same thing - is that those same elements dominate all the other marketing content that most practices produce. It's the way brochures are done. It's the way welcome kits are done. It's the way handouts are done. It’s the way local ads are done.

None of this is ‘bad.’ But if it's the only thing, you’ll never know the ad’s effectiveness unless your staff is trained to say, "How did you hear about us?" and then enters their answer into a database so that you can analyze ad performance later. Of course, most patients won’t recall which specific ad they saw. So you’ll never know which ad really worked because they see the same phone number on every ad.

What if you could track how every ad in every media buy performed?

One thing a branding ad does is make people believe, correctly, that they should like and trust your practice even though they may not have been there yet. The other thing branding ads do is help them remember your name when they ask their family and friends about you or when they're searching through the on- and off-line directories.

But, when ads are untrackable, you really don't know if your media purchasing dollars are bringing you the return that you need in order to justify reinvesting the same amount, much less increase your spending. If you use call-tracking numbers you will at least be able to count all the phone inquiries it pulled. But, that’s not all you should be doing. Capturing caller contact info is the next step toward actually calculating ROI. The contact should be recorded in a marketing database AND in a sales pipeline. Only after every one of these things is in place can you calculate advertising performance.

You probably allocate a fixed amount every year for marketing and you should continue to do so. All we are suggesting is to rethink the percentage that is allocated for branding and consider spending more on “dynamic response marketing.

Dynamic response marketing is the only way to actually know how your marketing and advertising is doing, how well it's working, whom it's working on, whom it isn't working on, and how productively your money is being spent.

We'll get into the details about the upside of dynamic response marketing later. Just know that branding is not all there is.

Finally, this 'blook' introduces you to an easy-to-understand, simple-to-execute strategy that walks you through case studies and sample marketing campaigns that you can put to work in your practice. Think of it as a textbook with do-it-yourself labs ready for you to adapt to the market conditions that you find locally with your competitors.

You won’t pay thousands of dollars to some consultant to write a strategy. Simply read and apply the 7R Pyramid, implement the parts of it that are relevant for your practice, and then begin harvesting the results.

We hope you enjoy it. We hope you'll contact us with your challenges. We're always interested in helping you recover from not-so-productive marketing investments. We’re here to help you find better options. And feel free to share this guide with colleagues you feel may be interested in ophthalmology practice marketing.

Oh, and thank you for investing your time.

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