Getting them into your chair- marketing your low vision practice
Despite all the awareness surrounding macular degeneration, stem cell transplants, intra-ocular telescopes and bionic eyes, low vision care is still a third cousin. For those who are lucky enough to find their way to a low vision practice, the still common refrain is, “How come no one has told me about this before?”
Where are low vision patients likely to be found? For adults and seniors, they’ll be in ophthalmology practices and especially those specializing in retina and genetic diseases. For children, you’ll find them in pediatric ophthalmology practices.
Where else will they be found? In senior and retirement centers, social service agencies, in special-education programs in the school districts and in the practices of geriatricians, and occupational and physical therapists.
You’ll find them subscribing to large print publications, in the large print section of your library, and in chat-rooms on line.
There’s no point advertising far and wide in a shotgun approach to reach a very selected market where a properly focused approach can be more effective. How often do you respond to ads for health care providers, plumbers, and lawyers or for anything else that really matters? Not likely very often. We depend upon referrals, reviews and especially word of mouth. So, if that’s what drives patients (us included) to our doors, there’s no point running ads--it’s not likely to make anything happen.
So what does work?
Establishing relationships with the ophthalmologists and especially their staffs. Reach out to the practices that you refer to and ask for their low vision referrals. Offer to make a presentation to their staff, who often spend more time with the patient than the MDs do, and when you visit bring chocolate! Talk about what to expect from a low vision referral, how to promote it to the patient, and bring along one or two cool products to demonstrate. Leave business cards and a referral fax form, and check back routinely. Contact Ocutech to request sample forms that you can personalize with your practice information.
After you’ve seen the patient write a one page exam summary letter. Include what their diagnosis is, what their goals are, what their vision is, what they responded to, and what your treatment plan is. Four short paragraphs is all you need. Address it to the doctor; copy it to the patient, the patient’s internist and any other health care providers the patient sees. Don’t flood them with information—they won’t read it! (TL-DR: Too long, didn’t read!)
Find two or three successful cases, especially if you use some new technology, and send out a press release (or get a PR firm to write it, it’ll still be cheaper than running advertisements) to publications and news outlets in your community. Talk about how this wonderful technology has changed the lives of these visually impaired patients individuals. If you can get a feature article or TV spot written based upon your press release, your phone will ring. You had better train your staff in how to respond. However, you have to be the first in your community to do this. The papers won’t run a story about the second doctor who did it!
Develop a 30 minute lay-person talk about the impact of vision loss on quality of life and how modern low vision technology can improve people’s lives. Take it to the Lions, senior centers, church groups. Develop relationships with your audience members. Also develop a Low Vision practice brochure that describes your services, how their vision can be enhanced and that also promotes your expertise.
Marketing is a process and it never stops. Have you ever heard of coke? They still advertise don’t they? But it has to be smart marketing, and you have to be a leader to get noticed. You have to be seen at the cutting edge of technology and expertise—that’s what gets noticed. If you’re just like everyone else, what makes you special?
Pearls I wish I knew earlier in my career.
1. Promise less than you expect to deliver.
2. Be politely, brutally honest. If you can’t get them to see as well as they need to, say so, and look for other options—if they don’t do well, it’s not your fault, it’s just the way it is.
3. Don’t prescribe to get half-way there, it won’t work.
4. Don’t waste time trying things with a low likelihood of success.
5. Charge enough for your professional services—the less you charge the less they’ll listen
6. Don’t push anything; it will undermine the patient’s confidence in you.
7. Remember that you’re looking for a long-term relationship, so if you have to take something back, do it.
8. The trick of course, is to not need to take anything back.