Practice newsletter brings in 150+ patients

The management team at Grosse Point Allergy & Asthma in East Point, MI, had toyed with the idea of doing a newsletter. (See related story, p. 100.) But with a move to a new office and business booming, Susan Haro, practice administrator, says she felt she had her hands full.

So when she was approached by the Detroit Free Press about running a special section just on her practice to be distributed on a day when the weekly health supplement ran, she thought it was a great way to accomplish the same goal: reaching a wide range of people and telling them about the practice.

The special supplement was a screaming success, resulting in between 150 and 225 new patients coming into the practice. Haro says she only wishes she had blocked out half again as much time for new appointments.

"We usually advertise in the spring and the fall," she says. "[The newspaper's ad department] wanted us to commit to more advertising and we didn't want to. So it suggested that we get some of our vendors to run ads in a special section. [Its staff] would come and do interviews of us, and [the special section] would run as a supplement."

Haro contacted pharmaceutical companies and vendors by a letter written by the Free Press staff, edited by Haro and signed by the practice CEO. Both she and the paper did follow-up calls.

"The response [to the letter] wasn't great," she notes. "Part of that is because we didn't have enough lead time. The pharmaceutical companies set their budgets for that kind of thing and then don't budge from that. We missed the window."

But the practice accountant and the company that did the interior design of the new office participated. The ads placed by the vendors ended up paying for about half of the eight-page color supplement. While Haro wouldn't reveal the total cost, she says it was between $1,000 and $5,000.

The content included a piece on the history of the practice, a meet-the-doctor page, a listing of the services offered and hours the practice is open, and a section on allergy tips for spring and summer. There was also a story that emphasized the human side of the physicians, Haro says. One physician had a patient who was very ill with asthma and needed to go to the National Jewish Center for Asthma in Denver - one of the premier treatment centers for those extremely ill with the disease. The parents couldn't afford the treatment, and that physician worked to raise money from the community for the trip.

Within two hours of publication, there were 50 calls from prospective patients. "After that, we stopped counting," Haro says. "We definitely covered our costs."

So successful was the venture that the office had to extend hours and bring in an additional physician for Saturday clinic hours. "We should have planned better, but I don't know how we could have known."

The enterprise is something Haro would like to do again, but not every year. "Maybe next year we can do something different for our 30th anniversary, but I wouldn't do the exact same thing again."

One consideration would be to run a special section in the other Detroit paper, The News, which could reach a different audience from the 90,000 Free Press readers.

Next time, Haro is sure she'll get more ads from vendors, too. "I was disappointed at the lack of participation from some vendors," she says. "I sent copies to them, and I got a lot of calls from people who want to be involved next time."

While Haro sees the benefit of a regular newsletter, she doesn't have the time or staff to devote to that kind of ongoing project. "This way, we get the benefit, but they do the work. This works well for us."