A year-long journey in practice marketing

From retail to medicine

When Julie Kuehn-Bailey joined Wheaton (IL) Medical Clinic as a marketing specialist in 1996, she had no idea what she was getting into. She came from the retail world and didn’t know how her ideas would go over at the 30-physician multispecialty practice or whether they would produce results in a medical setting.

When she started, Kuehn-Bailey says the practice’s only foray into marketing was open houses at the time of open enrollment for area payers. "I don’t think registering to win a free television is a great method of bringing in patients or getting feedback."

The jury is still out on much of what she has done. "I want to wait a full year for most of the things I did before I analyze them," she says. But her ideas have certainly changed the way patients are served at the clinic, and anecdotal information indicates that her ideas are working.

Here are six of the programs Kuehn-Bailey put into place.

1. Health fairs.

She started her planning by making some basic marketing calculations. "I figure if an adult comes into the office 2.3 times per year at $60 per visit and spends five to seven years in the same job, then I want to spend less than $700 to win that patient," she says. Kuehn-Bailey started holding health fairs, keeping her calculations in mind when she planned them. "If I capture 2% of the people from that health fair as patients, then I can afford the cost of that fair," she explains.

She is still working on how to best determine whether the people she captures at those events convert into patients. "We have an old database system which is only based on billing," she says. "If you died and owed us money, your name would still be in there, but whether you are a new patient or not isn’t."

2. Workplace/school health seminars.

Kuehn-Bailey is wary of advertising since "running an ad doesn’t make people sick. I’d rather concentrate on getting to people in the community so that they know what we can do for them." She recently started coordinating health seminars. For example, she conducted an asthma program in schools which was promoted only to school nurses. "We had 25 people come to the office, 75% of whom had never been here," she says. Her seminar was free, compared to a $50 program held at the hospital on the same topic. "It could take a year or two to see how it works, but I know it got our name out to new people." She is working on a plan to bring other health topics to major employers in the area.

3. Patient newsletter.

A patient newsletter has also helped to keep the clinic’s name in front of patients. When she started at the clinic, Kuehn-Bailey started reading consumer publications — "the things our patients read like Family Circle or Good Housekeeping," she says. If there was a story about overuse of antibiotics, she would ask physicians to help her with questions on the topic and put it in the newsletter. "It not only provides timely information to patients, but helps me build rapport with the doctors."

4. Showing patients appreciation.

Other small touches have been appreciated by patients, too. For example, the week of Mother’s Day, all female patients were given flowers. "It cost less than $100, but you know people were telling friends all day long where they got the flowers."

5. Improved waiting room atmosphere.

There have been more visible changes to the practice, as well. "When I came here, patients walked into a box with windows on each side," she says. "After they registered, they went around a corner to wait completely out of sight." Kuehn-Bailey convinced the practice to spend some money — she is unsure what the final cost was — opening up the waiting area. "We brought reception into the lobby and added two coffee stations. We changed the decor — which had been the same since the 1970s — and really made it something that patients feel more comfortable in."

It also helped the staff to keep track of who was waiting and for how long. Kuehn-Bailey also added a television and VCR in the children’s area. "The Lion King plays over and over again."

And there are signs which ask patients to let staff know if they have been waiting more than 20 minutes. "It reminds them that we care about them, and it has been a real plus with our payers, who see that patient satisfaction is important to us."

6. Weekend hours.

There is also a new convenient care center which the practice opened last fall. "It has weekend hours and is staffed by one to two physicians from a service, as well as a nurse and receptionist," she says. It allows patients to go to a familiar location for broken bones and sore throats and keeps those patients out of the emergency department. Patients are charged an emergency co-pay for the visit. "We know it pays for itself now, but we think it can do really well in the future," says Kuehn-Bailey.

Although she still awaits results from most of her efforts, Kuehn-Bailey says she thinks they are paying off. "Patient feedback has been great," she says. "I do return cards for everything I do, and they really seem to appreciate what we’re doing."

[Editor’s Note: If you have any ideas for Kuehn-Bailey, or if you and your practice have an interesting story to share, let us know. Contact Lisa Hubbell via e-mail at dhubbell@ix.netcom.com. Or call Francine Wilson at (404) 262-5416.]

Julie Kuehn-Bailey, Marketing Specialist, Wheaton (IL) Medical Clinic. Telephone: (630) 510-6925.