Physicians with large databases of existing patients often make the mistake of thinking they need a continuous stream of new patients to increase business. In my opinion, this couldn't be farther from the truth. Instead, making your patients aware of all the services you provide and encouraging them to refer their friends and family are essential to a thriving practice.

Consider this: Current patients already trust you, and potential patients are much more likely to try out a new service from a doctor recommended by someone they know. In fact, 84 percent of people rely on recommendations to make a purchase decision. It is much savvier to focus on the upsell and increase the lifetime value of your existing patients than to convince people who have never heard of you to buy from you.

Why would you spend your hard-earned marketing dollars trying to convince people who have never heard of you to come try out a service? It is unlikely you will have a truly qualified “lead”—a potential patient for the procedure you are offering—with this approach. You may be booking “new patient consults,” but these prospective clients often miss their appointments, may not be the proper candidates for the procedure, may not have the financial resources for the procedure, or may not trust you to perform the procedure. But that doesn't mean it is not worth putting effort into marketing. The key is to get the right messages to the right people, who are largely your existing patients.

Your practice can thrive and grow by generating new business from existing patients. By improving communication with your existing patients, you are in a better position to generate a higher volume of internal referrals. The increased number of procedures typically leads to greater gross revenue.

Four Tips

Here are four tips to create a sophisticated patient engagement program that will help you decrease marketing waste by avoiding expensive patient acquisition costs.  At my practice, we use the eRelevance service to help engage existing patients.

Current patients represent 40% of revenue; Drive 32% of referrals.

Focus on Loyalty. Did you know current patients represent 40 percent of revenue and drive 32 percent of referrals? This significant portion of your business is coming from people whose attention you already have. Consistently communicate with your patients about services and offers you know matter to them. Consider rewarding patients who are most loyal to you and your office.

New patients generate 13 percent of revenue; Cost up to $1,000 to acquire.

Drive Word-of-Mouth. Since there is nothing more powerful than a referral from a friend, help your patients be your brand ambassadors. Give your patients the information they need to share your services with friends and family. This might involve creating effective digital brochures that are easy to share with friends and family. It may also involve creating promotions that reward patients for referring a friend. Expanding relationships with current patients is much more cost-effective than trying to find new patients, who only generate 13 percent of revenue and can cost up to $1,000 per person to acquire. Through your existing patients, referrals become your new business, and these referrals tend to be much more loyal to your practice than random acquisitions.

Digitally Surround Your Customers. Consumers are more connected than ever. According to eMarketer, adults now spend almost six hours a day consuming digital media. Create a strategy to reach your patients digitally. The key to success is to create a digital presence across all channels so people can connect through their media of choice. Create a Facebook page, share photos on Instagram, send texts, and deliver emails connected to campaign landing pages. I even offer a mobile app with the marketing company with which I have partnered. This allows patients to engage with the practice through their preferred channel.

E-mail open rates average around 20% in the healthcare industry; Facebook posts reach about 2% of fans.

Moving your marketing beyond email means more effective marketing. Email open rates average around 20 percent in the healthcare industry, which translates to 80 percent of patients never seeing the offer. Facebook is even less effective, reaching only about two percent of fans, according to research from Ogilvy, leaving 98 percent of patients missing your message. Your job is to create a cross-channel approach so your message is actually heard by your patients.

Create Personalized Campaigns. Adopt a personalized marketing program that sends targeted messages to individuals based on their interests. If they are likely to come in for Botox or filler, ensure they receive messages based on their interests. Messages about breast augmentation or vaginal rejuvenation sent to your male patients are less likely to be opened. With repeated, untargeted communications, people will likely unsubscribe to your emails or stop following you on Facebook. Messages that matter confirm you know and understand your patients, which goes a long way toward strong, lasting relationships.

Innovative Engagement

Technology is making it easier for small practices to stay in touch with customers. The key is to use these tools to develop savvy marketing programs without breaking the bank. Adopt an innovative engagement strategy that digitally surrounds your existing patients with messages that matter, and harnesses their loyalty. You'll find you spend less money while gaining more business.