Marketing Meets Evidence-Based Practice

The orthotics and prosthetics profession has begun employing
evidence-based practices as a way to keep up with the rest of
the health care world. From this point forward, O&P practitioners will have
trouble being reimbursed without proof of the effectiveness of the treatment or

  Randi Stillman
  Randi Stillman

Applying the same tactics to their
marketing plans — effectively asking patients how to best
convince them of the value of their practices — is a clear-cut way of
improving business.

Evidence-based marketing

Evidence-based marketing refers to collecting feedback from customers
about the kinds of services and products, or improvement to those existing
services and products, they would like to see from the company.

“The foundation of evidence based-marketing is the objective
process of asking questions to gather information directly from patients of
allied health services, and using that knowledge to guide decisions about how
best to market one’s products and services,” Randi Stillman, MBA,
principal and senior consultant at Bottom Line Market Research LLC, said.

  Scott Williamson
  Scott Williamson

The main caveat of this marketing strategy is the participation from the
target group. Business owners can obtain this information through focus group
discussions, one-on-one interviews, and surveys, or any combination of these.

The information business owners gather, however, must be put to use in
the right way. The ultimate goal is to reinforce your message with empirical
data, Scott Williamson, MBA, CAE, president of Quality Outcomes, said.

“If you are going to make a claim to a target audience, you need to
have data to back it up,” Williamson said.

Listing certain business facts in patient areas, for example, would
encourage patients to relay that information when referring people to the
practice. Information verified by an outside company is that much more

“If you have metrics that show your company ‘gets it right the
first time’ or improves your patient’s [activities of daily living]
scores more quickly than average, or any of several important goals, make sure
they are correct, true and documented, then use them to back your story,”
he said.

Russell J. Hornfisher, MS, director of sales and marketing for Becker
Orthopedic, pointed out that marketing cannot be a one-size-fits-all venture.

  © 2011

“Today there are more sophisticated means of tracking and
identifying what marketing tools are effective, but it’s not necessarily
any one procedure that is across the board successful,” he said.
“Different companies in different market places are successful using
different marketing techniques, and that’s not [to say] necessarily any
one of those techniques is more cost-effective than another; it’s just
what works for you in that environment.”

Some companies, for example, find success in establishing relationships
with physical therapists, or with referral surgeons, through the development of
continuing education programs; others build relationships with patients through
volunteering with the various patient support groups.

“What evidence-based marketing does is track for a company or an
organization where they’re getting the best bang for their buck,” he
said. “There’s no one answer. It’s for each individual company
to track what they’re doing and be able to relate in their environment
what works for them.”

Allied health marketing

Marketing in allied health presents some challenges different from those
seen elsewhere in the marketing field. Stillman, who has more than 20 years of
experience in marketing for the health care and allied health arenas, pointed
out that health care marketing essentially sells an intangible service —
“the expertise of the practitioner and the resulting benefit to a
patient’s quality of life or ability to function” — despite that
O&P devices can be characterized as products.

“The service is customized for the individual, and cannot be
purchased without the service provider,” she added.

The relationships that O&P business owners establish with existing
patients and referral sources are key to this service.

Williamson warned of another difference in health care marketing.

“The biggest difference between O&P marketing and non-health
care marketing is compliance with regulations restricting these activities.
Direct access to potential patients is fraught with legal and ethical
requirements and communications with these people may be subject to HIPAA laws
as well,” he said. “This makes a direct marketing approach, which
many would argue is the most effective, difficult.”

Hornfisher added that patient care marketing relies on providing
knowledgeable customer service and a quality product, building relationships
and being consistent.

“People buy from people. People do not buy from companies,”
Hornfisher said. “Physicians want their lives made easier. If an O&P
provider can deliver a quality product wrapped around professional honest
service, and do that consistently for years, success will follow.”

He said he sees no difference in applying these theories to different
subject matter. Over the 8-year period that Hornfisher owned a pet supply
store, he operated under the same concepts: good products, good service and

“The foundation for success in business is hiring the right people
who are motivated, giving them the right training, and continual training, and
that’s regardless of the position,” he said. “Whether
you’re a customer service [representative], practitioner, technician, you
need to be exposed to new ideas, new thoughts, and [get] the tools to do what
[you] need.”

Companies lose good employees due to lack of support, whether in the
area of training, staff or equipment and tools, he said.

Small business marketing

Perhaps the most obvious marketing tool is social networking, which
allows business owners the ability to spread the word quickly.

“Social media … levels the playing field in which larger
national or global companies participate,” Stillman said. “Social
media uses web-based technologies to turn communication into interactive

General interest websites like Facebook and Twitter represent one type
of venue in promoting the company. Additional options are special interest
sites such as Disaboom, an interactive online community dedicated to improving
the way individuals with disabilities or functional limitations live their
lives, she said.

As an additional means of engaging with customers or other stakeholders,
Stillman also suggests periodically blogging or posting newsworthy stories on
the company website.

The bottom line is developing a message that resonates with your target
audience, Williamson told O&P Business News. Since the nature
of health care privacy regulations essentially prohibits direct access to
patients, “the most effective marketing angle is through your referral
sources and payers,” he said. “These people are going to be most
interested in how their association with you can save them money while
achieving a satisfactory outcome for their beneficiaries.”

Providing them with accurate, supported information instills confidence
that people they refer to your business will find their needs met.

Tips and tricks

The most effective marketing research tactics are not necessarily the
most expensive, as long as they provide objective ways to collect accurate and
useful information. Stillman pointed out that e-mail surveys are one of the
cheapest and easiest ways to collect customer information and feedback,
especially with free online survey software, such as SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang
and eSurveysPro. For some business owners, a traditional paper survey may be
the most practical instrument of collecting customer feedback.

To implement this way of collecting feedback, she recommended, first,
clearly defining the objectives of the survey so that patients are aware of
what you hope to gain from their responses. It also helps to send surveys to
find out what your patients are thinking while their experience is still fresh
in their minds, she said.

The questions should be clear, simple and brief, and the information
collected should be strictly confidential. A final step is to thank survey
participants and let patients know that the information will be used to improve
products and services or fix problems, Stillman recommended.

Honesty is the key to establishing trust in the process, Williamson

“Do not make a false statement or a claim for which you do not have
proof,” he said. “Rather than providing a boost to your company, you
could end up seriously hurting your credibility.”

Breaking down the marketing plan into small steps affords business
owners the luxury of focusing on each aspect individually and including
personal touches that help their businesses stand out from the others.

“So limit your stress, focus on the one aspect of your business
that you do best, and promote that using the tips in this article,” he
said. “Once that is working well, take on the next thing.”

Hornfisher echoed the sentiment that simple is best. When it comes to
marketing strategies, business owners should focus on one key point: doing good
business breeds more business.

“The most effective sales person to any business is a satisfied
customer telling friends,” he said.

Any other applied tactics should play into that basic principle.

Evidence-based Marketing
for O&P

It is important for O&P practitioners to understand the
difference between two kinds of marketing research methods.

Focus groups and interviews

Focus group discussions and one-on-one interviews are
qualitative methods to better understand, in depth, consumers’
decision-making criteria, pricing sensitivities, motivators/inhibitors and to
gauge reactions to new product concepts, product features and marketing
materials. Focus groups and interviews may take place either in person or,
increasingly, on the web.

In a traditional focus group, the moderator takes a
non-judgmental approach to leading a discussion among eight to 10 individuals
on predetermined topics. The moderator typically follows a discussion guide,
probing where necessary and may bring props or implement exercises to bring to
light consumers’ thoughts, emotions, opinions and experiences. Online
bulletin boards may take the place of traditional focus groups, especially when
it is difficult to gather individuals together in one location at the same

In a traditional interview, the interviewer also takes a
non-judgmental approach to asking open-ended questions about topics of interest
and probes where clarity, detail, or examples are needed. A series of
individuals are recruited to a designated location or they may be interviewed
by phone or online interactively.

Survey research

Survey research with various customer and non-customer
groups uses quantitative data collection methods — Internet, telephone,
intercept and mail — to categorize or measure perceptions, needs and
behavior. Survey results are used to develop and refine strategies, tactics and
messages aimed at strengthening demand and broadening appeal.

To evaluate the marketing plan, the first step is to
determine the questions you need answered and how you are going to use that
information. For example:

A question about how your customers first heard about you
provides information about where you should target your marketing efforts. If
many customers cite physician referrals or physical therapists, then you may
find success expanding your relationships with health care practitioners.

Ratings that compare (a) your customers’ experience
with specific aspects of your products and services, and (b) how important
these aspects of your products and services are to them are typically very
helpful. These questions shed light on the extent to which consumers perceive
that you are delivering quality products and professional service. This
information illuminates truths you can substantiate in your marketing messages
as well as areas for improvement or expansion.

The best means to evaluate the marketing plan is to work
collaboratively with a professional marketing researcher or firm. A
professional researcher will ensure that the data is unbiased, accurate,
complete, necessary and actionable. In addition, a professional researcher will
analyze and interpret the data with specific customized recommendations for
your marketing plan and business development.

Two excellent resources to find an organization or
consultant that specializes in marketing or market research for allied health
practitioners are The Qualitative Research Consultants Association and
GreenBook: Worldwide Directory of Marketing Research and Focus Group Companies
and Services. —by Randi Stillman, MBA

For more information:


Business owners also must pay close attention to their financial
statements, Hornfisher added. They will not be able to grow their businesses or
their bottom lines by overspending.

Consistent delivery

The most important messages for allied health professionals, Stillman
said, are to understand their patients’ needs to focus their marketing
messages and to differentiate their businesses from all others regardless of

“They must consistently deliver on their ‘secret sauce’
— product quality, professionalism and customer service — and
communicate it in their marketing,” Stillman said.

Williamson said independent verification of metrics is the best way to
avoid allegations surrounding false statements.

“You do not need to re-invent the wheel with the documentation, and
you can help the profession as well as yourself if you collect and analyze the
same data in the same way as everyone else,” he said. “Creating a
common pool of data with an independent organization helps maintain the purity
of the data and reduces the risk that industry outsiders can disregard it as
self-serving.” — by Stephanie Z. Pavlou

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