With the increasing use of social media and company websites, O&P businesses are finding more creative and cost-effective ways to market their products, but three components remain at the heart of marketing for any O&P business: reaching out to referral sources, keeping patients happy and providing education.
“In orthotics and prosthetics, you have two audiences: patients and referral sources,” Eric Robinson, owner and president of Elite Result LLC, told O&P Business News. “Whatever it takes, you have to do it — whether it is personal conversations with your referral sources, direct mail pieces, polishing your website, running commercials. Whatever you do, you have to be able to measure the results.”
O&P businesses need to have basic marketing support materials such as brochures and business cards to be distributed to referral sources, as well as information for patients to take home — for example, about their bracing, their visit or a follow-up appointment, according to Libby Johnston, clinical relations representative at De La Torre Orthotics and Prosthetics in Pittsburgh. “For new amputees, we provide a packet that we put in a reusable shopping bag with our emblem on the front and a slogan for our prosthetics department,” she said. “We include materials from the Amputee Coalition, information that we put together about our company and other helpful things about local support groups and local amputee clinics.”
“Before you even start, you need a good brochure, you need a good website, and of course, you need business cards,” said Andy Ullman, president of UCO International, a manufacturer and distributor, said. “If you have those three things, you have the tools to go around and start meeting your referral physicians.”
Robinson suggested that O&P practitioners and owners of an O&P business schedule times to meet face to face with current and potentially new referral sources.
“I have a little saying: ‘There is no way to replace the face-to-face,’” Robinson said. “Being in front of that referral source and reminding them that you are there for them as far as taking care of their patients — there is no way to replace that.”
“You should take every opportunity that arises,” Mollie Matthews, CPO, co-owner of Davidson Prosthetics & Orthotics Inc., said. “This includes additional marketing of handing out your pens, your brochure and taking every opportunity to send a thank-you letter after each referral. We also put our logo on our custom products before patients walk out the door.”
Build and maintain a website
An essential part of any business is a presence on the Internet. “If you are not present on the web, people question whether or not you are a legitimate business,” Robinson said.
“All O&P businesses should absolutely have an email newsletter and a website,” Elizabeth Mansfield, president of Outsource Marketing Solutions, said.
According to Robinson, an O&P patient care website should include examples of the business’s work, a listing of services, staff pictures, contact information and patient testimonials. “When a patient is actually deciding whether or not to choose a particular facility to do the work or provide the service, testimonials and images make a difference,” Robinson said.
He also suggested including a form for patients to contact the company and receive a follow-up response. New patient information forms, which allow patients to register their information and set up an appointment, also are becoming more common on O&P websites, Robinson said.
According to Johnston, the De La Torre website provides directions to the office and the next steps for patients after they receive a prescription from their physician. Patients also can register and pay on the De La Torre website and can have questions answered through the website.
Mansfield suggested companies can build their own websites using weebly.com or web.com, but can also use an outside vendor to build the website.
“The key would be to retain the login information for the website in-house because the most frustrating thing is to have someone else in control of your content and not being able to access it,” she said.
Prices for having a website built have decreased over the years. Before Matthews’ company, Davidson Prosthetics & Orthotics, opened its doors 14 months ago, they had their website built by an outside vendor. “The prices ranged from $2,000 to $25,000,” Matthews said.
The company spent $2,000 to have the website built and pays a monthly maintenance fee of $55 that allows them to change anything on the website at any time.
In addition to a website, Mansfield and Ullman both recommended that O&P businesses send out a monthly email newsletter.
“Just make sure it is something that readers see as news and not just a brochure that is copied and pasted into an email,” Ullman said.
Email newsletters provide a way to track and measure the hits to a company’s website.
“When you have the ability to send content to the people in your target markets and see when they opened it, what they clicked on, how many people opened it, how many people they forwarded it to, that is huge,” Mansfield said.
Although Google Analytics and other programs track website analytics, Mansfield said many people do not take the time to look at this information, “and even if they did, it doesn’t help them tailor their marketing message. Using the data from your newsletter statistics, will actually help you manage your marketing efforts,” she said.
Use social media
For businesses on a tight budget, social media, including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, provides a cost-effective way to communicate with patients and referral sources, drive hits to the website and maintain a presence on the Internet.
“There are benefits to having constant communication with people who have an interest in your company through anything that will drive information back to your patients and keep them plugged into your message on a regular basis,” Robinson said.
“If you are going to pick free social media, choose Instagram and Pinterest over something like Twitter because O&P is so visual,” Mansfield said.
With the proper releases, O&P businesses can share their work on Instagram or Pinterest, according to Mansfield.
“Whether it is scoliosis braces for geriatric patients or braces for pediatric patients, you have a way to showcase what you are doing on these social media forums because they are picture-based only, as opposed to Facebook where people like to include a little bit more text-type content,” she said.
De La Torre has been posting YouTube videos on its website, which, according to Johnston, have been driving traffic to the website.
“The way we have been using YouTube is specifically driven by what people want to know,” Johnston said. For example, De La Torre produced a YouTube video on how to put on a walking boot, and the video has received about 25,000 hits.
The company also plans to start including YouTube video testimonials from patients. “What is more personable is to read about somebody else and why they were amputated and see them walking,” Johnston said. “So we are starting to make videos that are just about 2 minutes in length about a patient and why they were amputated, what they are wearing and a picture of them walking.”
Clinicians at De La Torre are able to create these videos on their smartphones, and Johnston sends the footage to an outside individual who puts the clip together with a voiceover.
Patient testimonials can be used in all aspects of marketing. Robinson suggested sharing patient testimonials in a press release disseminated to local media.
“It could be a grandmother, or it could be a young person playing sports — and whatever that particular outstanding person brings to the table,” he said. “Testimonials can be used in multiple media — social media, your website, even in your office on a DVD. It is a cost-effective way to get some exposure for your company.”
Johnston said her company has not been as successful with Facebook.
“Good Facebook is always interactive. People are looking, they are responding, you are going back and forth. That just wasn’t happening,” she said. “It took me forever to get up over 100 likes.”
If companies do implement a Facebook page, they should set a schedule for updates. “Make it easier on yourself and don’t always try to come up with brand new content,” Mansfield said. “Give yourself a framework that you can work with; so, for example, say it is Technology Tuesday — what is going on in O&P that is going to provide some good content that you didn’t necessarily need to come up with yourself?”
Matthews updates her company’s Facebook page daily and includes keywords in her posts such as “below knee amputee” or “orthotic,” for example. “The main thing about social media is that it levels the playing field with larger companies,” she said. “We all have a website and social media just increases traffic to your website.”
One downside to social media, however, is that it is difficult to judge its effectiveness. “You need to look at the sheer volume of incidences that are taking place,” Robinson said. “Converting that into actual dollars or sales is the difficult part.”
He suggested conducting an analysis of the business before implementing social media compared to the business after implementation. The responsibility of updating and maintaining social media sites would ideally rest with a dedicated marketing person or salesperson. However, Robinson said many businesses assign this responsibility to the office manager.
“Those folks make the personal connection with the individuals you are servicing, and they can spread the news, drop hints, say ‘sign up for our Facebook page and like us’ or whatever it is — they have the ability to drive traffic because of the personal connection,” he said.
Mansfield suggested thinking outside the box when it comes to assigning the responsibility of updating social media sites.
“Most people gravitate toward the person sitting in the front of the office, but that is not necessarily the best person for the job if they are not familiar with Facebook or how it works,” she said. “It could be an intern; oftentimes it could be your residents. But once again, if they are not going to be staying with your company, make sure you have all the login information.”
Orthotists and prosthetists are ultimately responsible for educating patients and referral sources, and education can become another way to provide marketing exposure for their business.
“One of the large determinants of success in a practice is the ability for your clinical staff to educate your referral sources,” Robinson said. “We have a big job; we have a lot of people who we need to connect with and they all need different information, so education needs to be tailored to each specific professional group that we deal with on a referral basis, including nurses, doctors, case managers and physical and occupational therapists. Education needs to become a high focus for your referral sources.”
Providing education makes the O&P business part of the referral source’s decision making and highlights the company’s expertise in the field.
“That is one thing the referral sources are looking for. They want to know, ‘If I am going to deal with this group, how do I know they know what they are talking about?’ And education does that in the blink of an eye,” Robinson said.
Johnston’s company provides free continuing education units to existing and potential referral sources for physical therapists and case managers. De La Torre has been credentialed to provide continuing education units and receives approved O&P curriculums from Clinical Education Concepts. De La Torre is approaching the end of its first year with the program.
“Some of the referral source [locations] where we presented were existing contracts and it made us look even better because we were providing them a service,” Johnston said. “But then there were about 10 different locations where we presented and they knew of us but didn’t refer to us or refer to us solely and used other competitors. It gives us a reason to be in there, and it gives us a reason to be contacting the director of rehab and have a relationship with them, which leads to other things.”
Whether through trade shows, event sponsorships or clinics, the opportunity for networking to be used in marketing is always available.
“Some practitioners get so caught up in seeing the patients that they sometimes forget about just old-fashioned person-to-person selling and networking,” Ullman said.
He suggested that O&P businesses attend local trade shows for physical therapists and other appropriate referral sources and even present at the meeting. “It is a low cost way to build a reputation and get your practice in front of people,” Ullman said.
Robinson also suggested businesses become involved in advocacy groups, such as amputee support groups, or wound care clinics where people are seen by physicians on a regular basis.
“Wound care typically leads to needing some sort of orthoses and eventually can lead to amputation, so they can be there to support them from start to finish,” he said.
Another way to drive business for a new or existing O&P business is to start a walking or gait clinic. Robinson suggested businesses involve a physical therapist or podiatrist who is interested in helping people improve their gait. For example, “if you give an amputee an opportunity to come in and improve their day-to-day mobility … this gives the prosthetist the opportunity to work with them on an abbreviated basis but also an opportunity to help them. When you give something to somebody, they tend to remember that,” he said.
Event sponsorships can provide O&P businesses with recognition among patients and referral sources as well as in their community, according to Johnston. De La Torre has sponsored the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure by setting up a water station for the 50-mile and 100-mile riders. Through the sponsorship, the company is featured on the event t-shirts and signage. “There are many people in health care who ride in the race,” Johnston said. “So some of our biggest referral sources will have bicyclists and it is another opportunity to network.”
“Your ultimate goal should be that everyone should know who you are and what you do because at some point, whether it is a cranial remolding helmet or a prosthesis, every human being has the ability to be a prospective customer,” Mansfield said. “General awareness is absolutely key.” — by Tina DiMarcantonio
Disclosures: Johnston, Matthews, Robinson and Ullman have no relevant financial disclosures.Mansfield is a provider of marketing consulting services for the O&P field.