Marketing for Surgeons

by Blueliner, October 26, 2016
Marketing for Surgeons

The Dilemma

Surgeons and other specialists face many unique challenges in trying to build their practices and their careers. Many are lost within big practices without a discernible online reputation of their own. Others rely on hospitals systems that make them feel like just another replaceable cog in a faceless machine. But patients are much more educated about their diagnosis than ever before. They find great information about their conditions online. Then they start looking for the best doctors online. For older patients, their middle-aged kids get on the web. This is where the vast majority of doctors lose their referrals and potential patients. This is where the few doctors that have invested for years in a professional online presence win the best educated and most affluent patients. The rapidly and ever changing digital marketing options aren’t making it any easier. You have to know what you are doing and stay on top of all the change.

I’ve worked with many spine surgeons, so let’s use them as an example. These brilliant and dedicated doctors put in long hours every day, often starting before 7:00am and finishing after 6:00pm. They see 100 to 200 patients in a week. Then they struggle to get in a little family time in the evenings and weekends. I’m sure they could master digital marketing skills if they had the time and interest, but it’s not the best use of their time.

Finding a Solution

Start by Understand Your Goals

Would you like to earn more and work less?

Would you like to grow your practice?

Would you like to add doctors to your practice?

Would you like to specialize with a specific type of patients?

Once you understand your goals, you need to build a plan and a strategy to achieve those goals.

Understand Your Audience

While for spine surgeons, primary care doctors and pain management doctors are still part of the strategy, doctors can now reach patients and their families directly online using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as, search engines, blogs, websites and digital advertising. You can reach your patients where they already are, gathered around the virtual watercooler talking about their ailments, diagnosis and recommended treatments. They are in groups comparing notes with others that have already had their surgeries or have been cured, at least temporarily, by an injection, exercise routine, chiropractor or physical therapist. According to the Pew Research Center, these online patients are younger, better educated and more affluent. They are also more likely to move forward with surgery, when it is the best option, because they are less afraid, trust their own judgement and are more eager to return to their more active lifestyles. You can use these online channels to enhance your reputation and personal brand with primary care doctors and pain management doctors or whoever refers patients in your area of specialty. You can also use them to start conversations and create opportunities to meet colleagues in person.

Understand How You are Seen

It’s a digital world. Today patients find recommended surgeons and specialists on their smart phones and then they start comparing them to others that they find online. They are comfortable with this process. This is how they research and procure all their services now, both at home and at work. They review doctors’ websites and rating sites like Healthgrades and Vitals. They read patient reviews. They trust the information that they find online. They might ask their friend on Facebook or LinkedIn for a recommendation.

If you are not managing your online presence, I can guarantee that you are losing patients. If you have no presence, you’ve already lost, you’re not even in the game for this segment of patients. If you just have a website or you have a poor website, that’s a very passive strategy. You will miss most of your audience and lose when the comparison is done. If you don’t look at the rating sites and understand what drives the ratings you probably have an average or poor rating. Google yourself, it’s not hard to find. Unhappy patients are more likely to go to a review site than happy ones, so there are probably more than a few bad reviews out there for you and they will bring your rating way down.

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Understand How to Reach Your Audience

Content (Copy, Video, Photography, Audio) – Content is king. Every day patients, primary care doctors and pain management doctors are online looking for good information. You need to be a source of good and reliable information.

Design (User Experience, Communication Design, Web Development) – The information needs to look professional, get the readers attention, be well organized and easy to digest. It can even be entertaining. Videos are the best and most powerful form of online one-way communication.

Search (Organic Search – SEO, Organic CSE, Onsite Search) – This is where everyone starts: Google, Bing, Yahoo. They search for their medical symptoms. Then they search for their condition. Finally they search for practitioners. To make sure you show up in searches you need to understand how they work. Search results show what’s popular – sites that many people have visited, return to and value. It takes time for a site to develop a following and attract visitors and traffic. It won’t happen overnight. You increase your chances of showing up in searches by using the right keywords, setting your site up correctly, tagging it correctly driving traffic to it and advertising it. Understanding and staying on top of the constantly changing search rules and algorithms is the domain of a specialized group of experts. You want one these folks on your team.

Social (SMM, Online PR, Networks, Blogs, Games)

Social Media is used to drive traffic to your blogs and website. It also allows you to share valuable snippets of content while giving people some insight into your personality. The optimal approach is to consistently drip valuable content on regular basis in order to maximize each element of the larger content’s life span, broaden its reach and maximize engagement. This allows followers to easily digest the messages and decide if they want to find out more. This allows each piece of content to be more effective and have a bigger impact. Allowing followers to get to know you better, helps them become more comfortable with you as a person, as someone they can trust

Twitter – The key to Twitter is understanding where your audience is, how to present content to them that they will find valuable and how to engage them. Using the right hashtags is critical to being part of the right conversations. As a surgeon or specialist, you are a respected expert in the areas that your audience is concerned about – namely, their conditions and treatment options. If you tweet regularly, share valuable content and engage, you will be able to create a strong following.

LinkedIn – LinkedIn is about building your professional network. For doctors, these are your referring doctors and colleagues as well as the many non-physician professionals you work with and encounter during your professional endeavors. That network is valuable because everyone is a potential patient and the friend of a friend is easier to trust than a stranger.

Facebook – Facebook is about expanding your personal network. People trust people they like and people they know. Facebook allows friends of friends to get to know and trust you because they can see the more personal side of your life. They can see you are a regular person.

Media (Paid search, CPM, Affiliate, Retargeting)

Spending money on advertising can accelerate achievement of your goals. Optimizing your budget for digital advertising requires a keen understanding of the various options and tools and which approaches will help you reach your audience and your goals.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) (Customer Service, Email Marketing, Contract Management)

This multifaceted area needs to be part of your strategy. A positive patient experience is key to your success. Email marketing is a powerful tool to keep your existing and past patients up to date on the latest developments in your practice and in areas related to their ongoing good health. Maintaining an email database and growing it is critical. There are technologies available to help with all areas of CRM.


All your marketing initiatives need to be designed with the understanding that half of your audience will view your communication on their smart phones. You should take advantage of the unique capabilities of today’s mobile phone, like click-to-call and then track the results.


Ratings sites always appear on the first page of Google search results for a doctor, so they are critical to securing better educated and more affluent patients. Understanding which questions the ratings sites ask your patients is the first step to getting better ratings. Your goal is to reach a a rating between 4 and 5. That will put you ahead of 90% of your competition, who are ignoring ratings or don’t know what to do about them. The number of ratings matter too, if you have just 8 and the other doctors have hundreds, patients will think you aren’t very busy or the doctor with more ratings is busier and has more experience. The more ratings you get the more accurate the ratings will be. Without encouragement, only unhappy patients will go to give you are rating. You will be presenting perspective patients a skewed perspective.

Here are the questions that Healthgrades ask:

  1. Likelihood of recommending Dr. X to family and friends (responders are given a 5 star scale to choose from 1 star = poor, 2 = fair, 3 = good, 4 = very good and 5 = excellent.
  2. Tell us about your experience with Dr. X – Consider sharing specific reasons why you would or would not recommend this doctor to others. (free-form, up to 500 character answer is shared on the site along with this patient’s rating)
  3. Ease of scheduling urgent appointments (5 star scale)
  4. Office environment, cleanliness, comfort, etc. (5 star scale)
  5. Staff friendliness and courteousness (5 star scale)
  6. Total wait time (waiting & exam rooms) (5 star scale)
  7. Level of trust in provider’s decisions (5 star scale)
  8. How well provider explains medical condition(s) (5 star scale)
  9. How well provider listens and answers questions (5 star scale)
  10. Spends appropriate amount of time with patients (5 star scale)

Competitive Advantage:

Successful practices and businesses focus on and communicate their competitive advantage. For example, a spine surgeon could focus on and become an expert in back health for golfers. He would blog and tweet about how to keep your back strong for golf with stretches and exercises and proper technique during the golf swing. He can create low budget videos. He tweets about his favourite courses and clubs. Posts some pictures of the hole where he got a hole-in-one. As he builds his following and reputation in this area, he may be approached by a local television station looking for a story at the beginning of golf season. Now he has more video that he can put on his website, Facebook page and YouTube and tweet about. Golfers get injured and find him online. This hypothetical surgeon has created a niche for himself and created a competitive advantage for himself in the golf community.

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Marketing Rules for Doctors:

Here is a blog by Erika Alder that I think all doctors will find helpful:

“Understand the Legal Limits of Physician Advertising

Blog | May 30, 2012 | Law & Malpractice, Marketing

By Ericka L. Adler

A medical practice, like any business, is in constant search of new customers. But before you start any promotion of your medical practice to the public, be aware that physician advertising efforts are restricted by state and federal laws. The fact is a medical practice cannot be promoted in the same manner as any other type of business.

In most states, medical boards require physicians to avoid false, misleading, or untrue statements when engaging in advertising. Failure to do so can constitute “unprofessional conduct” and subject a physician to discipline. In addition, there are state consumer protection laws which prohibit false or deceptive physician advertising and, under the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act, the FTC has the authority to sue and levy fines against physicians who disseminate false or deceptive advertising.

Although it seems obvious that physicians should be truthful in their advertisements, it’s not always clear what might be viewed as false, deceptive, or misleading. The FTC has developed rules which are generally followed by all states: (a) advertisements should be accurate and not contain explicit or implied false claims or misrepresentations of material fact; (b) there should be no omissions of material fact from advertisements; and (c) physicians should be able to substantiate material claims and personal representations made in an advertisement.

In Ethics Opinion 5.02, the AMA provides guidance on physician advertising and states that physicians may publicize through any commercial publicity or other form of public communication (including any newspaper, magazine, telephone directory, radio, television, direct mail, or other advertising) provided the communication cannot be misleading.

The AMA specifically warns that the public can be deceived by use of medical terms or illustrations that are difficult to understand, so physicians should design the form of advertisement in a readily comprehensible manner. Aggressive, high-pressure advertising and publicity should be avoided if they create unjustified medical expectations or are accompanied by deceptive claims.

The key issue, however, is whether advertising or publicity, regardless of format or content, is true and not materially misleading. The AMA states that the communication may include: (1) the educational background of the physician; (2) the basis on which fees are determined (including charges for specific services); (3) available credit or other methods of payment; and (4) any other non-deceptive information. In particular, the AMA warns about using testimonials of patients as to the physician’s skill or the quality of the physician’s professional services since such testimonials can be deceptive.

Testimonials are prohibited in some states.

To get a better idea of what these rules mean, consider the following:

  1. If you are using endorsements and pictures, what message are you sending? Do the pictures communicate benefits that are attained by the average patient? Will they mislead patients’ expectations?
  2. When making any representation about lack of pain involved in a service, be careful. Suggesting that a procedure is painless can raise concerns, especially if the services advertised are invasive. Every patient’s pain is subjective and varies.
  3. If you are representing the safety or effectiveness of any service, make sure you substantiate with a reference to scientific support and do not simply use a phrase such as “safe.” No procedure is absolutely safe and patients should be aware that there is always risk.
  4. Avoid using the word “cure” without explanation. Patients need to understand their true prospect for improvement so as not to expect something that cannot always be provided.
  5. When promoting the qualifications of physicians, avoid terms such as “expert.” Patients are easily given an impression of skill and fame the physician may not actually have or which could be questioned.

Additionally, make sure to state the certifying board if claiming the physician is “board certified” and identify the board-certified physicians by name.

There are a number of deceptive and misleading advertising approaches in which physicians engage, even without intention to do so. It’s a good idea to make sure promotional materials are reviewed by counsel to assure compliance with federal and state laws, especially if advertising will be done via internet or across state lines. If you’re using a marketing company, make sure you choose one that is familiar with, and respects, laws that impact your medical license.”
Image 1 courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at
Image 2 courtesy of yodiyim at
Image 3 courtesy of cooldesign at
Image 4 courtesy of hyena reality at