7 ways for physicians to connect with patients

It's no secret the business side of healthcare is swiftly changing, and just as CEOs are taking a new approach to marketing their hospital, physicians are also looking for new ways to connect with patients.

From Twitter accounts to Google Places, social media has become a mainstay in marketing for physician practices. John Lynn, founder of Healthcare Scene blog network and co-founder of Influential Networks, offers seven tips for marketing a physician practice to patients.

1. Develop a social media plan. "There are enough social media tools out there that you could spend every waking hour on social media promoting your practice," said Lynn. Instead, he suggests creating a more streamlined approach. "This is where a good social media plan pays off. Focus on the one or two social media platforms that will work best for you." Make sure the "social media path" you choose is a sustainable one, added Lynn, since social media marketing needs to be thought of as a long-term investment that's shaped more like a marathon than a sprint, he said. "Those who try to sprint with social media marketing usually end up with poor results, unless your name is Justin Bieber."

2. Remember, the goal is to connect. Essentially, social media is another communication channel, says Lynn. "Certainly, it's a revolutionary new way to connect and interact with patients, but at the end of the day, it's still just communication with patients," he said. However, social media has made it easy to not only connect on a regular basis, but to also drive meaningful, long-term relationships with patients and their connections. "Be your authentic self as you participate in social media," said Lynn. "Doing so is the best way to market your practice."

3. Understand your community. Where do members of your community "hang out?" asks Lynn. Do they prefer Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or maybe even Pinterest? "Where can you find authentic ways to interact with people you want visiting your office? Find those places and start participating as a full-fledged member of the community," he said. But, be careful when using these channels and make sure to draw boundaries around what's acceptable and what's unacceptable communication, "so they know up front your expectations. Start by giving more than you take and you'll end up receiving more than you give," said Lynn.

4. Take control of your online presence. Lynn suggests posting your practice on Google Places. "It's a free way to get your practice an extra listing in a local Google Search result," he said. "Google tends to give Google Places better positioning in their search results because it's one of their own products. Use this to your practice's benefit." Christina Thielst, principal at Tower Strategies and author of the blog Christina's Considerations, advises searching other sites to gauge and take control of your practice's online presence. "If someone Yelps about the experience [at your organization], you need to know about it," she said.

5. Start your own blog. Starting a blog is a great way to give patients a taste of your office culture, said Lynn. "Do you recognize your long-time staff?" he asked. "Can you provide information that will help patients before they even see you in person? All of these can help a patient understand more about your practice and why they should visit your practice instead of your competitor down the street." Plus, he adds, each blog post you create will help list your practice in search engines and bring patients to your actual web page.

6. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. There are plenty of free ways to market your practice online. Lynn's advice? Try them out to see what's a good fit, and don't be afraid of making mistakes along the way. "Certainly be thoughtful in your approach, but people are surprisingly forgiving if you're trying something new and make a mistake," he said. "That's all part of the learning process and will help you to become a master of marketing your practice."

7. Find a good partner. If you don't feel comfortable taking on marketing efforts, or if you simply don't want to put the time in, Lynn suggests finding a partner. "They are somewhat hard to find and in high demand, but a good one is worth the cost," he said. "Be sure to set clear expectations and understand what results you'll see from the partnership." Lastly, Lynn says to keep in mind that successful results don't always mean more patients. "Things like followers on Twitter, email subscriptions or likes on Facebook can be even more valuable long term than one patient through the door today."

Follow Michelle McNickle on Twitter, @Michelle_writes