a-crm-healthcare-practice-guideA wise man once said, “The quality of your life is the quality of your relationships”, and this is just as relevant when it comes to the quality of your practice life.

Those practices with strong patient relationships benefit from greater patient loyalty, more referrals and a bigger spend per patient. Central to this is the often-misunderstood discipline of Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM) – the process of establishing, deepening and leveraging your patient relationships through a program of strategic outbound communication. More and more practices are waking up to the very real benefits this can bring them, and rightly so. Consider this – repeat patient spend 33 per cent more than new patients, and going after a new patient costs six times more than it does to retain one.

But despite this, CRM remains such a misunderstood discipline, considered by many – and particularly healthcare practices – to be complicated, unnecessary and expensive. Regardless, when things get competitive, so many healthcare practice owner-managers focus on chasing new patient opportunities and devising new ways to save money, rather than looking at their most important asset – their existing patients.

Getting Started

So, how to get started? First of all you need to have a willingness as a practice to commit to CRM. Part of this comes down to education and understanding how CRM can help you achieve your practice goals. It also has to go above and beyond looking after your top patients and instead of focusing on every patient you work with, not matter how much they spend with you. Remember, a low-paying patient today could become a loyal, high-spending patient in the future.

Research showed the top reasons practices lose patients is down to them being converted by a competitor (nine per cent), being beaten on price (14 per cent) and, most of all, perceived indifference (68 per cent) – meaning your patients have a feeling that you simply don’t care about them. But perceived indifference can be mitigated by building a relationship through CRM.

The second step of effective CRM is in understanding that data is king – it’s your route to reaching and engaging with your patients and shouldn’t be underestimated. You must have a patient database, or at least a willingness to develop one. If you haven’t got one then get moving, quickly. It’s not that hard to put the appropriate processes in place to collect data, and it will absolutely be worthwhile in the medium to long-term when it comes to reaching out to your patients.

You’ll also need to develop a system that allows you to communicate with patients in a way that is personalised, sophisticated, effective, and most of all, easy. It’s no good buying into the first two steps and then failing to deliver when it comes to the execution. Given that a CRM system is most likely to be executed by reception/front office staff with little e-marketing experience, functionality is key. If a CRM system starts to get complicated, unwieldy or awkward, then it could stop getting used, or worst still, mistakes, such as spelling names incorrectly, could happen.

Once you’ve got all the above processes in place, you then need to consider exactly what you’re going to send your patients. As always, marketing can tread a fine line between relevant, useful and timely, and intrusive. Map your activity against your practice objectives. Then match this to a type of activity, whether it’s quarterly e-newsletters; re-activation around Christmas; or simply birthday cards for patients.


One of the main reasons that CRM campaigns fail is because users have no idea what their measures for success are. This sounds obvious, but it happens more than you’d think. This in turn leads to wasted time, and problems demonstrating any kind of ROI from the activity.

So, what are the key metrics that you need to look at when developing a CRM campaign? Like any other marketing program, the end result ultimately needs to be about increasing patient numbers plus of course turnover & profit. Typical metrics should include increased patient retention, greater basket size or average spend, increased referrals from existing patients, increased reactivation of previous patients, while all the while ensuring your increased costs don’t exceed your increased returns. Also, think about asking your patients for feedback: how are they finding your new levels of engagement – intrusive, or relevant and timely? But do remember to be patient – effective CRM is about the long-term, and, as with any relationships, the returns may not always be immediate.