Bariatric Times

Spotlight on Patient Financing April 2016

A peer-reviewed, evidence-based journal that promotes clinical development and metabolic insights in total bariatric patient care for the healthcare professional

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P O T L I G H T o n S S UPPLEMENT TO BARIATRIC TIMES VOLUME 13, NUMBER 4 • APRIL 2016 • SUPPLEMENT A Is Your Bariatric Practice Ready for Retail? Mystery Shopping Results Indicate a Need for Improvement A fter the news of a new, less invasive weight loss option hit the mainstream media last fall, millions of Americans began hearing about the gastric balloon procedure on television and in the news. And it's likely that a number of Americans then sought more information about the procedure via the internet and the phone. The gastric balloon could represent a big opportunity for bariatric surgeons and patients. But don't underestimate the significant change this procedure represents for your practice. If you perform it, you've entered the world of elective medicine—the same world as Lasik surgeons, plastic surgeons, and cosmetic dentists. The patients who seek elective procedures do their homework. They look at online physician ratings and reviews. They ask a lot of questions before attending a seminar or scheduling a consultation. They expect and insist on responsive service, and since they are paying upwards of $6,000 in personal, discretionary income, many of them want payment options. 1 To be successful in this new world, bariatric surgeons must pivot to a retail mindset. Like the reconstructive plastic surgeons who moved from performing breast reconstructions to breast augmentations, this shift requires staff training, new systems for tracking prospective patients, and new tools for managing what is now both an education and a sales process. Your practice is selling a high-end, elective procedure, and the entire team must deliver a patient experience that's consistent with that fact. RETAIL READINESS MAY BE LACKING IN SOME BARIATRIC PRACTICES Do you know how fast your team responds to website inquiries? Do you know how quickly staff returns voice messages from potential patients? Do you know how professionally the staff communicates in e-mails or over the phone? The answers to these questions might surprise you. From October 2015 through January 2016, our firm conducted a mystery-shopping project to evaluate the service elements, staff knowledge, and rapport building required to engage a prospective patient seeking the new balloon therapy. Thirty-four bariatric practices known to be offering the procedure were contacted through their website and by phone. We asked a standard series of questions and used a standard set of criteria to assess service and staff capabilities. The results varied significantly, and our experiences ranged from sublime to ridiculous. Some practices had extremely well designed, responsive, and well- written websites. These sites included patient stories, videos, easy-to-find brochures, easy-to- read procedure details, seminar dates, and online contact options. Others had the gastric balloon listed under surgical procedures, provided little useful information beyond a basic procedure description, and lacked current design standards. In the worst examples, the sites contained "old school" images, flashing words, and garish color combinations that left us wondering whether the physicians' skills were up to date. We attempted to inquire about the gastric balloon on the 34 practice websites, but 12 percent did not offer an online contact option. For the practices that did, we submitted inquiries as interested patients seeking procedure information. Forty percent of these practices never responded (Figure 1). In fact, at the time this article was written, which was three to four months after submitting the inquiries, they still hadn't responded. For those practices that responded to our inquiry, 67 percent did so by the end of the day. While that might seem acceptable, it's actually a long response time once you understand the short lifespan of a sales lead. According to research in the Harvard Business Review, companies that attempt to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving an online query were seven times more likely to have a meaningful conversation with the key decision maker as those who tried to contact the customer even an hour later. 2 Think about it: can you remember which websites you searched for yesterday? Neither Supported by: by Karen A. Zupko and Samantha Lappe P A T I E N T F I N A N C I N G

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