I admit to being a great fan of electronic media for healthcare. My fandom, however, does not mean that I believe all paper and ink informational and marketing mediums are dead.
Because most practices have some portion of their patient population depending on paper for information and may also market to that population (whether patients or referrers), my opinion is that the practice brochure remains a viable and important piece of paper. You might want to give yours an update, though, to make it more usable and meaningful to everyone.
Using your brochure for your patients – new, established and future
- ABOUT – a brief sentence or two making it clear what ages, genders and types of problems your practice works with. You might also want to note if you do not see your patients in the hospital. A Mission Statement is a waste here – the reader wants facts. A history of the practice is also a waste here – save this for your website. You don’t even really need to itemize your providers here. Think of someone who knows nothing at all about you. Their first question is “Is this a practice I need and want?”
Your ABOUT could even be on the front of the brochure, so the patient doesn’t have to spend time reading the entire brochure if they are not a fit for your practice. Here’s an About Example: Main Street Urology helps men and women ages 18 and older with problems such as urinary infections, kidney stones and prostate problems. We see patients in our two offices, as well as at XXX and XXX hospitals.
- NEW & ESTABLISHED PATIENTS – Answer the second most common question next, which is “How do I get services?” Try to make this brochure as applicable to as many people as possible, so do not assume that the person reading the brochure has already signed on as a new patient. Consider the person that knows nothing about you and briefly describe all ways people can contact you to become a patient.
- Your website – do people complete their registration electronically and you call them to set the appointment or do they request an appointment and you email a response? How is it done?
- Your phone number – hopefully you are in step with the modern world and know that people don’t always think about establishing or following up on medical care during office hours. Do you have a way besides your website for patients to request appointments that are not urgent? Can they call and leave a message or do they get your answering service asking them to call back during office hours?
- Stop by the office – largely discouraged by most offices, patients in the rural communities I’ve worked in know that stopping by the office is the quickest way to get service. Do you welcome that “interruption”?
- Walk-in hours, work-ins, or same-day sick visits – what is appropriate for a same-day visit? When should patients go to the emergency room or call 911?
- PRESCRIPTIONS – The third most-common question is about getting new prescriptions and refills. With most people hoping to get a prescription without an office visit charge (who doesn’t want to save that co-pay?), requests for prescriptions are one of the primary reasons most specialties are struggling to keep the phones answered (read my post on phones here.) If you are not going to prescribe a new medication without an office visit, put it in writing. If all refills are obtained by calling the pharmacy, say so, and state how long it typically takes to get an existing prescription refilled. If you require a visit every 6 months for chronic illness medications, and a visit every month for chronic pain medications, say so. For practices with large numbers of chronic pain patients, spell out your terms including pain medication contracts and periodic laboratory tests.
- PAYMENTS – Now is a good time to state your payment policy. What is due at time of service? What kinds of payments do you accept? Do you require a credit card on file? Do you collect deductibles and co-insurance? Surgery or procedure deposit? Fee for no-shows? Fee for forms completion? Fee for NSF checks? Do you give discounts for self-pay patients? Do you have a sliding scale for financial need patients? Do you send statements? One of my big management philosophies is: Don’t Surprise The Patient. Don’t think it indelicate to discuss money before the visit. It is a business transaction and it is only fair to let the one paying the bill know and understand your policy upfront before the service has been rendered. Read my post on developing your financial policy here.
- COMMUNICATION -This is where most misunderstandings take place. How can you provide as many straightforward means of communication between the practice and the patient as efficiently and productively as possible?
- Main practice number – should get the patient to a real person during office hours and give an alternative after hours. Malpractice companies will tell you that patients should not be able to leave a message on the main practice number as they may assume it is monitored and your practice may have liability. For routine questions, let your answering service take a message to be passed along on the next business day, or have voice mail box for the answering service to utilize.
- Automated attendant number – some patients will prefer the automated attendant, especially if your options are published on the website or in the practice brochure and patients can call any time to leave a message.
- Website – should have detailed information about contacting the practice during and after office hours. If you allow or encourage non-medical emails from patients, let the writer know how and when a response will come. Make clear what types of questions are appropriate in non-encrypted email and use a secure portal or encrypted email for emails with protected health information (PHI.)
More tips for your brochure
- To be as inclusive as possible, do not use medical terminology, abbreviations or jargon and aim for a readability level of 6th grade. Use the active voice and simple, short declarative sentences, a font of 12 or more and use as few multi-syllabic words as possible. If you wonder how your brochure readability stacks up, you can paste your text here for a free analysis. Microsoft Word 2007 and newer has a function you can turn on for a readability score at the conclusion of your spelling and grammar check.
- Use as little text in paragraphs and use as many headings and bullets as possible.
- Don’t cram the brochure with every little detail you can think of – keep it simple with plenty of white space.
- A map is always a good idea.
- Your practice name, website, phone numbers and office hours should appear at least twice – maybe on the inside and the outside. Having the basics on both sides is helpful to patients who place your brochure on their refrigerator or tape it inside the kitchen cupboard for easy reference.
- This article assumes a tri-fold brochure, but your brochure could be bigger or smaller. A tri-fold is not only easy to fold in half and stick in a pocket or a purse, it is also feasible to produce yourself.
- A digital copy should be available on your website for patients to print out, either in the tri-fold style, or on standard 8 1/2″ x 11″.
Using your brochure as a marketing tool
Make your practice brochures do double duty by providing them to:
- The Welcome Wagon
- The Chamber of Commerce
- Real Estate offices
- Rental Agency offices
- Any location with a display of brochures of local events and services
- Libraries and Museums
- Urgent Cares
- Campgrounds, RV sites, theme parks
- Sporting event locations
- Hairdressers and nail salons
- Malls and shopping centers
- Continuing Care Communities
- School nurses
- Gyms and sports clubs
- Parish Nurses
- Any place you give a talk or program
- Correspondence you send welcoming a new business to the area
- Complementary Care Practitioners (accupuncture, meditation, etc.)
- Convention Centers
- The Health Department
- The State Welcome Center
- State Rest Stops
- Service Clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis, Jaycees)
- Medical office programs in local schools (high schools, technical schools, vocational schools, community colleges)
- Nursing programs
- Other medical offices in your building or medical park
- Medical employment agencies
- Home Health agencies
- The Red Cross
- Durable Medical Equipment and Supply Stores
- Community Centers
- Afterschool programs
- Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians
- Physical Therapists
- Massage Therapists
- Parks and Recreation Centers
- Train stations
- Bus stations
- Rental car agencies
- Any business or individual you buy goods or services from
- Radio and television stations
Bonus #51: Give them to your new staff so they understand the fundamentals about your practice very quickly.
Image by S.C. Asher via Flickr