The New Patient Myth – Why Do 9% of Patients Steal 90% of Our Attention?

Let’s imagine you’re hosting a dinner party. You have 10 guests coming over. Nine of whom you have been friends with for some time and one who is someone you’ve never met before. Let’s assume this new guest has been invited by one of your existing friends. As the chef, you cook 10 steaks for your guests. When the guests sit down to eat, you begin serving.

First you serve one steak to your new guest. Why not? You’re being polite – making them feel welcome. But then you give them a second serving, then a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth. When you get to the last steak, you cut it into ninths and give a little to each of your friends. So one guest – the new guest – has 9 steaks on their plate and the rest of your guests have barely a bite-sized piece. 

This is a ludicrous analogy. And guaranteed, if you did this, everyone at the table would make that very clear. Yet, as business owners this is a very common thing to do. We give 90% of our attention to the new.

In general practice this means ‘new patients’. We dedicate 90% of our attention and marketing budget to acquiring ‘new patients’. And, yet ‘new patients’ make up just 9%^ of appointments.

The true value of ‘new patients’

Let’s throw away our obsession with the new just for a moment and remember why we actually want new patients in the first place.

It’s not for the sake of seeing new faces. Although that can be nice. It’s for the sake of filling your appointment book with patients who most need help with their health. 

So, the goal is to fill your doctors schedules.

That might mean getting in new patients. But it also might mean getting existing patients in more often. Realistically, it’s probably a blend of the two.

But before we make a strategy on which patients we should target and how much effort we should apply, let’s get clear on the difference between new patients and existing patients.

The first noticeable difference is that there are a lot more existing patients than new patients. According to a large Australian paid marketplace, 91%^ of patients who visit their platform are existing patients who already know which doctor they want to see.

We also know that when new patients come through a source like a paid marketplace, clinics pay for them. So, while not all new patients are paid for, a fair chunk of them are. On the flip side, existing patients are completely free to get back into your clinic.

Another difference is that because you don’t have a relationship with a new patient, there is no trust established. And, without trust, there is no loyalty. This means a patient could come in one door and disappear out the other.

The last big difference is that you don’t have the contact details of a new patient on file. This means you can’t send them a recall or broadcast your latest flu clinic to them. You can’t even email them your latest newsletter. You have no way to contact them on your own, so you basically have to cross your fingers and simply hope they turn up at your door.

This really means that if the aim is to fill your doctor’s schedules, ‘new patients’ perhaps aren’t as great as they first appear.

The fishing analogy

It’s kind of like heading out on a boat to go fishing and parking up on the edge of a reef. On one side of the boat, where the reef is, there are 10 times the number of fish. These fish know the bait you use and they like the taste. And when you pull them out, the fisheries board charges you nothing.

On the other side of the boat, there are 10 times fewer fish. These fish have never before seen or smelled the bait you’re using. And when you pull them up, the fisheries board charges $14 a pop. Which side would you fish on? 

Again, this is a ludicrous analogy. But the point is that if the goal is filling your appointment book, then targeting existing patients and encouraging them to return more often is a lot easier than luring in a new fish altogether.

Especially when you consider that targeting existing patients actually gets you more new patients as well.

A source of ‘new patients’ 8 times more powerful than marketplaces

You see there is a little secret that only the most successful medical centres know. It’s that there is a traffic source that is 8 times more effective at bringing in ‘new patients’ than paid marketplaces. And this traffic source has nothing to do with actively trying to acquire new patients.

This traffic source is word-of-mouth. The truth is there is a common misconception that most new patients find clinics on paid marketplaces. They don’t. 96% of patients come from sources other than paid marketplaces.

“In a survey of 1,400 Australian patients, it was found that just 4% of new patients found their clinic through a paid marketplace. The top 3 traffic sources were word-of-mouth (33%), saw it on the street (22%), and Google (15%).”

If you’re questioning the above statistics and think paid marketplaces are bringing in more than 4% of new patients, you’ll most likely find that these additional patients didn’t find your clinic through the marketplace, but simply used the paid marketplace to make their booking.

In other words, they would have booked with you even if you weren’t listed on the marketplace. They simply clicked a marketplace ad during the booking process and so you paid for the patient, even when you didn’t need to.

We call this last click wins.

If you really want to find out if this is happening at your clinic, start asking new patients how they first heard about you. Not how they booked with you, but how they heard about you.

The good news

This is actually great news, because it shows clinics they have a lot more power than they often think. It shows they can stand on their own two feet without being at the mercy to costly marketplaces. And, it shows the thing they care about most – providing the best possible patient experience – is actually the key to not only winning more new patients, but actually filling their appointment book.

After all, focusing on providing the best possible patient experience (which drives positive word-of-mouth and keeps existing patients engaged) is one strategy that achieves two outcomes: more return visits and more new patients.

Don’t be lured by the shiny

We’ll always be drawn in by the new. It’s a strange fascination of ours. “Our brain and our mind assigns value to this [new] knowledge,” explains Mario Livio, an astrophysicist and curiosity researcher, “so this is usually experienced as a pleasurable thing, with an anticipation of reward in the form of what we learn.” 

This spark of pleasure and delight is what makes curiosity gap headlines like ‘5 things you thought you knew about Bradley Cooper that are totally wrong’ so irresistible.

And, it’s not just our personal fascination with the new that makes the new so alluring. It’s the value we place on celebrating the new together. We congratulate one another when we land a ‘new job’. We throw a housewarming party when we find a ‘new place’. We even call it the honeymoon period when we saddle up with a ‘new love’.

“I’m getting a lot of new patients!” It’s an attractive thing to say. But not when it’s a greater cost, a poorer patient experience, and less appointments.

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