January 2019

OPHTHALMOLOGY BUSINESS

6 ways to use educational seminars


by Vanessa Caceres EyeWorld Contributing Writer

Focus on education, convenience for new and potential patients

Patient education seminars can be an effective way to keep existing and potential patients in touch with ophthalmic surgery trends.
“Educational seminars have been a tactic in our marketing plan for many years and are an excellent forum to educate our community,” said Tanuj Banker, MD, vitreoretinal surgeon, Center for Sight, Sarasota, Florida.
By the time a patient learns about a new treatment through general information channels, it is often already out of date, said Ming Wang, MD, PhD, Wang Vision 3D Cataract & LASIK Center, Nashville, Tennessee. Educational seminars can reach patients more quickly.
Dr. Banker shared sentiments about patient education seminars that were expressed by other ophthalmologists who regularly hold them. “We are able to highlight our doctors’ expertise and share the most recent advances in the field and at our practice. Our Q&A sessions and topics foster communication with potential patients and give them the opportunity to meet our providers face-to-face,” he said.
Seminars can also help patients learn more about a surgery they may need versus feeling rushed during a regularly scheduled appointment. “They enjoy hearing their options in the relaxed atmosphere of the seminar,” said Maria Scott, MD, medical director, Chesapeake Eye Care and Laser Center, and LASIK surgeon, TLC Laser Eye Centers, Annapolis, Maryland.
Here are some pearls to effectively schedule, market, and plan content for your practice’s next educational seminar.

Pearl 1: Get the time of year right

The answer may be a little different depending on your market. For instance, in southwest Florida, there are more patients in the area in the winter months, so Center for Sight holds the seminars between November and April. Other practices find that a regular year-round schedule works well, such as on a quarterly basis.
If you hold seminars regularly, you could potentially turn them into a social event, depending on your target market, said Debra Phairas, president, Practice & Liability Consultants, San Francisco. Her mother used to attend 30-minute to 1-hour morning medical seminars at her assisted living facility. Her mom and friends looked forward to getting coffee and donuts and seeing the doctors.

Pearl 2: Get the time of day right

The right answer on the time of day to hold your seminar will also vary. “Scheduling the seminars at lunchtime proves to be more effective and efficient than other times of the day, both for our providers who are in clinic or surgery in the mornings and afternoons and also for attendees,” Dr. Banker said. Attendees frequently get errands done before or after the event and stop in for a casual lunch during the seminar.
Both Drs. Scott and Wang have found success with seminars held in the evening. Dr. Scott’s seminars take place in the office reception area, and Dr. Wang’s are held in conference rooms at local hotels.
Whenever you hold your seminars, plan them out several months in advance so logistics are in place and anyone involved with hosting them can keep them on schedule, Ms. Phairas recommended. Make them part of your practice’s strategic plan and have someone at the practice to hold everyone accountable.

Pearl 3: Target your advertising for the seminar by the subject

Although newspaper advertising is not the powerhouse it once was, it still can be effective for seminars. Dr. Scott’s practice will send out an email blast to the existing patient base and put a sticker on the Sunday local newspaper to advertise seminars. Dr. Banker also finds that newspaper advertising works well in his area, and the practice will start to market seminars with newspaper ads 2½ weeks in advance. “We drive traffic to our website via the print ads so they can sign up online. It’s easy to keep track of our reservations and contact our attendees if needed,” he said.
That said, social media is also a low-cost way to spread the word. “We can use Instagram to effectively target a specific patient population to advertise a seminar,” Dr. Banker said.
You can invite both current and potential patients to your seminars. You also can encourage attendees to invite family members, especially when addressing genetic eye diseases, Dr. Banker said.

Pearl 4: Involve younger or newer doctors

One pearl that Ms. Phairas has shared with practices is the value of involving younger or newer doctors with seminars. “Set the expectation from the beginning,” she advised. Let those doctors know that they should plan to hold seminars on a regular basis. This commitment to growing the practice can help practice leaders evaluate who is partner material, Ms. Phairas said.

Pearl 5: Keep it educational

As mentioned, avoid a sales pitch with your seminars. “The main goal of the seminars is to educate patients about the indications, contraindications, benefits, and risks of the latest advances in laser eye surgery in a timely manner as new technologies are being developed and become available to patients,” Dr. Wang said.
However, you also can use the seminars to add a personal touch or address an area of personal expertise. Dr. Scott’s practice will provide a tour of the facility when focusing on cataract surgery. “This seems to put patients at ease,” she said. Dr. Wang will address technical aspects of laser eye surgery (he has a doctorate degree in laser physics) and will discuss his nonprofit foundation, the Wang Foundation for Sight Restoration.
Another idea to ramp up the education: Consider holding a seminar with other specialists, for instance, an oculoplastics surgeon, a retina specialist, a general ophthalmologist, and a glaucoma specialist, Ms. Phairas suggested. Each physician could address a specific aspect of eye care, or you may be able to find a theme that brings everyone together.

Pearl 6: Think long term

Think long term about getting new patients from educational seminars, Ms. Phairas said. “It’s a long trail. It’s not always immediate,” she said. However, if a patient/potential patient has to make a decision about eye care and likes what you shared, there is a good chance he or she will use your practice, she added. Make sure to track where new patients have heard about your practice.
“[Our] seminars will typically have 40 to 50 people in attendance,” Dr. Scott said. “Some already had their cataract evaluation or are patients of the practice, but the seminar typically will yield 25% new patients. It’s an inexpensive way to generate new patients.”

Editors’ note: The physicians have no financial interests related to their comments.

Contact information

Banker
: TBanker@centerforsight.net
Phairas: dphairas@practiceconsultants.net
Scott: 410-571-8733
Wang: drwang@wangvisioninstitute.com

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