Were you one of the estimated 20 million people who watched the solar eclipse? Perhaps you were one of the 200-or-so-more million that tuned into some form of media and viewed it there. Although no one will ever know precisely just how many people viewed the live event or watched it online, there’s no doubt that it was not only one of the most viewed solar eclipses in history, but also, one of the most viewed mass events in the world.
For many people, the eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime event—even though there’s another one coming in 2024 and even though there’s actually a total solar eclipse somewhere on the planet about every 18 months. The rarity is that it just doesn’t happen that often here in the good ol’ U.S.A.—38 years since the last one and 99 years since the last coast-to-coast eclipse. So maybe the hoopla was warranted.
While it was great to see all the excitement it generated and it was wonderful for the economy of many small western towns along the path of totality, what is perhaps more surprising is how many people and businesses spent so much time planning for this “once-in-a-lifetime event.” A lot of time and expense was put towards travel, accommodations, and most certainly the required viewing supplies in order to have the very best spot to see the event.
Unfortunately for some, the day ended up a bust. Many were caught in traffic jams, caught up in last-minute travel arrangements that many state and local officials were simply unprepared to manage. Of course, there were others who fell victim to increased rates for hotels, food, and other necessary resources, but that’s supply and demand, isn’t it?
And then there were the folks that just had the misfortune of dealing with Mother Nature. In a few places, clouds and bad weather simply obscured any decent viewing of the eclipse. Many couldn’t tell if it was getting darker outside because of the moon’s movement or if it was just another typical midsummer rainy day.
In the end, it was another day. Tuesday came. And by Friday, most social media feeds didn’t even have a mention of the event.
But isn’t that how it works with urgent care sometimes? We put so much focus on a single event—let’s say flu season, and low and behold, sometimes it comes and goes with little fanfare leaving some businesses sitting back thinking that what they were treating with all the fanfare of a “once-in-a-lifetime event” ended up being a colossal bust. Are you waiting on that YEARLY ECLIPSE event for your urgent care? Let’s think about it.
Granted, the prevailing marketing and business philosophy has been that an urgent care lives and dies by its flu season revenue generation. But much like the occurrence of an eclipse, we haven’t seen a major influenza outbreak (pandemic) in the U.S. since the whole H1N1 flu in 2009. That year tends to skew everyone’s perception of influenza numbers both before and since, and rightfully so. By comparison, the H1N1 pandemic claimed the lives of over 284,000 people. Seasonal flu, worldwide, typically accounts for between 250,000 to half a million fatalities. In the U.S., nearly 36,000 succumb yearly to the flu—and that’s in years without pandemic influenza like 2009.
Ironically, the common complaint from urgent care operators is that their flu season is bad— meaning that there simply are not enough patients coming in to be treated with the usual flu-like symptoms. Statically speaking, only five to 20 percent of the American population will become affected by the flu in any standard year. Now, look at your potential demographic and reduce that number to about 10 to 15 percent.
You’re waiting on the eclipse and then unhappy or shocked when it’s cloudy outside.
The fact of the matter is simple. Unless viruses mutate, which of course we know they will continue to do, just as it occurred with H1N1, H3N2 and so forth, creating new and interesting ways for humans to become ill. AND—unless people fail to take precautions such as good hygiene, preventative measures, and avoiding unnecessary contact during the incubation periods, then another 2009 probably won’t come around again for a few more years.
So what are you waiting for? What are you doing to generate revenue in the meantime? Are you just sitting back and waiting? Hoping that conditions will be perfect?
Being proactive is in your best interest if you want your urgent care to be successful. Planning means you start now. Generating ways to remind the public—your potential patients—that you are there to take care of ALL sorts of ailments.
Perhaps instead of spending so much time focusing money and efforts on continually reminding people about the risks, dangers, and treatment for flu, you might consider switching gears and try educating them about how you can help them with something that might seem benign like fungal infections. Per the American Podiatric Association, at any given time 15 to 25 percent of people are likely to have athlete’s foot. Granted, it’s generally not life-threatening, nor as symptomatic as say, seasonal flu, but in many cases, the average patient either ignores treatment, tries over-the-counter products or home remedies, and increases the likelihood of a superinfection. Why not offer an earlier intervention—a low-cost initiative that not only increases patient satisfaction, but generates revenue? After all, isn’t the goal to have your patients seek you out for all of those “little pains and irritations?”
How simple it would be to focus a marketing campaign via social media and encourage interest and competent treatment of this common-yet-manageable condition that so many take for granted.
Some ideas you could implement include:
- Featuring Common Complaints: “Athletes Foot Awareness Month” – Held during football season, offering evaluations or highlighting treatment/prevention options available through your facility
- Social Media Campaign: “Have you checked?”- Promoting wellness or prevention tactics such as earwax checks. In today’s world where children and adults are seen with headphones and ear-inserts almost non-stop, the incidence of earwax impaction and resulting ear infections and injury make this a great campaign for potential patients to seek out both preventative and treatment options on demand.
- Network Marketing Initiative: Once-a-month partnership with a local specialist. Partnering with a dermatologist, a podiatrist, or even an internal medicine practitioner could be a great way to offer opportunities for patients to assess a worrisome patch of skin or mole, have an ingrown toenail evaluated, or perhaps get assessed for high blood sugar/pre-diabetes.
The thing to remember is that by being creative and educating potential patients, you not only present yourself as a resource for any medical needs, but as their first stop, even if a referral ends up being the best choice for their care. They’ll still seek you out for all those medical situations that cannot wait for an appointment weeks from now.
Why stop there? You’re just getting started. The ability to market your services or expand your services to cover slow volume periods rests solely in your hands. Understandably, it’s not within your power to make people sick, however, if you’re not reminding them—and frequently—of how you can help them be well, they certainly won’t think of you for all their urgent medical needs, but instead, only when something critical or odd arises.
Just imagine the people who may have found some eclectic little town in Wyoming, Missouri, or even southern Illinois that before Monday, was little more than a blip on a map. Perhaps now, it’s a place that they will return to, and not just for the next eclipse, but rather because they learned that its quaintness has something else to offer. Likewise, you have to be something more than a place to go for back-to-school, flu season, or whatever notable once-a-year event you promote.
If you’re not aggressively trying to generate top-of-mind awareness to the population you serve, then don’t be surprised when those same patients treat your urgent care with an attitude of “you do that?” or worse, “we use them only when it’s urgent.”
If you want patients to come to your urgent care for any of their minor medical needs, then be sure to promote some of those lesser known and possibly less glamorous conditions. Don’t be afraid to remind patients that you can help with those conditions, too.
Just like the sun and moon are out there every day and are pretty incredible celestial objects worth attention—not just during an eclipse—so should you be thinking outside the box when it comes to putting all your marketing and revenue generation hopes on flu season. Patients have needs that extend far beyond this well-known and well-hyped ailment. See how you can take advantage of promoting care for the commonplace and daily things, instead of the flu.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Patrice Pash is DocuTAP’s Director of Consulting Services. With nearly 20 years of experience in the urgent care industry, she has helped more than 150 clinics start-up successfully. Patrice has been a part of the DocuTAP team since 2016.