How to break through with your bariatric service line

The rise of bariatric surgeries in the United States has been substantial (252,000 surgeries were performed in 2019, up from 158,000 in 2011). And for good reason. There are significant health and wellness advantages for patients to undergo such a life-altering procedure. And just as the number of patients seeking the surgery grows, so too does the number of surgery centers and health systems setting up shop to accommodate those seeking such a treatment. More patients = more competition.

So, whether you’re just starting your service line, or you’re the veteran on the block, how can your organization stand out in a crowded field?

The first thing we need to understand is the typical bariatric patient journey. Since it is an elective surgery, it can differ from everyday acute surgical procedures. In MBB’s experience working with various clients on their respective bariatric service line campaigns, that journey can last for up to two years long. That’s a full 24-month “sales” cycle.

It usually looks something like this:

Awareness Phase

Day Zero: Patient has made the decision to start investigating potential weight loss solutions. It usually begins with a Google search and reading about the different options available.

Months 1-12: Patient has surveyed many online resources, gathered a lot of information and educated themselves on both surgical and non-surgical options. They know the difference between the procedures and have read about the pros and cons of each.

Targeted Phase

Months 13-18: Patient has investigated all of the potential surgery centers and health systems offering the various procedures. The patient begins digging deeper into the surgeons themselves, exploring the various post-surgical programs offered, and attending seminars to ask further questions and schedule a consultation.

Months 19-23: Patient has selected a surgical center to perform their surgery. They usually have to go through a six month program to get ready for surgery both mentally and physically. Since it is such a big life change, the preparation work that is put in up front can make the transition to a new lifestyle more sustainable going forward.

Month 24: Patient has surgery, begins recovery and takes the first steps to a happier, healthier life.

So, now that we understand the journey of a bariatric patient, let’s discuss how to set your organization apart.

Here are three ways to get started, and along with where these messages will be best received along that journey:

    Prospective patients need to understand that your practice/organization—especially the surgeons—have done this before. They don’t need 1,000 bariatric surgeries under their belt, but be prepared to answer for how many they do in a given year. The surgeons are the brains and faces upon which your campaign and service line will either thrive or flounder.

    This message is best delivered during Awareness Phase. Tactics to communicate this message could include print and outdoor.

    Safety is always the most important thing when it comes to surgical procedures. If patients know what steps are taken with each patient, the track record of the facility and that it is equipped to handle any complications that might arise, their minds will be more at ease. One of the best ways to do that is through patient testimonials.

    This message is best delivered during Targeted Phase. Tactics to communicate this message could includes paid search, online video and social media.

    While there are so many rational things to take into consideration, the emotional side of a decision will most certainly come into play as well. Often times for patients seeking these types of treatments could be making a life or death decision. If they choose not to get the surgery, they risk their life ending sooner than it should. By communicating that your bariatric service line team can provide patients with the staff, resources and support needed to live a long, healthy life they’ve always imagined, you can help patients courageously take the step forward. It’s not about convincing someone to get the surgery. By this time the patient is already convinced. It’s now about convincing them that your service is the right one for them.

    This message is best delivered during Targeted Phase. Tactics to communicate this message could include TV, radio, digital banners and social media.

In the end, if your operations are up to par, you approach the messaging in a smart way, and your team respects the “sales cycle” of a bariatric patient’s journey, you’ll soon turn patients into advocates, and your service line volumes will continue to rise.

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