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The 7 Key Strategies of Ophthalmology Marketing

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13 min read

Is your ophthalmology marketing accountable? Dr. Peter Polack walks you through his 7 strategies for successful ophthalmic marketing.

The 7 Key Strategies of Ophthalmology Marketing
In my previous article on marketing your ophthalmology practice during a crisis, I hope I made a strong case for why you should view practice marketing not as just another cost of doing business but as a portfolio of trackable and measurable processes. In this installment, I will cover the importance of linking every marketing campaign and process to the right strategy as well as the benefits of having an overall strategy that ties it all together.
In my book The Ultimate Ophthalmic Marketing Guide, I describe my 7R Ophthalmic Marketing Strategy Pyramid, which begins with foundational strategies at the base and works its way up to the apex.
  1. Reputation
  2. Reviews
  3. Retain
  4. Resell
  5. Reactivate
  6. Recruit
  7. Refer
The concept is that every marketing activity process should map to one of these 7R Strategies. Why? Because in addition to being able to track and measure your marketing efforts, you should also know why you are doing them. These 7Rs help put your objectives in results terms, not activity terms. Social media posting is an activity but it’s not a result. Budgeting for patient retention (RETAIN) is a result and many many campaigns and marketing processes can be devoted to this one outcome.
By stating your goals in the form of 7 types of results, your practice can see whether your investments are devoted to the priorities set by the partners or not. Reporting and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) can be stated in terms of the Result (get it? R for Result). How could you track and measure activities devoted to Recruiting? Referrals? Reactivation? Reputation? You get the picture.

Why is the why important?

Because it allows you to continuously audit how your resources are being allocated. If you analyze your current marketing campaigns and find that almost all of them are Recruitment strategies, you have concentrated your efforts on the single most expensive strategy of them all, as you will see below.
Reputation at the base of the pyramid is the foundation of your marketing and, if done right, will result in the apex of marketing which is Referrals. Reputation is often used interchangeably with Reviews but there are some differences. Reputation is more focused on the practice itself while Reviews are related to the individual doctors.

How to think about implementing Reputation Marketing

What? Reputation Marketing? Don’t I mean reputation management? Well, no. Why would you spend a lot on just managing your reputation? It must be marketed if it is to bring in results. Perhaps you haven’t heard . . . online reputation is the new referral. A great online reputation is as trusted as a friend’s referral.

What can you do during a shutdown?

  1. Work on your local digital footprint. Make sure your name, address, and phone number are consistent across all directories and listings. If Yelp has you as Dr. Robert Smith and HealthGrades has you as Robert Smith MD, then the robots that crawl the internet for information may think you are two different people.
  2. Build a 5-star reputation by adopting a repeatable process for requesting and publishing and promoting great practice (and great physician) reviews.
  3. Monitor those reviews by reading them and addressing issues and concerns in a timely fashion
  4. Market your great reviews to the target audiences who are consuming the marketing materials from your practice
  5. Put in place, or review your existing, referral policies. Tune them up so you don’t have any compliance exposure. Sometimes state privacy laws have bigger teeth than HIPAA.
  6. GMB. GMB. GMB. Optimize your Google My Business listing.


Review, as in having a robust, repeatable process for requesting reviews, is commonly implemented inadequately (if at all) by most doctors. How do I know this? Because chances are I could google almost any doctor and find poor ratings on some review sites that said doctor has not paid attention to (and I should know because that happened to me!)
While there are myriad apps and services that promise to manage your reputation, it is important to take ownership of the process and not completely delegate this as it can potentially keep you out of trouble.
  1. Do not use any review collection system which filters out bad reviews. Besides being unethical, this may run afoul of Federal Trade Commission regulations. Instead, promptly address the complaints; sometimes the patient will change their bad review to a good one.
  2. Having said that, you also don’t want to make it easier for someone to leave a bad review by posting a review directly to your website. Just like what can happen after turning on the ‘comments’ feature on social media or a blog, you can quickly lose control of the conversation. Any publicly facing review system should have some logic baked into it, for example, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a patient’s rating tool.
  3. The best way to avoid a bad review, obviously, is to provide a stellar patient experience, which can be negatively affected by something as innocuous as their wait time.
  4. Conversely, the best way to get a great reputation is to ask for reviews. And the best time to ask for them is when the patient has expressed their satisfaction with your service, typically when they are still in your chair! Do not, however, have patients go out to review sites while they are in your office. Multiple reviews originating from the same IP address could result in a slap from the directory listing site. Always have them rate you from home or find a service that will prevent you from being penalized when patients weigh in during their office visit.
  5. Never hire a reputation service that designates themselves as the “owner” of the listing. Anyone heard of Yext? Check them out and see what happens when you don’t own your own listings.


Retain refers to keeping existing patients, the most overlooked of all the strategies when it comes to actual, documented marketing processes. We generally take our current patients for granted. Why would they ever dream of leaving us for someone else? Well, ok, but it is human nature to question whether the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Retention is also the most cost-effective of all marketing processes, especially compared with costs of acquiring new patients (see Recruit).
All it takes is an offer or message from a competitor and your patient will wonder if she is really all that important to you. And if you don’t have a process to keep track of and be notified about dormant patients (see Reactivate), you won’t even notice that she never returned.
Retention strategies do not need to be complicated and are as simple as a monthly newsletter. Ever thought of sending an oversized postcard every quarter as “the world's smallest newsletter” to keep in touch with established patients? Ever put together an anniversary list and scheduled an email celebrating the date of their first office visit? Do you regularly make VIP offers for your great patients?


Resell means making existing patients aware of your additional services. Many of you are taking for granted that your patients know every service you can perform. Think again. Better yet, be sure by creating a showcase brochure that goes into detail about all the procedures or services they can get at your practice.
Has this ever happened to you? Dr. Jones had her office call a patient, Mr. Smith, who had missed his yearly appointment to check his cataracts. So she was surprised to hear from Mr. Smith that he had premium cataract surgery elsewhere and wouldn’t be coming back. “I didn’t know you also did that,” said Mr. Smith. “Nobody in your office ever told me.”
Reselling isn’t just promoting optical sales to your current patients. It is also consistent messaging about each and every one of the services you provide, even those (especially those) you assume everyone knows about. And the best time to do that? When the patient is in your chair. Are they there for their yearly exam? Hand them a gift card for one of your other services. Better yet, give them a gift card and 2nd one to share with a friend. Now you have just combined Recruit with your Resell process.


Reactivate is reactivation of dormant patients who haven’t been back in a while and can be extremely cost-effective. Send a “We’ve Missed You!” message either by email, letter, postcard or phone call (or all four!) with a compelling offer to make it worth their while to return.
Chances are they have just forgotten to make an appointment. But why take the chance of a competitor sending them an offer for some service that you provide as well?


Recruit means recruitment of new patients and it is what most people think practice marketing is. Unfortunately it is often the only thing practices do. It also happens to be the most expensive form of marketing. Studies have shown that it can cost five times more to acquire a new patient than to retain an existing one, in large part because the success rate for selling your product or services to a new patient is three to five times less than the success rate for selling to an existing one.
This does not mean Recruit shouldn’t be a part of your marketing portfolio. Old patients go and new patients must take their place, and you certainly want to have a healthy patient mix. But there is a tendency for many practices to get caught up in fancy New Patient Acquisition marketing tools and services (what I call Shiny Object Syndrome) at the expense of other more cost-effective processes.


Refer or Referrals, at the apex of the 7R Pyramid, is the pinnacle of your marketing portfolio. If your practice could rely on a steady stream of referred patients, your cost of acquiring a new patient would be nearly zero! And there are a few businesses which do quite well just with referrals, such as high-end consultancies. Unfortunately, since we don’t charge what these consultants charge, most of us cannot rely solely on referrals to grow our practices.
But by striving to be smarter about our other marketing strategies, we can continually feed our referral pipeline. By leveraging our efforts and the word-of-mouth of our satisfied patients, we can get closer to a point where 1 new patient = 3. A goal of 2 referrals from each new patient doubles your practice pretty fast.
There is much uncertainty right now and, with unpredictable revenue for the near future, it is wise to take a look at where cuts can be made in practice expenses. But these should be smart cuts. Since the benefits of marketing are usually difficult to quantify, marketing is usually the first expense on the chopping block. But by shifting your view of marketing’s value (from expense to investment) and by taking an evidence-based scientific method approach, you may gain a serious competitive advantage by spending when others are shutting marketing efforts down. If you adopt a results-focused strategic mindset (remember those Rs), you can be confident that your marketing will produce desirable results.
There is an important marketing saying that will be new to you but that will make your emergence from this pandemic trough an achievable goal:

He who can afford to spend the most on [practice] marketing wins.

— Dan Kennedy
A campaign with a cost of $1000 that results in $2000 in collections is a campaign that deserves being ramped up to $2000 (or more!). During these times, you need to adopt scientific marketing where you can test, measure, optimize and scale what works and stop doing what doesn’t.
Look for some detailed implementation posts in the near future as I begin to lay out ideas for launching campaigns tied directly to the 7Rs. I will be helping you identify the people, processes and technologies you need to claw back from the pandemic punch to your pocketbook.

Note: are you new to ophthalmology practice or just about to start your practice? Need some advice from someone who has been there/done that? Drop me a line at

Peter J Polack, MD, FACS
About Peter J Polack, MD, FACS

Peter J Polack MD FACS is a cornea, refractive surgery and external diseases specialist at Ocala Eye, a large multi-subspecialty practice in north central Florida and founder of Emedikon Marketing Systems. He has written and podcasted on EMR and technology in healthcare and is also co-author of The Ultimate Ophthalmic Marketing Guide.

Peter J Polack, MD, FACS
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