You need to reach patients who need your services. They don’t know where to turn or how to help their body heal from that chronic wound they’ve had for 30 days or more. Their physician has tried everything they know to do in order to heal their patient’s chronic wound without success. So, what to do?
What is community education?
Oftentimes when I tell someone I work in wound care, they look at me a bit confused. They’ve most likely never heard of the service line and don’t realize the staggering need for this medical specialty. Ironically, this reaction isn’t just limited to friends and neighbors. Physicians and care providers can also be unaware. How do we solve this seemingly difficult conundrum?
As specialists in healing chronic, non-healing wounds, we need to reach physicians, patients, and the general community about our services. We need to get our message out and educate our community on the fantastic work outpatient wound care programs do in healing chronic wounds. In our world, we call this Community Education (CE).
CE is the process of educating physicians and other providers, as well as the general public, on the services we provide. It encompasses many types of outreach: cold calls, follow-up visits, scheduled appointments, health fairs, lunch and learns and virtual tours.
What is a basic community education plan?
A basic CE plan needs several components to be effective:
- Identify the audience
- Prepare appropriate resources
- Deliver the resource/collateral
- Follow up consistently
Step 1: Identify the audience
Are you trying to perform a general CE push to reach many types of referral sources, or are you targeting a small specialized group of referral sources? Identifying your audience will dictate the type of collateral you need to promote the service line.
Step 2: Prepare the appropriate resources
You’ll want to ensure that you have the right pieces that convey a focused message to convey to your audience. Be intentional with the piece(s) that you choose and aim for quality over quantity. Cluttering their desks with too many pieces will send the wrong message. Keep it simple and educate yourself on the material so that you can speak to any questions that may arise.
Step 3: Deliver the resource/collateral
There are several delivery modes that you can utilize that range from a passive to active interaction with your clients. Step 3 is the most difficult part of the process as you will be tempted to take the path of least resistance and just send out neverending emails. Resist the temptation!!!! There are better ways to spread awareness of your program. Here are a few:
- Physical onsite delivery
The optimum choice for collateral delivery is an onsite visit. The best use of your time is to schedule multiple visits while you are out. Planning a route used to be very tedious and time consuming. I remember many years ago pulling out the Yellow Page section of the phone book, looking up physicians, getting their addresses, writing them down and literally mapping them out! Fortunately for today’s liaisons, there are better tools. (Our company utilizes a referring partner management tool called FlightPlan. I’ll talk about that awesome little gem in another blog post).
- Phone call
When it comes to phone calls, getting past the “gatekeeper” to speak to whomever sends out the referrals for the center/clinic, is essential. Being careful to ask open-ended questions without eliciting the “yes/no” response is vital to getting back to the person/persons who can help you with referrals. Have a brief bit of information ready to go for the gatekeeper, and for the referral source, as to who you are and why you’re calling. No more than 30 seconds is really necessary, so have your talking points ready to go and keep it short (they’re busy, just like you).
Step 4: Follow up consistently
Once you’ve spoken to the contact, you need to make notes about your visit as soon as you leave the clinic. This will help you to remember who you spoke to, what their responses were, things that you notice to help develop rapport with them and how you will need to follow up. It may be that they’re very receptive to your visit and refer a patient right away, or it may be that you need to give them a few days or even a few weeks and return to follow up to see if they’ve had time to digest the information you shared with them. The bottom line is, you MUST follow up with everyone you speak with.
Just remember to plan your audience, keep it simple, be direct and don’t be discouraged by any lack of positive feedback from your endeavors. It often takes numerous tries to get the results you’d like to see, so be consistent and don’t give up.