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Marketing Bariatric Surgery – A Better Way

Best Practices & Measuring Effectiveness

Marketing your bariatric surgery practice or a bariatric program at your hospital is not an easy task. In most medium sized US cities, there are at least 3 to 4 different hospitals¬†offering bariatric surgery and typically more than 3 bariatric clinics. Each practice usually has one or more surgeons with bariatric experience or bariatric training and they are all competing for the same patients. There is a lot of competition in today’s bariatric surgery market.

Finding new ways to market your bariatric practice is difficult. Referrals are an excellent source of new business but referral patterns are difficult to change. More traditional advertising includes TV, radio, and print. These advertisements are expensive and the return on investment is often difficult to measure.

Online advertising can work but it has become expensive and you need a full time team to compete effectively. Having a nice website is important but in 2015 everyone has a nice website.

In 2012 Smartphones became the predominant type of phone in the United States. Smartphones include iPhones, Android, Windows Phones, etc. In just a few years, the mobile web will surpass the traditional web (viewed from a PC or laptop) in viewership. Position your practice or program to take advantage of the mobile trend.  To do this, offer your patients and people considering your services a free mobile App that includes real tools to better support your current patients, make the journey to the operating table seamless, and get you new patients. Below are a few of the features that BariApps offers in their apps.

  • Full nutrition tracking with monitoring via clinician dashboard.
  • Vitamin and supplement reminders.
  • Newbie checklists that allow your patients to set-up reminders for common tasks on their pathway to surgery.
  • Track weight loss.
  • Take photos and create a photo timeline of your success.
  • Exercise tracking.
  • Your online seminar and other informational videos.
  • Content specific to your program such as discharge instructions, diet guidelines.
  • Recipes approved by your dietitian.
  • Integration with wearable steps trackers and wi-fi scales.
  • And the ability to click a button to get started in your program.

By providing your patients with a tool for success in the form of a Smartphone App, you also create a better way to market your program. A custom Smartphone App from BariApps allows you to track your marketing efforts and measure your return on investment.

Effective Bariatric Marketing With An App

Before looking at how to get your app on a potential patient’s phone, it’s important to take a look at why traditional marketing doesn’t work well.

Traditional Bariatric Marketing

Regardless of what type of media you use for marketing (billboards, pay-per-click, magazine ads, etc.) the calls-to-action are typically one of the following:

  1. Come to a free weight loss seminar.
  2. Visit our website and fill out a contact form or register for a free weight loss seminar.
  3. Call us and we’ll bring you in for a consult or sign you up for a free seminar.

These work to some degree but not well. Most people that are morbidly obese have been so for most of their life. They realize that bariatric surgery is their last option. If it fails, then nothing will work.

“Need to lose weight. Come to a free weight loss seminar. Call today.” This is the typical call to action¬†that bariatric programs¬†are pushing to potential future patients and it doesn’t work. Here’s why:

It’s not easy to admit that you’ve lost the battle with weight loss. It’s even tougher to¬†walk into a¬†‘free seminar’ in a public forum and admit that you¬†are obese and need help. In today’s text message¬†driven society it is tougher than ever to get people to pick up the phone.¬†And¬†most people see these ads when they are with friends, co-workers, or in a public place that prevents them from making that uncomfortable call.

Baby Steps

From a marketing perspective it is much easier to ask someone to take a baby step before the big ‘ask.’ ¬†“Considering Weight Loss Surgery? We have an app for that.”

Downloading an app is discreet, it’s free, and it doesn’t require a commitment like signing up for a seminar. More people are willing to download a free app compared to making an uncomfortable phone call.

How to Get An App On A Potential Patient’s Phone

Just having an app in the app store will not get your app seen by your target demographic. BariApps knows this and they provide you with a couple of resources that will get your app seen by your target demographic.

1. Referral Cards –¬†As the name implies, these are cards (about 3 x 7 inches in size) that you can use to reach out to referring physicians to get more downloads and eventually more patients. The front of the card usually has an image of your app, a tagline, and the name of your program. The back of the card typically shows the app features and tells you how to download the app. Visit potential referring physicians, drop off a stack of referral cards and have this short conversation.

Hi Dr. Smith. I know you don’t do weight loss services. We do. And we have a totally free app we’d like to offer to your patients. They can track their nutrition, access recipes approved by our dietitian, and if they need more help they can click a button to get started in our program.

Dr. Smith is happy to use the referral cards for two reasons.

Historically Dr. Smith would¬†write down a few names and numbers and then see the patient 6 months later and do the same thing. The patient either loses the paperwork or doesn’t care enough to call. Now, Dr. Smith can give his patients a real tool so that at a minimum, when they walk out of his office, his patients have your app on their phone. It may be a week later when that patient is scrolling through his/her phone that he/she notices your app icon and decides to check it out. The patient watches your online seminar and taps ‘Yes. Please contact me. ‘ The following day your program reaches out to the potential new patient and gets them started on the normal pathway.

Dr. Smith also is happy to use the referral card because that short conversation just told Dr. Smith that your program is a comprehensive, patient-centric program with resources both before and after surgery. He knows that your program is not just about reducing the size of a patient’s stomach via surgery. He realizes that your program understands the¬†need to change life-long bad habits to be successful with bariatric surgery.

2. Custom Posters –¬†BariApps also provides their customers with custom posters. These can be used in lobbies, cafeterias, patient rooms or with affiliated providers. The diabetes/endocrinology program of your hospital may even put the poster in their patient lobby. “Need to lose weight? We have an app for that.” And if you look in any lobby, you will see bored patients, playing on their phones. Finally, the poster can be used on your website or as the final slide in your weight loss seminar.

3. Code Snippets –¬†BariApps also provides you with custom code you can add to the header of your website (about 50% of users accessing your website will come from a mobile device) so that when potential patients visit your website via a mobile device they are invited to download your free app.

Turning Potential Patients Into Patients

Getting someone to download your app is one thing, but how do I get those people to a seminar or a consultation?

Push Notifications

Push notifications are the best way to quickly and effectively put your marketing message directly onto your potential patient’s¬†phone. This happens when you want, as often as you want, and to precisely whom you want.

Our customers have full access to a dashboard to monitor patients and new users. Our dashboard¬†allows you to see who is using your App, monitor weight loss¬†and¬†nutrition, update recipes and content, and set-up automatic notifications based on users actions within the app. You can also see when the user first registered, when they last used the App and where they are in their journey (from ‘Considering It’ to ‘Had Surgery’ to ‘Maintaining’). You can use this information to customize your push notifications.¬† Here’s how:

  1. Click ‘Send Push Notification’
  2. Select the group called¬†‘Considering It’
  3. Write – ‘Is weight loss surgery right for you? Appetizers and a free seminar tonight. RSVP in the Calendar section or just give us a call 512-555-5555.
  4. Click – Send

You just sent an invite directly to the phones of users that are considering weight loss surgery. This is a great way to increase seminar attendance.

If you’d prefer, you can set-up automatic event reminders. Twenty-four¬†hours before each seminar and support group users that are ‘Considering It’ receive an automatic reminder to attend your free weight loss seminar and users who have already had surgery will receive an automatic reminder to attend tomorrow’s support group.

Measuring Your Marketing Efforts

Its easier than ever to measure your marketing efforts. If you launch a new marketing campaign on March 20th, you can sort your user data in your dashboard¬† to show who downloaded your App on or shortly after march 20th. All of BariApps apps have a full set of analytics to show you who is using what part of the app and they set-up events to track how many people are requesting information, how many people are RSVP’ing from seminars, etc.

Email Notifications

With our Apps, you have the ability to receive email notifications every time someone makes an appointment, requests information, or RSVP’s to a seminar through the App. The scheduling coordinator will always receive these notifications but we often cc’ someone from the marketing department to measure the App’s effectiveness. Are people using it to make appointments? Are people coming to seminars or support groups because of the App? These notifications help measure your return on investment.

Return On Investment

Our dashboard¬†shows the user’s journey. When a new user first downloads the App, they are asked where they are in their journey. Someone considering weight loss surgery will choose, ‘Considering It.’ As the user progresses throughout the process they are asked via push notification to update their status.

The dashboard¬†shows the users starting stage and the current stage of their journey. This can be used to show marketing and finance that users started at this stage and now they have had surgery and are at the ‘Losing Weight’ stage. One new customer gained from using our App will typically pay for the App for the entire year.¬†You will get a lot more than that.


Data suggests that most¬†bariatric patients research for more than a year before connecting with a bariatric program. Patients don’t often connect with a program until they have a ‘motivating event.’ Examples of a ‘motivating event’ include:

  • Not fitting on a roller coaster.
  • Embarrassed to go dancing with friends.
  • Can’t keep up with kids.

When this type of event happens (late night, weekends, whenever.), we want potential patients to open up your app and say ‘Yes. Please contact me.’