If you’re like most hospitals or bariatric practices you’ve probably noticed your weight loss surgery seminar attendance drop over the last few years. And if you’ve been around for 10 years or more, you’ve definitely noticed the drop-off.
Before discussing the specifics of why attendance has decreased, let’s look at why seminars are important.
1.) They force potential patients to take action.
- Getting out of the house and admitting that help is needed is the hardest step.
2.) They put the patient face to face with a surgeon.
- This allows a potential patient to see that the surgeon is caring, knowledgeable and personable.
3.) They answer questions and allay fear.
4.) They usually result in a follow-up appointment.
Its clear that seminars work. Some data suggests that as many as 50% of seminar attendees go on to make a follow-up appointment with the surgeon. Then why is it becoming so hard to get people in the door and more importantly, how do we change that?
Why Attendance Has Dropped
For a minute, put yourself in the shoes of a morbidly obese individual. Getting up in the morning is difficult because your sleep apnea kept you from a decent night sleep. Your blood sugar is low because diabetes has caused disregulation of your pancreas.
You’re not in a great mood because when you look in the mirror you don’t like what you see and none of your clothes are remotely flattering. When you get to work you’re winded from the long walk from the parking garage. You sweat all the time….need I go on?
When you’re obese, your confidence is at an all-time low. You feel inferior to the skinny guy that always says the right thing and seems to have an endless amount of energy.
Now you see a sign to attend a weight loss surgery seminar. You’ve been invited to sit in a big room with people you’ve never met to discuss obesity. Maybe the sign asks you to RSVP via a phone number. Maybe it just asks you to show up. Do you pull out your phone right then and there to RSVP? By the way, you are in a hospital lobby when you see the sign and there are other people around. Since that phone call is definitely going to be embarrassing and unpleasant, most people ignore the sign and tell themselves that maybe they will look into it online. And many do.
Low Attendance REASON #1 – The Internet
Its uncomfortable to make a phone call to discuss your weight loss and the internet is private and less daunting. And even if you can just show up to the seminar without an RSVP, most people don’t because then they’re really walking into the unknown.
Low Attendance REASON #2 – Insurance Coverage
Most insurance companies have policies that cover weight loss surgery. Years ago, most people knew that they’d have to pay cash – they might not have known how much it would cost but surely they’d find out at the seminar. Today, when people consider weight loss surgery, one of the first questions is, ‘Does my insurance cover it. And if so, who is an in-network surgeon?’
The first step is a Google search about their insurance coverage. They’ve already forgotten the details they saw on the poster about the free seminar.
Low Attendance REASON #3 – Information and Referrals
Most people considering weight loss surgery spend well over a year researching online before meeting with a surgeon. Websites, reviews, a strong internet presence and online marketing have become instrumental to growing a bariatric practice.
People considering weight loss surgery will often call their top choice (based solely on online research) and the practice will suggest they come in for a consultation – this process completely bypasses (no pun intended) the weight loss surgery seminar.
The other factor that reduces attendance is the sheer number of people who have already had weight loss surgery. Most of my friends know of at least one person that has had weight loss surgery. And if they ever needed weight loss surgery, they’d call that friend for advice. That referral leads directly to a consultation. Again, this bypasses the seminar completely.
How Do We Increase Attendance?
Believe it or not, there are still ways to increase attendance. However, times are changing and the marketing methods that used to work have to change.
Increase Online Visibility of Seminars
The seminar schedule is typically hidden on hospital webpages. Bariatric practices can get away without heavily marketing seminars because their ultimate goal is to get the patient in the office. Hospitals, however, need to drive patients to seminars.
If you search bariatric surgery in Google, it’s likely that a local hospital website will appear in the top 3 results. Click on one of those hospital webpages. Is it easy to find the seminar schedule? Is there a clear call to action? Probably not.
In my Google search (bariatric surgery Austin) a local hospital came up 3rd in Google. I’m sure this page gets lots of traffic but its unclear what I’m supposed to do. (updated 2015) That page is now down and the hospital doesn’t have a bariatric program. If you don’t bring in patients, your bariatric program won’t thrive.
It was difficult for me to find the weight loss surgery seminar schedule. I can only imagine a potential new patient looking at that page and having any idea of what to do.
First and foremost, improve your web presence and add a clear call to action. If you work for a hospital, its likely you’ll be listed at the top of most search results for bariatric surgery – hospital websites typically have a high organic ranking in Google. Take advantage of this and invest in a web redesign for your bariatric page. Tell users what they should do. Make it clear they should register for a surgery seminar. And once they do register, send them a confirmation email with a calendar invite attached so that the event can be quickly added to their calendar.
Websites are great but in 2013 everyone has one and they all look good. I’m a horrible designer, but with a thirty dollar theme, I can create a professional website in a few hours.
Stay ahead of the technology curve and invest in a mobile app specifically for your bariatric program. A company called BariApps designs, programs and puts your app in iTunes and Google Play. Then instead of asking patients to RSVP to your weight loss surgery seminar, you can ask them to download your app. By the way, their apps are a great tool to track your weight loss, learn about weight loss surgery and find out about local seminars.
If you’re really ahead of the technology curve, create an online seminar. This can be as easy as filming your current seminar and putting it on your website. If you were smart enough to have a mobile app, the online seminar can be included in the app. Now patients can watch your seminar at their leisure. And the little icon on their phone serves as the perfect reminder.
Remember our low-confidence-morbidly-obese person considering weight loss surgery? Now that same person is in the lobby and sees a sign that says, ‘Weight loss surgery is a journey, we have a free app to help you along the way.’ They quickly go to the App Store, download the free App and head home. It’s discreet and it doesn’t require a phone call or an uncomfortable conversation to check out an app.
The following day they see your bariatric program’s app icon on their phone. They can open the app, watch an online seminar, learn about weight loss surgery and then click, please contact me. The following day someone from your program connects with the patient and signs them up for a seminar.
When they click on the calendar tab they can see that there is a free weight loss surgery seminar. When they click RSVP, the event is added to their calendar and whoever runs the seminar is notified with an email.
If they do nothing, they still receive automatic reminders 24 hours before each of your seminars in the form of push notifications. ‘Reminder, free Weight Loss Surgery Seminar tomorrow. RSVP through the app’.
People prefer to research online. That is not going to change. As the population ages, Millenials and Gen X’ers are becoming our primary patient demographic and we need to be prepared to address their desire to consume information. And it probably won’t be from an in-person seminar.
However, if done right, an in-person seminar can be the perfect adjunct to online information. Drive your seminar attendance by focusing on where your patients prefer to get their information. If you make it obvious, easy, and remove the fear, the patients will come.