How to Blueprint Strategic Marketing Based on Patient Acquisition and Clinical Pathways

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Marketing is one of the most important aspects of any business. While many marketing strategies are active – meaning they target certain groups with pointed messages, the healthcare industry uses passive marketing – meaning they make their resources available for customers (in this case, patients) and the general need for the service drives the marketing strategy. The questions remain, then: How much money should be allocated to marketing? And how can companies track their revenue to budget in marketing? The answer is through tracking clinical pathways. While many industries can track their cost of acquiring a customer on the front end and budget that way, the healthcare industry must track the success rate of pushing a patient through a complete pathway or life cycle.

What are Clinical Pathways?

Clinical pathways, or care pathways, are tools used to manage patients’ life cycles. Clinical pathways are evidence-based, standard pathways that doctors and hospitals can put patients through for tests, diagnoses, and treatment plans. The plans seek to standardize care for patients while delivering optimized results. Because the plans use evidence to improve the pathways, clinical pathways offer the best possible outcome while keeping costs reasonable. When creating a budget, practices and hospitals should look at clinical pathways to calculate their revenue and how much they should budget towards marketing.


Outlining the Cost of Patient Acquisition and Clinical Pathways

Finding the cost to acquire a patient and keep them through the clinical pathway is more complex than measuring acquisition in other industries. When looking at the cost to book the first appointment versus the cost to complete the clinical pathway, it is about 25-50% booking the first appointment and 50-75% completing the clinical pathway. To calculate cost per patient acquisition (CPA), you must first track your marketing expenses used to acquire new leads. From there, track how many patients used the marketing initiative to book their first appointment. Take the cost of the marketing campaign and divide it by the number of patients acquired to find the cost per acquisition. With that and the payment for the service made by the patient or the insurance company, you can calculate your revenue.

The calculation of revenue in healthcare can be tricky because of the involvement of insurance companies. It is rare that hospitals and practices collect on every dollar of the bill. Reasons for this might include a patient’s inability to pay in full or the use of insurance. Insurance companies pay at best up to 50% of a bill, with the average being closer to 30%, so that must be factored into the revenue as well.

The question remains, how do you effectively outline the cost of a clinical pathway? Since clinical pathways offer standardized care, they make calculating the cost and revenue easier than it would be otherwise. With the standardized cost of the clinical pathway, you can use the same formula used to calculate CPA to then calculate the revenue made from sending a patient through the whole clinical pathway.

Allocating Spend Based on the Cost of Clinical Pathways

Once you have determined the percentage of revenue made from patient acquisition and the patient life cycle/clinical pathway cycle, you can begin to think about how you want to allocate your budget to maximize reach in marketing. There are many different channels to think of in marketing, including web search placement, which you can establish organically or through paid ads, outlets such as TV, print ads, billboards, radio, social media, affiliates, and in-person outreach. With all of these options, the biggest choice to make is how to allocate the budget across the channels. A big mistake companies often make is either putting all of their budget into one channel they think will be successful, effectively missing out on other markets. On the other hand, spreading out the budget bit by bit into all of the channels will be ineffective as well because there won’t be enough money in any channel to make an impact on the market. The best way to determine which channels are worth the investment is by looking at which channels have produced results in the past, analyzing the CPA from the leads, and continue allocating funds to successful channels.

Forecasting Future Spend

Finding the best marketing budget is absolutely a trial and error process. There is no one magic answer and each practice or hospital might find success in different areas of marketing. The best way to forecast future spend for your company is to use the information gathered about your CPA and clinical pathway revenue to determine the channels in which to allocate your budget, analyze those campaigns for a set amount of time, and make changes according to the results. The changes should remain small so you can track progress one variable at a time to optimize results – finding the proper marketing budget and spend is a process that will inform your company as well as widen your reach regardless of whether a campaign is widely successful or falls flat.


The information should help you determine what percentage of your revenue should be spent on marketing based on your cost per patient acquisition and the cost to complete a clinical pathway. It should also give you insight as to how to allocate spend across different marketing channels. While calculating revenue and the budget is complex in the healthcare industry, it is all about trial and error. By allocating the budget to successful marketing channels and keeping changes isolated and small, you can grow your practice while widening your reach.

For more information on Engine’s Budgeting Toolkit, book a discovery call.

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