How Blair Primis is growing OrthoCarolina by Increasing Access & Improving the Patient Experience

Blair shares phenomenal tips on how he is adding online scheduling, more centers, and quicker visits to grow OrthoCarolina!

How Blair Primis is growing OrthoCarolina by Increasing Access & Improving the Patient Experience

Voice over: Welcome to the Ignite Podcast where we help marketers and CEOs learn the latest tips and tricks to help ignite growth in their business. This isn’t your typical marketing podcast. We push beyond platitudes to deliver you real-world stories from the trenches. Are you ready to learn? Are you ready to grow? Are you ready to have fun? Well, then buckle up, because you are about to enter the Ignite Podcast.

Host: Hey, everybody. I’m so excited. Today’s going to be awesome. We have a thought leader in the healthcare space and not only someone that really cares about growing his ortho group, but somebody that really cares about giving back to the community. We won’t hold it against him that he’s in Charlotte and possibly a Panthers fan to my Falcons. I’d love to introduce everybody to Blair Primis. Blair, why don’t you start off by telling us how’d you get into the marketing space? What led you to OrthoCarolina, and what do you care most about in marketing?

Blair: Thanks so much. I am admittedly a Panthers fan, so we’ll have to start right there. We’ll just start right there. Tough.

I’ve been in the marketing, advertising, communications, PR space, for over 20 years now. I was an ad agency guy for five or six years in New York City, moved to Raleigh to work for a very small firm, but they had a really big account, Audi of North America. We did some work there. I just worked there with them and then it’s navigated myself to the client-side, working for McDonald’s on the quick-service restaurant business for six and a half years. Spent a couple of years at Bank of America, which brought me to Charlotte. Then now I’ve been at OrthoCarolina for 10 and a half years about.

What excites me about that and I like to tell people, you might certainly encourage folks to be lifelong learners and if you have the capacity or the ability to get an MBA, go for it. Interesting in my career is that really I’ve gotten my MBA through the experience that I’ve had. I really can’t think of a vertical or a business or an industry I have not had some a touchpoint with and/or integration with automotive, financial services, quick service restaurant, healthcare, business to business, you name it. I’ve been a part of it.

My learning has come not only from being agency side to client, but multiple industries and different times in the media and marketing world too. I was still around back in the day when there were not as many channels and/or avenues to communicate with the population and to interrupt people with marketing. Now, it’s more channels than ever before. I remember when there wasn’t the case. When you combine all of that and you see how it’s evolved, I think the future is what’s exciting about being in marketing and specifically in the healthcare space to combine those two has been fortunate for me and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Host: It’s cool. I love that you have a background in QSR along with a bunch of other verticals. One of the advantages in marketing I think is not just doing one vertical your entire life. I love the healthcare space, but if that’s all we did. I feel like you’d lose a lot of innovation from what works with QSR and bring that to the retailization of healthcare. Very cool. Now, we’re at OrthoCarolina. We’ve been there, what did you say? 11 years, ten and a half years about, right?

Blair: 10 and a half years.

Host: We started as director of marketing. Now we’re the SVP. Tell us about OrthoCarolina. We’re pushing what, 30 plus location, how many providers? What’s the dynamic you’re working with?

Blair: We’re one of the larger or largest multispecialty orthopedic practices in the United States. We’ve got 45 office locations if you include physical therapy and MRI. We have a few after-hours and all-day urgent care locations as well. We’re in the 145 to 150 orthopedic surgeon range. We have about 350 total providers, about 1700 full-time staff. We see in the neighborhood of about a little bit over a million encounters a year.

We’re in North and South Carolina. If you’re familiar with the geography, we’re up and down on I-77. It’s been a wild ride. When I got here 10 plus years ago, we were half the size that we are now. We’ve experienced over 100% growth in patient volume, physician, our physician roster and our physical locations. Along with the region of the country we are in, we are growing commensurate with it.

Interestingly for OrthoCarolina though, we are only 15 years old. I say that to say that while we have a pedigree that goes way back to the 20s and the 30s, it was a merger of two and three organizations that came together in 2005 to create OrthoCarolina. To have such a robust presence and in the healthcare space and in particular, in the orthopedic space, we’re very much thought of as a leader in that community.

What’s interesting is we’ve done it all really in a relatively short period of time to get to the scale and the size that we’ve had. It’s been cool. It’s been great. We continue to try to pioneer and learn new things and test new products and services and some of which we can certainly talk more about today and hopefully, we continue to have that culture around innovation, education, leadership, new thoughts, new lines of service, let’s try things, see how it goes. A little bit of that entrepreneurial mindset has carried through to the organization as well. I’ve been very cool to be a part of.

Host: Very cool. It seems it’s truly a medical group that’s saying on the front foot and trying new things all the time. We’re not stuck in our old ways. We’re not waiting for patient referrals to come from other providers and the PCPs. That said now, we’re setting our own paths. Something I want to ask you about, I’m seeing a lot of Ortho groups are going more with the urgent care route. I see these popping up. Is this a new thing or I’m just noticing it? Is it a way to get some sports injuries faster before they get sucked into a health system? is that new or I’m crazy?

Blair: No, it’s newer is what I’ll say. Now, for OrthoCarolina, we have had what we call our Orthopedic Urgent Care, which essentially is an after-hours orthopedic clinic or we call it a black and blue clinic to your point, like on Saturday mornings for after Friday night football. We’ve had it in earnest for 10 plus years. When I got here, we were just starting it. Now, that being said, we now have seven Orthopedic Urgent Care Clinics that are after hours, basically five to ten o’clock at night, Monday through Friday, basically, ten to two o’clock Saturday and Sunday. We have two locations. One in Winston Salem, North Carolina and one here in Charlotte that are all-day clinics throughout the week. 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM all day.

Why we do those really is around for two reasons. One is patient access. I think the opportunity to capture patients on their time when they want it based on their schedule is really thinking about patients as consumers and not as patients. One of the things that I like to share with my physicians and is one of the things that makes our marketing or has made our marketing successful over the last two years, is we don’t think of ourselves directly as a service. We really think of ourselves more as a product.

If you do that, the reality is very few people will wake up in the morning and say, “Geez, I wonder what’s going on. What happened in sports? What happened to the game last night? Let me check out CNN or The New York Times and see what’s going on in the world. Geez, I wonder what’s happening in orthopedics.” Since no one does that, you have to think to yourself we need to be available for them when they want us to be available.

If we could capture patients after hours based on the fact that they work throughout the day or they’ve had a lingering shoulder injury or their kid gets hurt at soccer practice that night, why wouldn’t we provide opportunity for patients to be seen on their time as opposed to when we feel like we can make ourselves available to them?

Having said that, it’s still an evolution and we’re moving to that. Really, you can be seen same day at OrthoCarolina three ways. You can try to call a clinic and get worked in, which is certainly possible based on physician assistant availability in some cases MD availability. You can come to an all-day clinic, which we have two locations or you can come after-hours. If you think about it, that’s our attempt to have high levels of patient access based on when the patient wants to be seen as opposed to when you have to wait for our physician or PA to be available. That’s really our go-to-market approach.

Then the second reason why we do it is because, from a marketing perspective, specifically here, it’s constant news. We can talk about by 2023, 25% of the people that live in the Charlotte region will have only lived here four years. If you think about brand recognition, folks who have lived here two or three years, that are 25, 28, 30 years old, they don’t know if we do orthopedics or orthodontics. Having a powerful brand to somebody that has never had a need for our service is relatively meaningless.

However, if they do play basketball at their church league or get together with their buddies and play frisbee or kickball or whatever and happen to tweak a knee, hurt their foot, do something and there’s an after-hours clinic available for them, they actually get introduced to our brand through the marketing we can do to say we’re available for you on your time. It has nothing to do with joint replacement or spine care or what we would call more of a GenX or baby boomer type of patient volume. It’s a great marketing message to be relevant to a younger, newer population that we have here in Charlotte as well too.

Host: If I can take two things away there, it’s about access and experience. We need to be available when the patient needs us at any time of day. We need the marketing pieces that are going to go along with that and give us something new to say. Then we also want to make sure that we’re there in every way that they may need. Maybe they need an MD and a quick referral. We’re able to see that usually same day throughout our all-day clinic. We have that.

Let’s talk about the major initiatives that you guys took on in 2019 with regards to marketing. Was it based on some new services products that we’re rolling out, new MDs that we brought on? Talk to us about the major initiatives that you had as a business and then what we did with our marketing to take that to market.

Blair: One of the big ones is and we’re in the process now of about to expand it in 2020 but we have started to offer online scheduling at OrthoCarolina. It was very much in line with our previous conversation about patient access. Let’s go one step further now instead of having to find us on Google or navigate to our website and click a phone number and make a call and then navigate through our phone team and our call center, what do you could do now is just simply, we have it in five office locations for 25 of our providers about to roll it out to more. You can now basically schedule your appointment online based on the availability that you would prefer.

To us, it’s a huge patient access opportunity, because now from your phone at any moment, you can determine when it is you want to come in as we see now with things like making restaurant reservations online and scheduling your car appointment online. It’s about time we figure out a way to do this for our service to make it again more convenient for the patient to say, “Gosh, I can go to the office. It’s two miles away from me, but I can’t be seen till tomorrow. What if I go 10 miles away? Could I be seen in three hours?”

If the answer is yes, you can schedule it on your phone, you can make the determination. You don’t have to get on schedule on your phone meeting online versus having a call on your phone and wait for it to be back and forth with what we call our patient services coordinator and get on the phone with them and talk back and forth around what that might actually work from a scheduling perspective.

Online scheduling has been a big initiative for us. We’ve rolled it out in a pilot phase across, like I said, five markets, 25 or so providers. The marketing behind that has been a lot like you would expect, no need to wait, schedule now, making your appointment is never been easier. Get in on your time at your convenience, all those kinds of ad language, ad terms, catchy phrases to get patients to understand that we’re now putting the power for them to schedule in their hands, as opposed to depending on us to tell them when we would be open to seeing them. That’s huge. That’s been huge for us.

Host: One question. Does the scheduling actually connect with the MR or does the patient–

Blair: It does. It’s directly integrated into our practice management system, and schedules directly into the system. It’s awesome.

Host: I’m seeing a lot of [crosstalk] are full of crap. You’re making an appointment, but then the services coordinator is actually getting it and having a schedule move you around because they actually couldn’t see you, or the MD is not going to be ready. That’s [inaudible 00:12:09] service that’s actually integrated. That’s phenomenal that you guys have it.

Blair: It’s awesome. What we’re learning there too, and to talk about what we’re now looking forward to in 2020 is, and how we could evolve is what we’re learning too is now from a marketing perspective gives us something that we’ve actually never had for which is full-funnel. Now, I can actually- supposedly just knowing they clicked on a phone number, but not really sure if they actually made the appointment, or knowing they clicked on get directions from our Google My Business Page, but not actually know my central, be if they click on that they’re coming to find us.

Again, I don’t actually know that they did that or I can look at through Google Analytics exactly how much time they spend on a web page. They watch a physician bio, then they finally clicked on that phone number. I assume they called to make an appointment, but I actually don’t have the full connectivity. Well, now with online scheduling, I do. We could have digital, any Internet Marketing work, anything you would do from an email communication, social media. If it all links back to these unique URLs that are trackable from a scheduling standpoint, I now have a full-funnel that I can track.

It has been fascinating for the folks on my team here who are active in putting these campaigns together to really iterate and optimize our plan based on how users are finding our information from a digital marketing perspective, and then executing on that from a scheduling perspective. The learning curve has been super high. It’s literally like a hockey stick for us in terms of what we’re picking up and what we’re able to then implement into the market the next week.

The next couple of weeks, We can tweak it by demo, we can tweak it by zip code, it’s almost too much data. The reality is we’re able to fine tune and enhance and tweak in ways who never were able to do so before, which is super exciting.

Host: Yes, close up attribution, baby. That is the main thing on Marketing Leaders minds right now, how do I know which marketing can this– Let me just drive a lead with a high-value patient? How do I know who actually showed up and became a patient? Now that you guys have the integrated, you probably have the reimbursement rates, and you can actually deliver an ROI. Unbelievable. Are they going into a CRM after the practice management too?

Host: No, we don’t have a specific one other than the tool that’s there. What it is, is a scheduling software tool. What lives on the front end of it for the user is a scheduling widget. The reality of it is, is this tool actually becomes our scheduling software. The entire organization now will log in “on the back end” of this, so the CRM of this and I’m using air quotes here, the “CRM” of this would be, they can now see discrete data by patient, where they’ve been sitting scheduled, at what times. I can see it for any office location for any time of day if I’m a scheduler.

If people are still calling in and/or they see what’s filling up, they know exactly what’s available across the entire company. Just going back to our all-day urgent cares or people that might want to get worked in, they’re in the same system that our online schedule is using, as our offline schedule is using. It’s full visibility into what’s available that day. We are able to capture some of those data points, and then we re-engineer it. 45-year-old male makes an appointment online from this marketing channel, and/or from a Google page, and/or from an email link, I now get a sense of who’s using the tool and what demographic are they.

Do they fit into any of our marketing personas we have? My assumption will be, could be wrong, but my assumption will be that even though most of our patient population is you know, 60+, based on orthopedic injuries and baby boomer generation, the heaviest users of this tool will not be 60+, it will be those below that. Do we need to think about how do we re-introduce folks to do is to schedule, do we allocate human time in our scheduling at our call center more toward this relationship building with patients that would rather talk on the phone, get them and make them feel comfortable, but push harder on a generation that’d be more willing to use online scheduling?

It’s not a hardcore CRM that you’re thinking of, but there is some ability for us to pull out some discrete data and do a lot of learning from it. Not just from a marketing perspective, but marketing can drive operational learnings here too.

Host: You can see how the demographics are shifting, we’re getting younger in these areas, we need to shift our marketing messaging. We’re set at these PPC campaigns are driving leads, but not patients. This is phenomenal. Blair, this is incredibly innovative. Everybody I talked to is trying to figure out what you’re learning. For the listeners out there, is there a specific scheduling tool they should use? It sounded like it’s not proprietary. I understand it’s [unintelligible 00:16:59] front end, is there anything that people can get into?

Blair: Yes, for sure. Great question. We partnered with a company called Radix, R-A-D-I-X and they have maybe a dozen other clients across the country. It’s actually physician-led, physician-founded. It comes from insight of what a doctor’s practice was like. The tool that we use is called Dash. It’s a scheduling tool that our staff is getting trained on and up to speed on. Then the front end of that is the scheduling tool. A user or a patient in our case will be presented once they click schedule online with this interface that basically then feeds into this back end product called Dash that our staff is able to see in real-time, so Radix, R-A-D-I-X.

Host: Phenomenal, phenomenal stuff. Just one or two more questions here. Patient scheduling has been really big, do we see anything new in 2020, or is telehealth is tough because you really need the MRIs with sports injuries. What big initiatives do we have in 2020? All of the innovation is great, but I’ve got a bunch of smaller medical groups that are listening to this. I know they’re like, I don’t have the money to do all that stuff. What can I do? What drives leads? The most cost-effective high-value patient, how do I get that done?

Blair: That’s a great question. Here’s what’s been really interesting the last 18 months or so that we’ve thought about and got behind. It going to sound on the surface, not innovative at all. However, actual live physician seminars. We’ve been able to take the idea of promoting and marketing a series of seminars by physicians, some of which we call top of funnel which is like back pain, shin splints, a little bit lower down the funnel, which might be very specific orthopedic conditions that they’ve been diagnosed with, including physical therapy.

How could you put out to the marketplace that there’s going to be a eight times a year orthopedic seminar, with physicians sitting behind a day as questions and answers?The physicians can actually show up to create dialogue between them and help them identify what their needs might be for care for treatment and diagnosis.

Host: We’re going back to in-person? We’re going in-person? [laughs]

Blair: We went all the way back to in-person. What’s been amazing is, what my team has been able to do with that content with those moments, is create amazing digital content from it. Now we’re actually videotaping the whole thing. We’re breaking each 90-minute seminar down into individual segments. Each of the segments gets posted into individual physician pages. We actually use it as a keyword planning opportunity to now figure out what better SEO we could leverage.

We identify where there might be needs or gaps based on geography or patients that are coming to see these seminars. We started from a what I would call a traditional perspective of go meet a physician, shake his or her hand and have a conversation. Then my marketing team, I turn them loose, tell me what you guys going to learn from this setting. Instagram Live, Facebook Live, how do we have chats? How do we do online questions and answers?

We ask every patient that comes to ask questions on an index card versus a microphone that we can capture every single question and create a piece of content from it. It is just like this ongoing long term, one seminar doesn’t last 90 minutes, one seminar actually lasts 45 to 60 days and then we just recycle it. We essentially have this Evergreen program and find tremendous success with it because these are all further down the funnel patients. They’re coming to talk to orthopedic surgeon because they’re limping on the way in, or they have trouble getting up out of their chair. Or their son or daughter or mother or brother or sister whoever is dealing with this issue.

How many leave can I take? How long does it take to recover from rotator cuff surgery? Should I have both knees done at the same time? Will I need to be in a wheelchair? What is it like when I get to the hospital? All those questions now get asked in a live setting. We capture them, repurpose them to digital content. We create blogs and stories from them, we email it back out to patients. I would just tell folks who is listening that it isn’t always about having some fancy, costly Salesforce tool or some really expensive EHR, or some really detailed and complex process.

Sometimes it’s just as simple as, get a camera, invite a bunch of patients to talk to a bunch of physicians, see what they have to say and then learn from that experience as to what you can put out in the world. That’s one of the biggest innovations we’ve had in ’19 and what we can’t wait to capitalize on in ’20.

Host: Guys, I love it. You just heard from Blair. Everything’s got to be digital. He’s doing a lot around attribution but if you want to really take it back– who was that TV show when Jane was coming? The doctor? Dr. Jane, do you remember that back– [crosstalk]

Blair: Yes, sure. Sure. Sure. Sure.

Host: She was doing house calls, right? She was going into [crosstalk] communities and stuff like that. [laughs]

Blair: Yes. Exactly, right. Yes. Exactly, right. [crosstalk]

Host: I used to watch it with my mom growing up. That was a good show.

Blair: Yes, that was great. Yes, that was great.

Host: Blair, thank you so much for the insights. This has been phenomenal. Guys, you heard about patient access, patient experience, being there when the patient needs you guys. This is the consumerism of healthcare. We have to be more available, we have to understand that things have changed and we can’t rely on referrals anymore. We have to get out there and market ourselves and Blair walked through some of the things that he’s using. Remember, he talked about SEO, he talked about attribution. He talked about getting that out there in person. Blair, this has been phenomenally interesting, it’s super helpful and I love the specific recommendations you gave so often we are missing that.

Blair: Great.

Host: Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

Blair: My pleasure. Yes, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Voice over: Thanks for listening to this episode of Ignite. If you liked what you heard, please leave us a rating and review. Before you go, please remember to subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss the next episode. For more digital marketing tips, make sure you visit Have a great rest of the day and don’t forget that the most important part of your job is to ignite growth.

[00:23:05] [END OF AUDIO]

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