Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (CDCES) and registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) offer diabetes education in a variety of settings. Hospital-based diabetes centers often come to mind, but diabetes education is also provided at county health departments, physician offices, private practice settings, on-site at employer groups, through diabetes related companies, and more. Marketing your program to reach more people can help keep your practice thriving while helping people with diabetes live healthier.
Hospitals often have marketing teams that support their diabetes programs, but you might find your department isn’t a priority in their marketing strategy. No matter where you are practicing, it’s a good idea to be involved with the marketing of your services to ensure a steady stream of new business. Put your feet on the ground, and call on customers that can send business your way!
Take time to create a marketing plan. Involve a few other staff members. If you are in private practice, consider your business goals. Grab a pen and paper: these questions will help you get started:
Who is your target customer? Do they have type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes? Do you see children with diabetes? Are you limited to certain payors, or does your program accept all insurance plans?
What services do you want to promote? Are you marketing a wide variety of services, such as diabetes classes, insulin pump and CGM training, meal planning instruction, and/or medication management, for example? Or are your services specific such as meal planning instruction only?
Where do you want to provide your services? Are you limited to your office, or are you able to provide services in physician offices, employer group locations, or even the supermarket? Do you offer telehealth?
Who is going to pay for the service? Do you accept insurance? Can you get a diabetes company to pay you to teach classes in a physician office to help build their brand awareness while helping the physician and their patients? Do you have contacts with food or beverage companies that might pay you to do supermarket tours for people with diabetes while giving a mention on how their product can fit into a meal plan for diabetes? Consider grants available through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and the food companies that partner with AND’s Dietetic Practice Groups (DPGs) if you have a RDN on your team.
Create a sell sheet. This can be one page that lists your services, including details on individual visits, classes and programs, and more. Put together a packet that includes a referral form and/or instructions on how to send a referral, your sell sheet, and business cards. If you are in private practice, this can be as simple as creating a Word document that lists information about you and your location, services that you provide, and payors that you work with. If you are hospital or corporate based, your marketing team may have to be involved and materials approved.
Make sure to list benefits to the patient on your sell sheet, including statistics that demonstrate how medical nutrition therapy has been shown to lower A1C.
Physician offices: Identify 5-10 large physician practices in the area that see a high volume of people with diabetes. If you aren’t sure where to start, ask a rep who is selling diabetes products for suggestions. If you are targeting children with diabetes, call on the pediatric endocrinologists. If you treat gestational diabetes, include OB/GYN offices and perinatology offices.
Employer Groups: Contact the wellness coordinator in the human resource (HR) department at local employer groups offering an insurance plan with which you can work. Employer groups will often let you come on-site to provide diabetes classes or to meet individually with employees; the insurance company representatives love this because it helps keep their customer happy. If you can identify a local representative for an insurance plan that you work with, they may be willing to introduce you to some employer group contacts.
Local Dietitians and Diabetes Educators: Yes, this makes sense! Another center or educator might get a referral for a patient with an issue or need they don’t work with. Some hospital-based centers are short staffed post-COVID, and the system physicians are referring patients to private practice educators due to an otherwise long wait for an appointment. Let other local diabetes centers and private practice educators know that you are open for business and you might pick up some overflow business and/or form some partnerships to better serve the community.
Managed Care: Most managed care companies have a Diabetes Program Manager. You can use LinkedIn to identify who that person is at the state level for an insurance plan that you accept. Contact that person and let them know what you are offering. They will be excited and contact with them may facilitate some new opportunities. Their role is to help manage diabetes costs by creating programs to help members better manage their diabetes. They will be excited to hear from you. If you are a sole provider in private practice, they want to hear from you, too.
Look around your community and identify other types of accounts that you would like to target such as wound care centers, retail pharmacies, durable medical equipment stores, churches, physical therapy clinics, retina specialists, and more. Think outside the box!
Some healthcare professionals love to sell, and work in the pharmaceutical or medical device industry in roles that utilize both their clinical knowledge and sales skills. Others say they hate to sell. No matter how you feel about selling your services, you can do it! Your services are highly valuable. Many people living with diabetes never receive diabetes education, and may not know they have insurance coverage for the service.
Follow-up with your initial target list of potential customers weekly, whether in person or virtual, until an agreement is reached for starting a program or receiving referrals. If you call on a decision maker several times and feel that there is little potential, wait and follow-up in a month while adding a new account to your call list. Personnel can change, and a new referral nurse or HR coordinator may be interested in your services even though the previous person in the role was not. It is better to start with a short list and work that list until you get referrals, than to do a mass one-time mailing or email blasts.
Your goal is to identify the decision maker, which is often the referral nurse. The physician enters the referral, and it is the job of the referral nurse to identify someone who can take it. Although your long-term goal may be to get in front
of the physician, the referral nurse should be your first point of contact. If you already have a strong relationship with the physician, meet with them and ask for an introduction to the referral nurse. At an employer group, the decision maker might be the HR director, the wellness coordinator, the on-site nurse, or a general employee that is involved with a wellness initiative. Many companies have staff directories on their websites, which will provide the contact information for the HR department. It may take a few phone calls or on-site visits before you identify who the decision maker is.
Whether you are calling on a physician’s office or another type of potential referral source, the following steps will help you to get started. For this example, I will use calling on a physician’s office.
Step One: Approach the front desk in a friendly manner. Plan your introduction. When I approach the check-in desk, I hand the clerk my card and say, “Hello, my name is Melissa Herrmann Dierks, and I am a dietitian and diabetes educator that can help your patients with diabetes who have Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS). Would you please ask the referral nurse if they have a few minutes so that I can give them some information?”
Step Two: Ask the referral nurse or office manager where they refer patients to for diabetes education. If they have a diabetes educator in the office, the office may not be a high priority for you, but you may be able to get overflow business, or patients that have needs beyond their offerings. Gather information using a conversational approach and remember to plan your questions before you get to the office. Questions to ask might include:
Do they have a specific RDN or CDCES they refer to? How often do they refer patients for diabetes education or nutrition counseling? Where do they send patients who need insulin pump/CGM training? What kind of insurance do most of their patients have? (If, for example, they have Medicaid, and Medicaid in your state does not cover your services, that office may not be a good target for you.) Have they ever offered diabetes classes in the office? Do they have a conference room or break room where on-site diabetes classes could take place? What is the easiest way for them to send a referral?