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Written by Balaji

Medical Associations contribute immensely to their members. Members of the Medical Associations comprise of doctors and health professionals who have specialised in a particular stream of medicine such as Psychiatry, Endocrinology, Neurology, Cosmetology and Psychology, among others. Members have advanced academic qualifications in their area of specialisation. Affinity is one of the hallmarks of what binds an Association with its members. In the case of medical Associations and Societies (we use these words interchangeably), the binding link in most cases becomes the area of specialisation and practice.

While the Medical Association certainly binds the members by way of a common speciality, there may be different reasons why doctors may not automatically enrol into the Society. Reasons range from perceived lack of value in becoming a member to high membership fees. In this article we explore multiple ways that an Association can explore to not only attract eligible members but retain them over the long term. Associations become powerful and influential when they not only have a large membership but also when they have active members who contribute to making the Association strong. Retention of members is the key. An analogy that we can use is that of a vessel with a hole in the bottom with water pouring in the top from a tap that fills up the vessel. As membership grows the water level in the vessel also goes up automatically. However, member attrition or failure of members to renew their membership is like water leaking from the vessel. If the hole in the vessel becomes bigger, to maintain the same level of water in the vessel, water added should equal the water leaking. To overcome the leakage one can either attract more members or plug the leak and prevent loss of water. Attracting new members is not always possible as specialising in any field of medicine requires rigorous study and years of effort. It can sometimes be easier to attract new members but can be more difficult retaining them, especially when annual membership subscriptions must be paid.

Role of Medical Societies

Medical Societies take on the role of performing advocacy and provides continuous education to members, besides setting the standards for excellence in the profession. The Association also assists doctors and other healthcare workers in protecting the interests of their patients. Tapping into a broader professional network with similar skills adds immense value to members as it can reduce medical errors and help in providing excellent patient care. There are also state level regulations in countries such as the USA and India governing medical practice. Members can be kept updated on the latest developments concerning legislation, legal ramifications, regulatory regime, and economic and social implications.

Patients benefit from Associations as they focus on patient care through education of its members and patients, clinical practice, advancement of science through research and advocacy, quality improvement and improving patient outcomes. Medical Societies provide members with tools and professional guidance to ensure that patients receive safe and effective treatments and public health is enhanced. They educate both the public and its members about best practices. Societies in general view this campaign as complementary to the development of evidence-based practice guidelines. These guidelines might be available to patients in a simple manner in the form of advice. It is often said that disease is vanquished where knowledge is shared with the public at large. Associations often spearhead campaigns to recommend optimal health care policies and standards. 

We provide below a set of steps or activities that Medical Associations and Societies need to do to not only attract new members but retain them.

It is all about the value that member perceives!

Perception is reality! No matter what others think, each member should perceive that being the member of the Society is valuable. Value itself can mean different things for different people. For some, it may mean the prestige being associated with a reputed Society, for some it might be the opportunity to collaborate and learn from other similarly skilled colleagues, for some it might be the sharing of best practices that is valuable and for some it might be the opportunity for social interaction with other members and the opportunity to collaborate and access to the latest research and development literature. Medical Societies are highly respected, and patients would certainly find it credible if members were listed and made searchable. Patients looking for specialists will be thrilled if they could connect digitally with a member and seek medical consultation either in-person or digitally. Members would find it valuable to have patients coming to their practice for consultation after finding a member who fits best from the Medical Society’s website. As a product tailored for Medical Societies and Associations, Genamet connects patients to members of the medical association. Patients can search for members and book appointments online.

Engagement and connect goes a long way

A member pays her subscription in the firm belief that that the Association will engage with her in multifarious ways. A sense of connect is particularly important to retain existing members. Can the Association organise interesting seminars, meetings, webinars, get togethers where a member has the opportunity to gain experience from other members? Connect and engagement may not necessarily be restricted to their area of expertise but may spill over to family and social connect as well. Professional contact in addition to social and family connect is a very strong binding force as far as engagement is concerned. It is important that members are made aware of the benefits of the Association membership. What do they gain? What advantages accrue due to the membership? Start engaging from sign-up. Engagement cannot be postponed for a later date. Make multiple attempts using multiple channels to engage with members. It must be a continuous affair and not be focused only on say the year end or year beginning.

Use data to bind it all

Nothing is more powerful that data to improve connect and engagement. It is important to understand the demographic profile of the Society members. Expectations and value are different for each member segment. All demographic groups may pose their own set of challenges. It is important to understand the expectations of each segment and customise activities to build engagement. The Association can look at using tools like Survey Monkey to conduct surveys and determine what members perceive as valuable. Data insights can help immensely. Analysing data leads to valuable insights about customer experience.

Continuous communication

Communication needs to be a two-way street. Maintaining continuous communication with members using multiple channels like email, phone, in-person meetings are essential to building group affinity. It is also best if communication is personalised as much as possible to maximise connect. Focus can be on increasing the Association’s visibility among prospective members and the community to enhance reputation. A member get member referral program can also be considered by the Association to boost membership. Members look forward to receiving information on research and development in the speciality as well as the latest advancements. The Association should consider publicly recognising the star members in an unbiased manner. The process of inducting new members and integrating them should be a key focus area.  The Association can also devise ways of helping members know each other. Introducing new members is a great idea to making them known to the larger group of members.

It is all about content

Understanding the Association ecosystem is important. While members are obviously the most important, there are also other stakeholders such as patients, researchers, medical suppliers/equipment manufacturers and hospitals, among others. Does the Association website have content that is targeted at each stakeholder group? Can members have access to research publications and articles pertaining to the specialisation? Do they have access to feedback from members on say specific medical equipment? Are patients able to access information on the latest advancements in a simple, easily understandable language? Are members and patients use the association’s website and digital/non-digital resources as a reliable go-to source for information? Are there easy downloadable content/articles, infographics, white papers? Are there opportunities for shared learning creating a sense of community and collaboration thereby improving affinity? All these can be great ways of improving stickiness. Providing services such as a job board, career centre will be extremely useful for members. These jobs would be reliable and authentic. Recruiters can also use the Association’s job board to source, identify and connect with skilled candidates across different geographies. There are vendors who provide job board software (https://www.talenetic.com as an example). At Genamet, we partner with Talenetic.com to provide job board and career board services to Medical Associations and Societies.

Conclusion

Embracing new technologies provides a sense of purpose and direction to its members. It is important to use public relations initiatives to increase awareness and visibility among members and the larger ecosystem. It is always a good idea to find out what your members desire out of the association. A judicious mix of professional value with a personal connect would be considered as the ideal marketing and retention strategy. It is also vital for the medical society to promote itself. A variety of strategies can be adopted. Early connect with potential future members can be considered. One can also look at enlisting members among newly graduating students or doctors completing their fellowships. The association can also look at opening new affiliates in different geographies – be it within the country or say across a region such as the Middle East or European Union or even expanding globally. Digital marketing, content marketing and data analysis can all be drivers of expansion. Attention to detail is critical to retaining as well as attracting new members. Is it easy for members to pay their subscriptions? Is a payment gateway integrated with the society’s website so that members can pay their fees seamlessly? Are there multiple avenues for members to pay their fees? Are alerts on expiring subscriptions sent on time? Are members informed immediately upon receipt of their payments? How is the overall member customer experience? Is it disjointed? Understanding member customer experience is key to improving it. Solicit member feedback on the overall experience of being a member.

It is important to walk the talk and take action based on the feedback from members. There are a lot of benefits of having a community of people who understand what a member is going through. Meeting up with the local network of colleagues was no longer possible during covid. These meetings not only allowed for clinical advice support but also socio-emotional support. This support is valuable given that it is from colleagues that members trust.  In addition to clinical support, regular group meetings serve to build confidence in members. Knowledge and experience can be shared between members that can help in building clinical skills, decrease feeling of imposter syndrome and maintain the zeal and passion for work.

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