As a doctor, dentist, dermatologist, or other specialty medical provider, it can be easy to assume your patients come to you through word of mouth, or from your affiliation with a healthcare network. After all, before 1977 that was the only way a patient found a practice. It was basically illegal for professionals such as lawyers and doctors to advertise. That all changed with the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Bates vs. State Bar of Arizona, which said that state bar associations could no longer universally prohibit attorney advertising. That relaxed the rules for lawyers; medical professionals soon began to follow their lead.
But some medical professionals still rely on word-of-mouth marketing, rather than any more involved approach. This applies to the digital world, as well as the traditional marketing environment.
Various research studies about patient behavior show that is a dangerous approach for the long-term health of your healthcare practice. A survey by the website Doctors.com points out many of these trends with patients and how they are finding your practice.
Here are some of the findings from that survey.
A few stats first
It’s true that healthcare is dramatically different from any sort of retail business. Healthcare has to be delivered in person. Sure, there are video consultations, but most patients still need to be in the office for effective diagnosis and care. It’s not as if you can sell a diagnosis of a torn ACL from an orthopedic surgeon by placing it in a cart on a website. Ditto for a root canal at a dentist or oral surgeon. Or nose surgery from a plastic surgeon.
But that doesn’t mean patients and potential patients don’t use the digital world to find you. Your digital presence is now how most patients will find your practice. First let’s hit some of the stats from the Doctors.com survey.
- 80% of respondents have used the internet to make a healthcare-related search in the past year.
- 63% choose one provider over another based on a strong online presence.
- 60% have chosen one provider over another based on a positive online reputation.
- 45% of patients prefer to use digital methods to request an appointment.
Age is not an issue
You could assume that searching for a medical provider over the internet is what younger patients are doing, but they are in good company. In the survey, over 75 percent of respondents aged 60 and up used the internet in the past year to make a healthcare-related search. More important, 90 percent of those same patients said they would look for a new provider after seeing negative online ratings and reviews of their current provider or a potential provider.
You probably have great patient interaction when you’re in a one-on-one situation in your office. But you need to get new patients in there in the first place before they can experience your customer service.
- 81 percent of patients will read reviews about a provider — This is true even after they’ve received a direct referral to that provider.
That says if you want to be in the potential provider pool for new patients (and if you want to keep current patients happy), you need an active, engaging, sophisticated online presence.
Since we’re talking reputation here, let’s first address those reviews and ratings. Yes, it’s true: everyone today is a reviewer. This maybe isn’t the best thing in the world — it was easy to trust a movie review from a professional newspaper reviewer who you’d read for years, versus some anonymous reviewer with his own website — but it’s not going anywhere. And the statistics listed above show that reviews and ratings of your practice have real power.
So why not make it easy for potential patients to see what everyone thinks about your practice? You can do that by providing a section of your practice website for testimonials and reviews from your current patients. These reviews will often show up in organic search about your practice, as well.
We’ve discussed this in many blogs here at Advice, but let’s hit it again briefly. Part of your online reputation also means paying attention to reviews, posts on your practice’s Facebook page, and the like. Not all of your reviews are going to be 5-star (other research has shown that patients and consumers don’t trust sites that have only 5-star ratings, assuming the system has been gamed), so when you get a less-than-perfect review or comment, you need to respond to the problem and address the patient’s concerns. For more difficult problems, you’ll probably want to do the nitty gritty back and forth through direct email or phone conversation. But then once the situation is resolved the reviewer can update his or her review with the news. That really tells potential patients you’re in tune with their needs and listening to their concerns.
Potential patients are finding practices online. Current patients use your site to research new treatments they may be considering. So, what are a few basics you need?
Your practice website needs to:
- Have a beautiful design — The design of your site tells the patient a lot about your practice philosophy.
- Navigation needs to be intuitive — A beautiful site is nothing if its navigation isn’t simple and logical.
- Be completely mobile friendly — Your site needs to work seamlessly on a smart phone or a home desktop with different functionality but an overall look and feel that are easily identifiable.
- Have extensive, engaging content — Medical practice sites are viewed as information sources about procedures, treatments, and the like. A short list of bullet points or a single paragraph of copy doesn’t adequately describe a surgical procedure.
- Utilize video and photos — Animations of procedures, videos of the provider discussing treatments, photos of your offices…all of these things make your site more interesting, engaging, and they provide more insight to potential patients.
- Easy contact options — In the Doctors.com survey 45 percent of respondents said they prefer to use digital methods to request an appointment. That doesn’t mean a prominent phone number isn’t still critical, but it does also mean that a contact form, email link, or scheduling app are important, as well.
- Testimonials — Encourage your patients to submit reviews, and then post them on your site.
Those are the basic needs of your medical practice website. Does that sound like a handful? It is if you have a family friend design and build your site to save a few dollars. The crucial behind the scenes functionality that is required to make your site rank highly in search on Google and other search engines will probably not be there.
At Advice Media, we’ve been building the internet’s most beautiful, engaging, and effective medical websites for over two decades. And we’ve been optimizing them for search long before the term “search engine optimization” was even a thing. If your practice website isn’t living up to the needs of today’s patients as discussed above, it’s time we talk. Give us a call or fill out our contact form, and let’s see how we can elevate your online presence.