By Andre Wright
While delivering safe, exceptional, and patient-centered care remains paramount, doctors and healthcare professionals must also amplify their focus on building a robust online presence that offers a seamless customer journey.
Today’s patients expect no less.
But surprisingly, there are still many healthcare providers that do not have a website. These holdouts see no use for digital marketing or consider it unethical.
And who could blame them? After all, a thriving specialty practice wouldn’t have the time nor the need for self-referred patients. With a steady stream of new and regular patients acquired through their health network, appointments are at full capacity.
Why would they want to spend precious resources on a website in which they see little value?
To answer that straightforwardly, as a doctor would an inquiring patient:
Myopia coupled with complacency is dangerous for your practice.
The internet has drastically changed the healthcare marketing landscape. According to October 2021 figures, 4.88 billion people—that’s 62% of the global population—use the internet. These staggering numbers have compelled a lot of doctors to secure an online presence in order to reach patients beyond the four walls of their clinics. Needless to say, the game has changed, and the competition is growing much fiercer.
So, you may have a busy and profitable medical practice now, but a lack of foresight will consequently reduce that steady stream of patients to a slow trickle.
THE QUESTION OF ETHICS
Nearsightedness and complacency aside, there is also the crucial issue of ethics.
Many healthcare practitioners regard having a website or a Facebook page for their practice as a form of advertising and thus unethical.
They feel that it cheapens and degrades their profession. For them, unwillingness to have an online presence is a matter of personal integrity and conviction.
Indeed, in 1847, the American Medical Association’s (AMA) first Code of Ethics declared that public advertisements were “highly reprehensible” and “derogatory to the dignity of the profession.” The association would eventually impose an outright ban in 1947. It wasn’t until 1979 that the restrictions against advertising were lifted through the actions of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The AMA’s first code of ethics discouraged physicians from advertising their services so that the public may distinguish bona fide, professionally trained physicians from mid-eighteenth-century quacks and snake oil salesmen.
It’s ironic that 175 years later, the same quacks and snake oil salesmen that the AMA tried to quell are flourishing on the internet.
Now more than ever, we need legitimate registered MDs online to educate the digital populace and help them make informed decisions.
PRESCRIPTION FOR DOCTORS: A STRONG ONLINE PRESENCE
A professionally designed website provides credibility and marketing support to potential partners and patients. For specialists, a well-designed site makes it easier for colleagues to make referrals to your practice.
The healthcare sector is constantly evolving. Relying on a single referral source for new patients, even from multiple channels, is risky and insufficient given the certainty of change in healthcare.
An internet presence helps you reach more patients and grows your referral stream.
MINISTERING TO A NEW BREED OF PATIENTS
The public has become increasingly proactive with their health needs and is now more inclined to choose their healthcare provider based on their personal preferences instead of professional referrals.
Even after they’ve been professionally referred, 8 out of 10 patients will read reviews about a provider, indicating that we’ve entered a truly consumerist era of healthcare.
Although patients eventually meet with a doctor face to face, their initial search for the right provider often begins online, because whether we like it or not, we live in an age where everyone walks around with a tiny computer in their pocket—their smartphone. Now that the Internet has become such a significant tool and “front door” for healthcare providers and hospitals, having no online presence is deemed surprising.
Press Ganey’s 2021 Healthcare Trends Report found that 51.1% of consumers surveyed rely heavily on the Internet for selecting a primary care physician, while only 23.8% depend on referrals.
The survey also revealed that patients choose a particular provider over another based on two factors—three in five (59 percent) of the respondents said their decision is dependent on the strength of a provider’s online presence, while 58% based their choice on the availability of relevant, accurate and compelling information on the provider’s website.
And this isn’t something that only applies to younger patients.
Even older consumers are becoming more mobile and tech-savvy. In fact, 43.8% of boomers and 62% of millennials and Gen Xers diligently scrutinize the online reputation of potential healthcare providers and referrals. As well, more than three-quarters of respondents aged 60 and above have gone online to conduct a healthcare-related search.
More importantly, the report suggests older consumers are more affected by what they find online.
Nine out of ten patients in the 60-and-over demographic say they will turn to a new provider upon seeing unfavorable online ratings.
IMPORTANCE OF WEBSITE OPTIMIZATION
To counter the threat of negative online ratings, medical professionals need a website that’s optimized for maximum visibility & Return on Investment (ROI).
Simply put, an optimized website is a site that utilizes advanced tools and strategies to improve its capacity to achieve business goals.
Ensuring that testimonials and reviews are easily viewable for new visitors to your site is vital.
Keep in mind that there are entire websites devoted to giving angry people a place to vent. So, making consumers find reviews through Google search could lead them to antagonistic content.
Testimonials and reviews should be prominently displayed and readily accessible on a website’s home or landing page so that visitors will be immediately informed about a provider’s reputation.
A referral may get patients looking in a particular direction, but for many patients, a healthcare provider’s online reputation will ultimately be the determining factor.
EXPECTATIONS OF TODAY’S PATIENTS
One thing is clear: Medical practitioners must prioritize their digital consumerism strategies to keep up with current expectations and to successfully retain and acquire new patients for years to come.
With patients relying on digital sources 2.2 times more than doctor referrals when choosing a primary care provider, consumer preferences and expectations for healthcare must be top-of-mind.
Providing a 5-star patient experience should include each step of the healthcare journey, from web navigation to scheduling, billing, insurance, aftercare support, and everything else in between.
These are the deciding factors for the modern patient.
- QUALITY REVIEWS
On average, patients read at least 5 reviews when deciding whether or not to book with a doctor. However, it’s important to note that patients value authentic and informative reviews over the total volume of reviews, with 61% saying that poor-quality reviews would discourage them from seeking care with a provider.
Also, most likely due to the COVID-19 era, where recent reviews shed light on the current status of a clinic or facility, recency has become the second-most-critical factor, with over 57% of consumers saying that the date of a provider’s last review is important.
- HIGH-QUALITY CUSTOMER SERVICE
Consumers do not limit their definition of the patient experience to a clinical or care setting. In assessing their overall satisfaction with a healthcare provider, patients consider every touchpoint in their journey, including any online interactions.
To a greater extent, today’s patients prioritize convenience and time-saving factors.
In this context, high-quality customer service remains the top driver of 5-star reviews.
More than half of the over 1,000 U.S. adult patients surveyed cited convenience (ease of communication, fast appointment booking, streamlined registration process, etc.) as a fundamental factor for garnering top marks.
- DIGITAL ACCESS TO CARE
Though digital access to healthcare has been a pressing issue even before COVID-19, the global pandemic has highlighted a new urgency for it. Truly, COVID-19, along with recent advances in technology, has expedited the systems that make online healthcare more accessible.
Telemedicine via video-telephony and VoIP technology is now more convenient and reliable, making online consultations less taxing for both doctor and patient.
Also, research shows that 63.1% of patients choose online appointment booking options over-scheduling by phone, citing “difficulty reaching the office” as the primary deterrent for booking a face-to-face consultation.
Lastly, as in any business, nothing builds brand loyalty and trust more than excellent customer service. Healthcare organizations should make their websites efficient for handling customer service requests. Make sure that channels for customer service are always available. Be it an FAQ page, a messaging program, or a live chat, swiftly addressing customer service concerns is essential.
- REPUTABLE SOURCE OF INFORMATION
Patients rely on online information more so than ever to educate themselves about existing or potential illnesses (and treatments) in relation to the symptoms they’re experiencing. However, they’re more likely to come across inaccurate information due to the sheer abundance of it.
A website that features factual, up-to-date, and authoritative information enhances your professional reputation and credibility. You’ll establish yourself as a genuine authority in your field while mitigating the harmful consequences of misinformation—one content at a time.
There’s no denying the facts and figures. The universality of the internet has caused an unprecedented shift in consumer attitude and behavior toward healthcare and how it’s accessed.
The evolution of the healthcare delivery structure has reached a point where not having an online presence is no longer an option.
Get in touch with our team to implement a targeted and profitable digital marketing plan for your practice.
About The Author:
Andre Wright has more than a decade of experience in the field of digital marketing. Andre is the Founder & CEO of The WRIGHT Consult (TWC), through TWC & the Patientbuz program, he has managed various successful campaigns for dentists, chiropractors, pain clinics, and other healthcare professionals. He is certified in all Google Ads competencies as well as Google Analytics and was a part of the formative years of Google Ads, developing its platform. Andre is a co-host of the Podcast, “Your Company Health”, where he speaks with healthcare professionals and leaders in the business community. He holds an MBA in Marketing and Management and is the author of “Visibility” a digital marketing book published earlier this year. Andre has been a featured speaker at business conferences around the US and beyond. When he’s not working to help doctors make the important transition to cost-efficient digital media, Andre can probably be found spending time with family, watching sports, or playing golf with friends.
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