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How patients find doctors today - the Practice Growth Podcast

To stand out from competition, doctors need to showcase themselves and their practices online.

patientpop the practice growth podcast

The Practice Growth Podcast is an educational resource for doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers about how to market and manage a thriving healthcare practice.

In Episode 1, host Lisa Christy is joined by Sarah Brown, manager of customer success at PatientPop. The pair discusses how the internet has empowered patients to shop around for healthcare services — and how doctors can stand out from their competition online. Click below to listen.

Find new episodes of The Practice Growth Podcast every other week on the PatientPop blog, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Lisa Christy: If I needed to find a new doctor or specialist 10 or 15 years ago, I probably would have asked my friends, family members, or another physician who I should see. A recommendation from a trusted source was really all it took for me to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment.

But today, I search for my healthcare providers the same way I search for everything: online. And I’m certainly not alone. According to local SEO company, BrightLocal, a whopping 97% of consumers look online for local businesses like private healthcare practices.

So, what are prospective patients looking for and how can doctors make sure they find it? That’s the topic of today’s podcast.

Hello, and welcome to The Practice Growth Podcast, the doctor’s resource for marketing and managing a thriving healthcare practice. I’m Lisa Christy.

Joining me to discuss how today’s patients look for medical care is Sarah Brown, manager of customer success at PatientPop. Sarah, thanks so much for being here.

Sarah Brown: Thanks so much, Lisa.

Lisa: First, let’s talk about this change in behavior. Is it surprising to you that people today are going online to find healthcare providers rather than asking their friends and family for referrals?

Sarah: That’s a great question and to be honest, it’s not surprising to me. You know, patients these days are savvy. They really want to be sure they are making informed decisions about everything from the furniture they’re putting in their house, to what they are eating, where they’re going out to eat.

Of course, they’re going to do the same for their healthcare needs, right? The most important thing anyone’s doing for themselves. Well, 10-15 years ago there really wasn’t that ability to kind of shop around before making an informed decision or an appointment with a new provider.

They have access to that information today.

Lisa: What exactly … when people are going online to find providers, what are they looking for?

Sarah: They want to feel like they know a little bit about their doctor before they actually visit the practice. What is that office like? What does the doctor specialize in? How are they going to feel when they walk into that office?

Beyond that, they want to see what other people think about that doctor. They are looking for positive reviews, not just a few positive reviews, but that a lot of people have actually visited. You know, this is a real office that exists, a lot of people have great things to say about that provider.

In addition to that, they’re looking at the whole picture, so not just one piece. They don’t want to just see positive reviews in one place, they want to see kind of what that entire well-rounded presence looks like.

Lisa: OK, and what do you mean by well-rounded presence? Does that mean having a profile in multiple places online? Does it mean being on social media? What does that mean?

Sarah: All of the above. We want to have an appealing, easy-to-navigate website. We want to make sure that we can find this doctor and they’re not kind of this mysterious person who doesn’t have that online presence. We want them to be active on social media. We want to know that this doctor is really a real person, that practice really does exist, and I kind of know what to expect when I’m walking into that practice.

Lisa: Kind of going back to this, you talked about it a little bit, but I think about myself, if I were to go online to find a restaurant to go out to eat tonight, for example, I’d probably go to Google, maybe I’d ask Siri for restaurants around me. Is that how people are finding healthcare providers as well or are they going other places?

Sarah: Yeah, to be honest, it often does start with a query on a search engine like Google. Maybe someone might have a referral, either from their insurance or from a friend. Maybe they are just totally starting from scratch, you know, [doctor near me]. But oftentimes they do really begin that search in earnest on the search engine.

From there, they tend to do as much information gathering as possible. Again, this is their health they’re talking about. They’re taking it really seriously. So they’re looking at local listings like Google, review websites like Yelp, medical directories like Healthgrades — all those things might come together to complete a patient search.

Lisa: Great. What information should a doctor be putting online to convince prospective patients that they are the right doctor for them to go see?

Sarah: Absolutely. I mentioned this a little bit before, but we’re really looking for that well-rounded presence as a patient, right? We want to have an appealing, easy-to-navigate website. We want to make sure that all of their listings are consistent. If a patient has a difficult time figuring out where a healthcare provider is even located or how to get in touch with them, they’re just going to move on to somebody else. Really priority number one, I think, should be growing that practices online reputation as a doctor. Google rewards local businesses, including healthcare providers, who have a strong online reputation.
And additionally, with so many healthcare providers to choose from out there, showing up in search results it’s just … it’s not going to be enough. If a patient sees a doctor and they just don’t have enough reviews, again, they’re just going to move on to somebody else. We want to make sure that, as a doctor, you’re the obvious choice for those potential patients in a sea of many, many healthcare providers.

And then finally, I really think it’s important to have a strong social media presence. Again, you want to show that you’re that real person, you really do exist. We want to have a social media presence that includes a mix of both kinds of thought leadership as well as that sort of personal touch.

Lisa: One thing about social media that I’ve noticed a lot just with the rise of, you know, Instagram and Snapchat is that people really like visuals. Is that important for a mix for a healthcare provider?

Sarah: Absolutely. You know, as I mentioned, I think patients want to kind of have some sense of, “What am I walking into? Is this a modern sleek office? What does my provider look like? What am I going to experience when I walk into this office?” Kind of, what’s the vibe, so to speak.

And I think, you know, we see this with celebrities, right? The social media advent makes us feel like we have that closer connection to celebrities. To be honest, the same thing applies to our healthcare providers. Patients want to feel like they have some sort of personal connection. Of course, it’s carefully curated, but they want to feel like they have that personal connection to their healthcare provider as well.

Lisa: You know, I’m listening to you talk about this and all I keep thinking is, OK, doctors don’t have a ton of free time. You know, they’re seeing a lot of patients. There are all kinds of research saying that they’re spending all this time in their EMR and they’re already overburdened. So, how do they go about getting all of this done, you know, how do they build their online presence? How should they prioritize?

Sarah: That’s a really great question. You know, I did mention that I think reputation is kind of the top thing that I would recommend any practice focus on. Ultimately, for a lot of people that comes down to outsourcing, right? We know that healthcare providers have so many different things to focus on. They’re pulled in so many different directions. There are resources that you can use to help just kind of take care of these things for you. And that’s one way that PatientPop can come in handy, it takes care of things like your social media presence, like that website, like managing all these different local listings and directories.

Lisa: And what about a doctor who is really concerned about budget, who just doesn’t have the budget to go out? Is there something that they can still do? Are there are a few important listings that they can claim or is there a particular social media website that they should focus their attention on?

Sarah: Absolutely. The big ones in terms of local listings, directories, I really think that Google My Business should be top priority for anyone. We talk about various search engines, but let’s be honest, most of us are starting our searches on Google. It just has the lion’s share of the search engine world and having a claimed optimized Google My Business listing is just crucial for anyone, any small business, including a healthcare provider. So, definitely making that a priority.

In terms of social media, I think that, as you can imagine, there’s a really wide variety of kind of what that looks like, right? You can have some healthcare providers who, or any kind of business, who are posting several times a day. As you mentioned, doctors are so busy. Almost no one is going to have the bandwidth to really be doing that. I think that sometimes people sort of see that and they’re like, “Well, I don’t have time to be doing this much posting. I guess I just don’t have bandwidth to be doing social media.” That’s totally fine. You know, you can be posting maybe once or twice a week and that’s certainly a great start.

I would encourage healthcare providers who feel like they should be doing something, but maybe feel intimidated, to not feel like, “Wow, I guess that I just don’t have time for this,” but to actually just kind of start small and you can always continue to grow from there.

Lisa: Sure, take it one step at a time.

Sarah: Exactly, exactly.

Lisa: Great, so we opened it up kind of talking about how everyone is looking for doctors online these days. And I just have to ask, are referrals still worth anything? Is anyone still asking their mom, “Which OBGYN should I go to?” Or, “Which cardiologist should I go to?”

Sarah: Absolutely. I think that there’s kind of a sense that, wow, the only thing that matters is the online presence and what’s even the point of referrals. But, I actually often hear from healthcare providers that when I ask my patients how they’re finding me, I only ever hear they’re finding me through referrals. So, I don’t actually think my online presence matters that much, and to be honest, nothing could be further from the truth.

I, for example, just recently found a new primary care physician and the first thing I did was ask one of my good friends who it is that she goes to see. She gave me a recommendation, who ended up being great, of course. But, let me tell you about my journey before I actually went into that office and booked that appointment and completed my appointment.

I got my great recommendation, great referral from a friend, but immediately, I went on to Google, searched, took a look at that doctor’s website, took a look at what their online reputation looked like. All those things were positive, easy to navigate website, very clear where the doctor was, it was very easy to get in touch with her, booked that appointment. At the end of the day, when I went into her office and if she’d asked me, “Hey, how did you find out about me?” I would have had the same message for her, which is, ” Oh, I found out about you from a friend.”

She might not have ever gotten the message that “Oh, your online presence really mattered in my decision-making process to come into your office today.” But all those things were crucial in my decision making to actually book that appointment with her and I’m going to go back to her year after year for my appointments. So, definitely critical.

Lisa: That’s a really interesting story. Someone gave you that referral but then you used the provider’s online presence to kind of back up the decision to go to her?

Sarah: Exactly. I think that we often kind of talk about these things as if it’s one or the other, right? It’s either referrals from friends or referrals from insurance or it’s someone that found you online. And I really don’t think that it’s accurate to kind of describe these as things that are one or the other. In my experience with almost everyone I know, these two things are happening hand-in-hand, so you can’t ignore one kind of at the expense of the other.

Lisa: Got it. Well, Sarah, this has been really enlightening. I wanted to thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today.

Sarah: Absolutely. Thanks so much Lisa.

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