The Internet has changed the way nearly everyone in the developed world experiences healthcare and doctors. With volumes of medical information–and misinformation—available online, the digital age has empowered patients to self-diagnose conditions, research treatments, and shop around for healthcare practitioners of all kinds.
For healthcare providers who want to reach new patients, there’s more opportunity now to grow their practices—if they know how people are looking for them online.
Not that long ago, patients looking for a new physician often relied on word-of-mouth referrals from family and friends. Or they might have chosen a healthcare provider affiliated with their healthcare plan and hoped for the best. They also had the option to let their fingers “do the walking” through the Yellow Pages to find a doctor close to home.
If a patient needed to see a specialist, they would ask their primary physician for a recommendation or referral. Although they hoped they’d wind up with a qualified, caring physician, they often did not look at provider’s credentials or patient satisfaction ratings.
If patients conducted any online research, their findings were mostly limited to a doctor’s name, address and phone number—obviously not enough to paint a full picture of what they could expect.
Today, patients have countless online avenues to research potential healthcare providers. The most widely used options are listed below.
New patients often start their search for a healthcare provider on Google or other search engine. This makes having a fresh, optimized online presence critical for doctors who want to attract new patients.
A growing number of patients are using smartphones as their primary means of online access. According to Hitwise, 68% of consumers start their mobile health research with a search engine. This is one more data point to keep in mind when marketing doctors online–to ensure practice websites are optimized for mobile search results.
Patients put a lot of trust in unbiased reviews and opinions from other patients when choosing doctors. Research shows that 77% of consumers use online reviews as the first step in finding a new physician–whether on public sites like Google My Business and Healthgrades, websites managed by provider practices, or sites facilitated by health plans for their members.
Since patient reviews carry so much weight, it’s important for doctors to monitor and respond to any negative reviews immediately. A recent Bright Local survey showed that a single negative review can cost a business an average of 30 customers.
Although word-of-mouth still ranks high as a means for finding a provider, today’s patients – particularly Millennial patients – are apt to solicit input through social media. Sites like Facebook and Twitter provide forums for friends and neighbors to share their experiences and recommend doctors.
Nine out of 10 respondents in a Pew Research Center survey said they use their phone to get directions, recommendations, or other information related to their location. That includes finding doctors and other healthcare providers close to home.
Listings on healthcare and local business directories are essentially free advertising for healthcare providers. Providers should claim and optimize listings, since they can drive people to their websites and help with search engine rankings.
Special “best doctor” features in regional magazines have become a popular resource for patients who put stock in nominations from a provider’s peers. Since these listings don’t offer much context for how a provider landed on the list, many patients use this kind of information as a jumping off point to do more research.
Choosing a healthcare provider is an important decision. Thanks to the Internet, consumers don’t have to rely on guesswork, gut instinct, and their friends’ advice to find a physician anymore.
Online patient reviews, social media forums, and physician marketing resources make it easier than ever for new patients to make informed decisions about who to choose. For doctors who have a strong online presence, this shift is good news.
What do prospective new patients see when they search for you online? Use our helpful diagnostic tool to assess the success of your practice’s online marketing, visibility, and website.
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