How to Attract New Patients in the Digital Age

How consumers find a product or service has changed dramatically in recent years, and healthcare  is no exception. Healthcare providers who relied on payers and hospital affiliations for new patients are now faced with consumers doing their own research to select a physician. As a result, from the largest hospital systems to small practices, healthcare providers are getting a crash course in consumer marketing, and in many cases, at a high cost with low return on investment (ROI).

In order to invest marketing dollars to maximize ROI, a dermatologist first needs to understand how consumers are choosing a provider. According to a 2017 Wakefield Research survey,  the top three ways patients find a provider are:

  • Referral from healthcare provider (38%)
  • Self-driven online research (37%)
  • Referral from friend or family (26%)

These three methods are not mutually exclusive. According to the survey, even if a patient receives a referral from a healthcare professional, friend, or family member, 90% still do independent online research.

Many dermatology practices are turning to marketing consultants for help, with a focus on digital media — online and social media advertising and websites. With 90% of patients doing online research, a focus on digital marketing makes sense; however, tactics are available in the digital space that are low cost and high ROI.

Three Tactics to Optimize Your Digital Presence

1. Optimize your website.

The word “optimize” is most commonly linked to search engine optimization (SEO). Consumers are savvy  and realize that the top search engine results are paid advertisements (and are noted as such) and place more validity on the organic results. The goal is for your website to be among the top three to five organic search results when a patient searches for your name or practice; a dermatologist in your zip code; or the top three services your  practice offers. This need is where a marketing professional is  critical, as this expert can:

  • Ensure your website content includes key SEO search terms.
  • Clean up your website so it emphasizes the services you want  to promote and differentiates you from competition.
  • Make your website easy to navigate to minimize abandonment and optimize ease of the patient finding the information he  wants quickly.

Regardless of the number of practice locations or services offered, maintain one website. Having more than one website compromises SEO, as your websites will compete against each other. While getting the practice website optimized could cost up to $20,000, the ROI is significant, whether you rely on organic results or choose to invest in online advertising.

2. Claim and maintain online profiles.

In addition to the  Google profile, provider information and reviews are available on Healthgrades, Doximity, Vitals, and Yelp. When a consumer searches for a provider by name, these sites are often among the top organic search results. They provide basic information about  the physician, including medical school, residency, fellowship and board certification(s), as well as a headshot and patient reviews. Ensuring that information is accurate and current is critical,  and in most cases, claiming and maintaining your profile is free.

3.  Manage your online reputation.

A survey by Software Advice revealed that 72% of patients use online reviews to select a  physician. While patients write the reviews, you can influence  how readers use them by:

  • Asking patients to post positive reviews. According to  the 2016 Local Consumer Review Survey, 70% of consumers will write a review if asked. More positive reviews not only improve your online reputation, they also increase SEO. If your practice uses an online patient satisfaction survey, inquire with the survey vendor as to how to incorporate an automated request asking patients who rate the practice highly to leave  an online review; many survey tools can automatically redirect the patient to a third-party site to leave a review.
  • Responding to reviews. Whether you engage a marketing consultant or handle yourself, timely responses to online  reviews are critical in demonstrating that you are customer-service focused. With negative reviews, the goal is to get the conversation off the third-party site and maintain patient privacy; use a simple response such as, “We are sorry to hear you had an unsatisfactory experience. Will you call our practice manager, Jane, at (111)  555-1234 or email so we can address  your concerns personally? Thanks.” Of equal importance is thanking patients for positive reviews.  

The costs of running a practice continue to rise, but with the right  partners, you can identify cost-effective ways to optimize your digital marketing presence, as well as find new revenue sources with new and existing patients.

As published in Executive Decisions in Dermatology, a publication by the Association of Dermatology Administrators and Managers

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