The Digital Basics

Many medical practices still avoid aggressively marketing for additional patients. Some feel that medicine, being a vocation, should solely be reputation-based or that marketing in itself is somehow beneath the profession.

For consumers, it is fortunate that such a view is receding and that health systems and their aligned physicians along with independent physicians are increasingly looking at ways to market their services and engage in a patient acquisition.

The increase in competition from alternative approaches to provisioning healthcare services – e.g., employer-based clinics, clinics within pharmacies and other retail sectors, and telemedicine – is causing traditional health providers such as health systems and medical practices to redouble efforts to ensure that their patients remain in their care and that there are strong marketing efforts in place to attract new patients.

The push by both public and private health plans for providers and systems to take on risk and enter into other value-based care arrangements is also an impetus for increasing patient acquisition efforts as patient attribution is critical under such contracts.

The First Steps

Surveys have shown that over eighty percent of Americans use the Internet and, of those, over seventy percent have used it to look for health information. The most successful messages reach people where they area instead of making them seek out the message.

Thus digital – and more specifically mobile – platforms are the top mediums to build an online presence to attract and retain patients.  

Right now, many medical practices have a website (remember to ensure that the website is responsive – i.e., displays well on both smaller mobile/tablet screen formats and regular computer/laptop screens) and, possibly, a simple Facebook page.

That, however, is insufficient, if the goal is to proactively target new, potential patients and introduce them to the medical practice.

The first item that the practice ought to do is think about a content strategy.

Think of your existing mediums which consist of– at a minimum – whatever messenger functionality exists within the practice’s patient portal, the practice’s website, and a Facebook page.

In addition to thinking about the medium think about the practice’s focus – if it is specialty practice, that is more straightforward; however, for a primary care practice, is the goal to attract, for example, more families, seniors, or young adults?

Once that has been determined, the next goal is to begin to focus on a content development strategy.

This content ought to be targeted towards one’s intended patient population – e.g., if one is looking to target young adults, content can be developed that explains the need for physical exams, the benefits for exercise and nutrition for young adults, the importance of the flu vaccine, and when to seek help for stress-related issues.

It is also important – especially on the practice’s website – to review it to ensure that there some elements that make it easy for a potential patient to convert their interest in the practice’s content into reaching out to become a patient.

For example, make sure that contact information is readily available on every page – e.g., phone, e-mail, hours, etc.

The contact information should obviously be for potential new patients, and it should be easy to access.

Avoid, for example, requiring a potential patient to fill out an extensive form to contact the practice; that is a barrier to access, and the goal is to remove as many of them as possible.

It also important, both on the “normal” website pages in addition to the newly developed content to add calls to action to encourage the patient to reach out and engage with the practice to see if there is good fit for a future relationship.

The important items to remember are that the content developed ought to focus on the target audience and that it ought to be updated regularly.

People will stop viewing sites that don’t update their content on a regular basis.  

Sharing some of this content through the patient portal – or with a patient newsletter – will also help to engage current patients and assist in retention efforts.

If there are multiple providers and nurses on staff along with a care manager, it may make sense to update the blog/Facebook page every week with a small article.

To further drive traffic to the site, it is also a good idea to update the page with links to health-related community events such as events that promote exercise and awareness for certain conditions.

Using Google

Having developed and successfully implemented a content strategy – i.e., there are frequent updates to the practice’s website (the best thing to do would be to create a blog that is linked to the website or to use a platform such as WordPress for the entire site), the content on the website is cross-posted to the practice’s Facebook page – the next task is to ensure that people see the content.

The primary tool that people use to find information on the Internet is a search engine – specifically Google (Bing is second; however, the market share differential is enormous, so from a utility maximizing perspective, it makes the most sense to concentrate solely on Google).

A medical clinic, to be found online, needs to ensure that its content – i.e., the Facebook page and website – shows up when people search for relevant terms.

There are techniques and companies that can be used for search engine optimization (SEO). That can, however, get expensive, and it is subject to change based on how Google might – at any time – change its page ranking algorithm.

Outside of SEO, a business can become part of Google AdWords program. Ad Words is Google’s advertising program that allows businesses to purchase space so that their website shows up when people search for terms related to one’s business.

A primary care provider in Milwaukee may, for example, want to have their practice show up prominently when someone searches for “NYC primary care.”

This can be done by purchasing search results. A popular way to use AdWords is to purchase a small amount and see if it results in an increase in traffic to one’s website. According to some data, AdWords has been able to increase traffic/clients by ninety percent.

It is also useful because you can decide how much you want to pay and essentially lock-in a marketing/patient acquisition budget with AdWords.

Next Steps

Patient Acquisition- (Read our related article Patient Acquisition Ideas For Your Healthcare Practice )– in today’s competitive market – is necessary for a medical practice that wants to remain both financial viability and competitive with other market actors – e.g., health systems, employer run clinics, and telemedicine.

Most patients – for better or worse – seek out health information online and building a durable and meaningful digital presence through a content development strategy along with either search-engine optimization or Google AdWords provides an avenue to both engage existing patients and to make connections with future patients.