The patient journey has changed dramatically in the past couple of years. As a medical practice leader, your traditional methods of attracting and retaining patients have been completely upended. Healthcare marketing has undergone a dramatic shift – and many practices are scrambling to keep up.
Today, more patients than ever rely on the internet to research their symptoms or conditions and then find the physicians or practices that they feel is best suited to treat them. There are also fewer referring physicians available, thanks to the consolidation of independent primary care and general practitioner practices. That means that a physician liaison can no longer simply show up with lunch for the staff to develop or maintain a referring relationship – especially with COVID-19 regulations making it difficult for many to even get a foot in the door.
Then there’s competition for patients, particularly when it comes to those who have the best-paying insurance plans. Hospitals continue to invest heavily in high-margin specialty services, where they can generate additional income. Private equity firms are acquiring increasing numbers of specialty practices, and they have more than $1.3 trillion to do it.
As Sun Tzu famously said, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” There are countless high-performing specialty practices that are capitalizing on the chaos to win a solid share of the market – even in the most highly competitive communities. Do you want to learn more about how to improve your market share? Check out the strategies below.
The Rise of Patient Choice
Many physicians hotly debate just how many patients will self-refer for their appointments. A study by National Ambulatory Medical Care shows that an estimated 45% of patients self-refer to specialists for care. The percentage often depends on the specialty: For example, approximately 66.3% of dermatological patients will self-refer, while only about 24.2% of gastroenterology patients will do the same.
The truth is, patients have more choices than ever. From the convenience of a smartphone, iPad or computer, patients can access everything they need to know, including where they can seek care for their symptoms and what providers they’ll most likely feel comfortable with. When they need a doctor or surgeon, they can easily check out patient reviews, photos and more.
According to a survey by Doctor.com, patients now rely on online resources nearly two times more than they do referrals.
Why Is Consumerism on the Rise in Healthcare?
At a basic level, healthcare consumerism is a movement by which patients take control of their own healthcare decisions. Thanks to the internet, consumers expect choice, immediacy and convenience. They rapidly adopt new technologies that can make their lives easier and more convenient, from online banking and food delivery to buying a car and having it delivered the next day.
It’s no surprise that they expect the same level of accessibility and service from their healthcare providers.
An estimated 7% of Google’s daily searches are healthcare related, which equates to more than 1 billion searches every day, according to Google Health Vice President David Feinberg, M.D. With access to so much information, consumers are eager to use that knowledge to improve their healthcare experience.
The Patient Acquisition Journey: What Does It Look Like Today?
The patient acquisition journey may have changed dramatically. At its heart, however, it has three distinct steps.
Patients recognize a healthcare concern and then look for provider options. Typically, they’ll ask for referrals from friends and family, and then use search engines to learn more about their choices, find additional options or confirm the statements made by those who provided recommendations.
During the evaluation stage, patients will look through potential candidates, reviewing the content and information to determine which specialist is best suited to treat their conditions. Patients may look at a variety of factors to help them determine which provider is the best fit for their needs.
Finally, patients will book an appointment. Today’s patients are looking for an easy, frictionless appointment setup. A provider who has barriers to setting an appointment may lose out to those who make that process as simple as possible.
A primary care physician tells a 50-year-old patient to schedule a colonoscopy. During an annual checkup, the doctor provides a referral to a gastroenterologist in the local healthcare system. The referral is covered by the patient’s insurance, and the doctor even offers to book the appointment. The patient leaves the appointment with printouts about the proposed procedure and the recommended provider.
What do patients look for from recommended providers? They want:
- Confirmation that providers accept their insurance
- How many years of experience providers have and where they attended medical school
- Customer testimonials
During the search, this patient also looks up “Best GI doctors near me” on Google. The search turns up two additional providers nearby, both of whom have significantly better patient reviews on Google, Healthgrades and Vitals than the original referral in terms of quality, quantity and recency. The patient decides to go with one of those providers because of a higher overall level of confidence.
One provider allows online scheduling, including selecting the time and date of the procedure directly from the website. The other provider doesn’t. The patient chooses the provider that makes scheduling as easy as possible.
The ‘Medicine Is Local’-Led Omnichannel Strategy
“Medicine is local” is a popular mantra across the healthcare community – and for good reason. Each market has its own unique dynamics based on a variety of factors, including:
- Population density
- Payer environment
- Competitive landscape
- Major employers
- Patient needs
As a result, top-performing healthcare practices don’t apply a one-size-fits-all approach to patient acquisition marketing. Rather, they invest in an omnichannel strategy that seeks to optimize each step of the patient journey, customized to that specific market.
In many markets, independent specialty practices can differentiate themselves from the “big box” healthcare experience that hospitals provide. Often, they can dominate the market due to the more effective services and support they can deliver. Frankly, that’s why investing in healthcare providers has been one of the hottest segments in private equity for the last 10 years: The investors know their value, too.
If you want to maximize your place in the market, make sure you’re using these high-level tactics and strategies that can help you achieve your goals.
Source: Be Easy to Find
As a healthcare practice, you want to make sure that patients can find you when they’re looking for you.
The Website: Your Digital Front Door
Your website is foundational to all of your healthcare marketing efforts. If you don’t have a solid website, patients can’t find you, learn more about you or appreciate your skill and expertise. Your website is a central hub for patient engagement. It’s where patients come to learn more about you, your office and your staff. Patients turn to your website as a trusted source of information about the procedures they need or the symptoms they’re experiencing. Through your website, you can create a high degree of patient trust — or turn patients away completely.
Your website is the first interaction between the patients and your practice. If it doesn’t make a great first impression, you could be missing out on countless patients who might otherwise come through your doors.
The first step in creating your website is ensuring that it looks professional and works seamlessly on multiple devices and in multiple browsers. Sixty-two percent of Americans have performed medical searches on their smartphones. Many, however, still use desktop devices. Older people, in particular, may need a larger screen. You want your website to be visible and accessible no matter how patients choose to access that information.
Ultimately, the goal of your website is to convert. It needs to provide a good user experience as well as content that supports the new patient decision-making process. According to Google, the average medical practice has a conversion rate of 6%. The top 25% of performers, on the other hand, have a conversion rate of approximately 20.4%.
What makes your website conversion-worthy? That may vary, depending on your practice. In general, however, a conversion-worthy website will have features like:
- Easily scannable content that makes it easy for users to find what they’re looking for
- Photos (though typically not graphic images)
- A streamlined user experience that makes it easy to interact with your website
By providing the information potential patients seek, you can increase your odds of converting them.
As a medical practice, it’s particularly important that your website is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2017, Domino’s Pizza lost an appeal in a federal lawsuit when a man who was legally blind protested his inability to use either the Domino’s website or mobile app due to a lack of accessibility. Increasingly, more plaintiffs have launched lawsuits against websites that haven’t provided those key accessible elements.
Website accessibility may include:
- Keyboard access to all content
- Inclusive color usage that makes it easy for colorblind or visually impaired people to see the website
- Inclusive forms or submission options, including scheduling
- Alt text for important images
- Descriptive link names
An accessible website is usable for all. Make sure, however, that you take your patient demographics into account when designing your website. For example, if you routinely work with visually disabled patients, your website should be easy for them to use.
Search Engine Marketing: Your Digital Cash Register
Paid digital advertising is one of the fastest and most predictable ways to get patients in the door. Not all digital marketers are created equally, however. Not only do you want a digital marketing agency with substantial experience, but you also want one that specializes in healthcare marketing, so that you can receive a high standard of support. You need:
- Accurate targeting
- Proper campaign development
- Knowledgeable execution
- Effective campaign measurement
According to Google, the average medical practice PPC, or pay-per-click, campaign generates an average CTR (click-through rate) of 3.82% and an average conversion rate of 2.4%. In contrast, the top 25% of healthcare practices see an average conversion rate of approximately 5.31%. The CPL, or cost per lead, for the average healthcare provider is about $125, but top healthcare performers may have a CPL of less than $30.
What’s the difference? In part, it may come down to the knowledge of the PPC practitioner. Healthcare is incredibly complex. You need a PPC provider that understands the complexities of healthcare marketing and how to best target and reach ideal patients. A well-run, mature campaign can have an average return on investment (ROI) of seven to 10 times the initial spend. Depending on the lifetime value of the patient being targeted and the level of competition in the market, however, good campaigns can double or even triple that ROI.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Your Competitive Advantage
SEO helps increase the traffic to a medical practice’s website by obtaining first-page ranking positions on search engines like Google and Bing. The ability to reach a lot of people organically – without the need for advertising – is incredibly powerful. Ultimately, it can reduce your CPL substantially.
Three key components to SEO for medical practices follow.
On-site SEO includes all of the technical elements of your website’s setup. These are the behind-the-scenes pieces that ensure your website is optimized for search engine algorithms. They may include:
- URL structure
- Meta descriptions
- Site speed
- Internal links
- Site content
Those elements work together to help your website get the recognition you need.
Local SEO helps optimize your practice’s online presence for better visibility within a local search territory. Local SEO is particularly important for multilocation practices since they need to be able to optimize their marketing resources at a clinical level. Google uses a relatively narrow set of categories to determine local SEO, including:
- Relevance (how well your practice’s specialty relates to the patient’s search)
- Distance (how close you are to the target)
- Prominence (how high your overall search ranking or authority is)
A combination of those efforts can go a long way toward ensuring that your practice is as visible as possible.
Off-page SEO/Link Building
Building links back to your website from other websites can help you gather more “votes” regarding the authenticity and value of your content. A large number of external links can help push you above your competitors and get the recognition you’re hoping for. Links are one of the foundational elements of website rankings, and link building can deliver substantial rewards. One caveat: Doing it correctly can require ongoing time, effort and specialized knowledge.
Social media should play a role in your overall patient acquisition marketing strategy. The truth, however, is that online search almost always dominates the research phase of the patient provider search. The ability to reach a lot of people on social media without advertising has dropped substantially over the past few years – especially on heavy-use platforms like Facebook. In fact, there’s a good chance that Facebook’s algorithms will hide any posts from your page so that few of your followers will see it. Facebook’s marketing professionals want you – as a public page and, presumably, a business – to pay for visibility through Facebook ads.
As a result, any social media programs that are solely organic, with no advertising dollars spent, should be done very selectively and inexpensively.
A paid social media program, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. The “go-to” is Facebook, which has an advertising network of thousands of websites and apps beyond the core platform. As a result, your medical practice will be in a better position to actually connect with the target audiences that are most likely to be interested in your services based on actual tracked behavior. For example, an ENT practice might use this strategy to target women over age 50 who are bothered by their spouse’s snoring – and it could generate powerful results.
Evaluate: Be the Perceived Authority
When potential patients come looking for information about your specialty, you want them to find your practice and view you as an authority in your field. That perceived authority can generate a great deal of trust long before patients set foot in your door.
Google My Business
Google My Business allows you to list your medical practice on Google Maps and ensure that local search results will display information about your clinic, including:
- Opening and closing times
- Contact details
- A link to your website
Google listings are often the first thing patients see when they’re looking for your practice. Google puts the information that patients need at their fingertips. It’s also a critical part of the evaluation process because it’s frequently the first place prospects see a summary of patient reviews – or a lack thereof. Google My Business pages can see as many as 11 times the number of visitors that the main website gets on a regular basis.
77% of prospective patients research online reviews before booking their first appointments. (The Wall Street Journal)
The content on your website must support the patient decision-making process. It should:
- Provide helpful facts about your primary services so that patients will know immediately if your practice fits their needs
- Offer in-depth content about specific treatments that will help differentiate your practice from the competition
For example, an orthopedic practice that provides knee replacement surgery has written content and licensed 2D video content on its website. That content addresses all aspects of the procedure, including preop and postop considerations. The local hospital competitor, on the other hand, just lists knee replacement surgery as a bullet point service. The orthopedic practice is, therefore, in a much better position to capture market share. Specialists have the ability to go much deeper into all the services they provide, giving patients a greater degree of confidence in that information.
56% of patients note that the availability of relevant and accurate information online is a make-or-break factor when choosing a doctor. (2020 survey commissioned by Doctor.com)
Once, people would ask a family member, friend or colleague for a doctor recommendation. Now, more people are going online to find what they need. As a result, social proof is replacing word-of-mouth recommendations. Many patients believe the opinions of a collective – society as a whole – are much more powerful and accessible than the opinion of a single individual.
Take a look at your patient reviews and testimonials. Encourage satisfied patients to share those vital reviews of your practice. They can ultimately offer substantial benefits as you attract patients.
72% of healthcare consumers look for a rating of at least 4 out of 5 stars when deciding on a health facility or physician. (The 2022 Healthcare Reputation Report)
Choose: Be Easy to Do Business With
The term “patient engagement” has gained a lot of traction over the last few years as high-performing organizations have recognized that they need to start moving the proverbial mountains standing between patients and their services. Many technology companies have emerged that seek to capitalize on the process of personalizing the patient journey through the continuum of care. Most, however, are focused on the hospital market. A few, including Care Sherpa and Callidus Health, are beginning to deliver real value for medical practices.
In the meantime, it’s critical to look closely at patient engagement and what it means. Patient engagement is best defined as the ability for medical practices to engage patients:
- Any time
- With real-time, two-way, multichannel capabilities
In short, you want to continue to engage patients from the point of intention through the first appointment.
According to Care Sherpa, about 79% of leads never convert. In part, Care Sherpa notes that this is because 30% of digital leads never receive a response.
You launch a digital campaign. It’s delivering leads to the top of the funnel. Somewhere along the way, however, you drop the ball. The practice is not operationally set up to capture and manage the leads through to close.
Fortunately, you can use several basic applications to communicate with patients more effectively, reducing lead leakage and moving those patients through the funnel.
- Overflow Call Coverage: Having overflow or after-hours calls captured by a human being to provide that personal touch and allow patients to book an appointment.
- Two-Way SMS & Secure Chat: These features allow patients to book or change appointments via text message, which can make them feel much more comfortable managing their appointment needs.
- Intelligent Reminders: By issuing reminders to patients, you can help reduce no-shows and increase the odds that patients will remember those vital appointments.
- Frictionless Forms: Provide patient forms online with HIPAA-compliant electronic signatures and complex data capture so that patients can upload insurance cards, photo IDs, credit cards and other essential information.
More than half of consumers find the patient journey difficult. A top frustration is “finding enough information about a provider online.” (2020 consumer survey by Doctor.com)
Measuring Your Performance
Do you know the conversion rate of your website? How many of those calls that came from a digital campaign and website were first-time callers? How many of those calls came in, but were never answered by your team? If you don’t have that information, many of the top medical practice marketers have a significant advantage over you.
Your goal, as a practice, is to go beyond the vanity metrics of reporting impressions and clicks to enable a transparent view into the measures and trends that drive better-informed decisions and operational improvements. You need insight into:
- Website conversion rate
- Unique users on your site
- Ad conversion rate (Broken down by channel, campaign, location and consolidated)
- Cost per conversion (Broken down by channel, campaign, location and consolidated)
- First-time callers
- Calls not answered
- Close rate on leads
- Cost per appointment (actualized)
- Marketing program ROI
With this critical information, you can better shape your overall healthcare marketing decisions and continue to advance your practice, establishing yourself as an authority in your field.
What Does Patient Acquisition Marketing Look Like in 2022?
In 2022, healthcare marketing companies that embrace new opportunities to serve healthcare consumers will gain market share and retain patient loyalty for their brands. As the year comes to a close, it’s critical that you consider what initiatives you can launch to provide the experience that busy patients deserve in this age of consumerism.