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MARKETING YOUR PRACTICE

Four digital trends that can transform your medical practice

Medical practices of every type and size are rapidly being transformed by the digital revolution. Your patients are ratcheting up health-related online activities to unprecedented levels, says Ron Harman King, founder of Vanguard Communications.

“Patients now routinely do medical research, seek medical guidance and search for medical services online. The surge in digital activity applies to every demographic group,” says King, who notes that the internet “has changed everything in healthcare and healthcare as a result has become much more transparent in my view.”

A 25-year veteran of medical marketing, public relations and communication technology, and author of The Totally Wired Doctor: Social Media, the Internet and Marketing Technology for Medical Practices, King says medical practices that use the internet well and efficiently can not only communicate with their patients, but also improve the efficiency of their practices.

He noted that 59 percent of internet users have searched online for health information in the past 12 months and 84 percent of college graduates gather health information online.

“That’s important, because these are the better-educated, higher income, better-insured patients that every practice needs to survive and to serve everyone,” says King.

Most of those using the internet are not searching for doctors, but are searching for information on diseases such as cancer. However, King notes that rate-your-doctor websites are extremely popular. Patients tend to rate their doctors fairly positively, with 66 percent receiving either four or five-star ratings according to a breakdown of about 35,000 online patient reviews.

Of those who receive one-two and two-star doctor reviews (out of five possible stars), 96 percent complain about poor communications, long wait times and customer service, with less than four percent complaining about quality of care.

“The power has shifted to the patients and the consumers quite dramatically,” he says.

King says there are four digital trends shaping healthcare consumers’ thinking and behavior. They include these:

1. Content is still king on the internet. The most popular medical blogs average 1,700 words and take about seven minutes to read. King says that in 2013, Cleveland Clinic formed a team of four full-time bloggers and within 18 months, website traffic soared from 200,000 visits per month to 3.2 million visits per month.

“We are living in the age of what’s called content marketing (defined by Wikipedia as marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers and patients),” he says. “Great content generates great SEO (search engine optimization) and puts websites near the top of search engine results.”

King recommends that medical practices spend between two and three percent of their annual revenue on marketing and outreach to the public, adding that the more eyeballs on the internet, the greater the number and quality of patients.

2. Search engines and social media really do dominate people’s healthcare conversations online. Patients primarily use the internet to search for information on symptoms and conditions.

About half of Americans have read healthcare reviews and two-thirds of those have used reviews to make healthcare decisions.

“The lesson learned here is that people are really interested in hearing about what other patients have to say and I think that drives the idea of content marketing and patient education. People want to believe doctors (but) they will believe other patients.

“Content marketing and patient education really should be patient-centric, talking about the patient’s needs and not the provider’s offerings quite as much,” says King.

3. There’s no business like video business. King says 2016 was the first year that American households watched as much TV online through video streaming as they did through their digital video recorders.

King says this trend creates a clear opportunity for medical practices to attract new patients by posting homemade videos on medical topics. They needn’t be slick, polished productions either, as long as they are informative.

4. All hail the pocket computer. Three-quarters of adult Americans own Smartphones and King says 65 percent of all visits to his clients’ medical websites are conducted on Smartphones.

“The takeaway here is you can really use digital communications to shape patient experiences and certainly to communicate more efficiently with patients. I think more and more practices are wisely using texting, safe (encrypted) emailing and other means to notify patients of upcoming appointments and reminders for compliance with treatments,” he says.

King says significant provider time can be saved in examination rooms and elsewhere by answering people’s questions online through basic website information. Examples include posting information on flu prevention or protection against sunburn.

Doctors can also refer patients to their practice’s webpages for further information on medical conditions.

Conclusion

“Bottom line—healthcare consumers want fast access to understandable and practical information. They want more words that they can read on smaller screens; they want to learn, not be lectured to; they want to know what other patients think; and they want to hear and see providers on online videos.

“The internet is here to stay. Use it to your own advantages and strengths,” he says. “Any practice of any size can do it.”


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